Mario Carreño, ‘Untitled’, 1953, Phillips

From the Catalogue:
Arguably the prime mover behind the phenomenal rise of “Concrete Cuba,” Carreño was a charismatic, public champion of abstraction throughout the 1950s. Among the leaders of the celebrated Havana School, renowned for its color-driven expressions of the vernacular landscape a decade earlier, he had already begun to turn toward geometry by the time of his return to Cuba, following an extended sojourn in New York, in late 1951. “My humble ‘guajiros’ [peasants] followed the geometric trend,” Carreño explained of this new direction in his work. “Everything led to the square.” With fellow concretos Sandú Darié and Luis Martínez Pedro, he founded the magazine Noticias de Arte (1952-53) and used his editorial platform to advocate for the place of abstraction within the trajectory of modern Cuban art. His paintings from this decade manifest his belief in abstraction and its universal horizons, and they anticipated the consolidation of the movement at the end of the decade by the group of artists known as “Los Diez Pintores Concretos.”

“The evolution of his art is guided by our century’s creative dialectic,” Darié wrote in 1957, on the occasion of an exhibition of Carreño’s geometric paintings at Havana’s Palacio de Bellas Artes. “Abstract in view of their intellectual content, non-figurative because they do not copy reality at all.” Although Carreño disavowed a facile realism, many of his Concrete paintings betray the residual memory of his iconography from the 1940s, particularly its Afro-Cuban derivation, hinted for example in the triangle and crescent moon shapes seen in the present work. “This painter expresses his artistic emotion with color on the physical space of the surface of the canvas, defining his basic forms and arranging them with a constructive sense in vertical and horizontal directions,” Darié continued. “Familiar with optical pictorial phenomena, and with the psychological behavior before colors of certain light vibrations caused by a marvelous texture, Mario Carreño succeeds in expressing his artistic intuition under rationalized control.” That balance between order and emotion is sensitively calibrated in the present lot, in which rectangles in variegated, primary tones of red, yellow, and blue float against a resonant azure ground, suspended in a grid of vertical lines. The abstraction is both constructive and intuitive in kind, its universalism connected to modernist aesthetics, stretching back to Kandinsky’s color theory, and to the national context of Cuba’s vanguardia tradition out of which Carreño had emerged.

Abigail McEwan, PhD
Courtesy of Phillips

Signature: signed and dated "Carreño 53" lower right

Collection of Beatriz M. Vázquez, Havana
Museo Nacional, Havana
La Acacia Gallery, Havana
Sotheby's, New York, Latin American Art, May 29, 1997, lot 139
Acquired from the above sale by the present owner

About Mario Carreño