Wifredo Arcay

Proposition III

Arcay Proposition Iii Courtesy David Zwirner 1500
  • Wifredo Arcay
  • Proposition III
  • 1962
  • Relief painting on wood
  • 36.8 x 60.3 x 6 cm
  • The Mayor Gallery, London; and David Zwirner, New York/London

During the 1950s and 1960s, Cuban artist Wifredo Arcay developed a constructivist approach to his works in geometric abstraction. After moving to Paris in 1949, he befriended the circle of abstract artists around Galerie Denise René, including Theo van Doesburg (1883–1931), Sonia Delaunay (1885–1979), and her husband, Robert Delaunay (1885–1941). He was first known as an expert in silkscreen printmaking, a technique he introduced to others in Paris, and many of his paintings reveal the same flat, opaque planes and defined contours of his prints. While working in Paris, he established connections with modernist artists in his native Cuba, Los Diez Pintores Concretos (The Ten Concrete Painters), who promoted geometric abstraction as a universal artistic language capable of promoting social engagement and international communication.

In 1956 Arcay abandoned easel painting in favor of murals and reliefs that interacted more directly with their surroundings, extending the painting’s boundary into its surrounding architectural space. Proposition III (1962) is one of a series of his monochrome wood reliefs. The work comprises two horizontal rectangular planks painted in subtly different shades of black, with three black squares attached to the lower register at three slightly incremental intervals apart.

Rachel Wetzler

Biography of Wifredo Arcay

  • Born 1925 in Havana, Cuba
  • Died 1997 in Paris, France
Wifredo Arcay studied at the Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes San Alejandro (National Academy of Fine Arts of Saint Alexander) in Havana, then moved to Paris on a grant in 1949. There he studied at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière from 1949 to 1950 and frequented the Atelier d’Art Abstrait, becoming a part of the post-Cubist geometric abstraction movement. Arcay set up his first studio at the villa of André Bloc (1896–1966) in Meudon in 1951, where he met artists like Theo van Doesburg (1883–1931) and Fernand Léger (1881–1955). In 1953 he introduced serigraphy to France and realized Maîtres d’Aujourd’hui (Today’s Masters), an edition of twelve silkscreen prints honoring the prewar aesthetics of abstraction, followed by a second edition (Jeunes Peintres d’Aujourd’hui [Today’s Young Painters], 1954) dedicated to a younger generation of abstract artists. In the late 1950s and early 1960s Arcay’s practice evolved from easel painting into reliefs designed for architectural space. He joined the Constructivist Groupe Espace in 1953 and from 1959 to 1961 he was a member of the Cuban group Los Diez Pintores Concretos (Ten Concrete Painters). Although Arcay spent two-thirds of his life in France he regularly sent works to Cuba and represented his home country in exhibitions abroad, such as the 1955 Bienal de São Paulo.