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Wifredo Lam Comes to the McMullen

Appreciate international art? Like being cultured? Want a break from the sweltering sun between classes? You’re in luck!

The McMullen Museum of Art (located in Devlin Hall) has a new exhibit up that has taken the curator, Boston College’s own Elizabeth Goizueta, 10 years to put together. Wifredo Lam: Imagining New Worlds features the work of 20th century artist, Wifredo Lam, spanning his entire career. Unlike previous Lam exhibitions, this one incorporates not only his most well-known pieces, but also his lesser-known works. Additionally, the McMullen exhibit has works from around the globe in contrast to other Lam exhibits focusing on paintings from the United States. Several other museums in the country are currently planning their own Lam projects, but our own McMullen Museum has brought him to us first.

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Maddie Webster / Gavel Media


Two floors of wall-to-wall Lam paintings and drawings make a strong first impression. The exhibit is set up chronologically across the museum space, each area also being geographically themed. Lam traveled frequently, and each country served as a muse for his ever-evolving style. By looking across the floor, even someone with minimal knowledge of art history can see his artistic metamorphosis.

Sprinkled throughout the exhibit are large placards describing the different countries he lived in and his style in during that period. Although Lam maintains an identifiable style throughout his career, his first group of paintings created while studying in Spain from 1923 to 1938 contrast highly to his iconic large compositions of the 1960s. Between these two points, viewers are able to see not only the influence of the geography, but also of other noted artists and literary figures. Pablo Picasso was one of his mentors and his influence on Lam is obvious. However, Lam’s pieces during his years in Paris are considered to be even more radical than Picasso’s—and certainly more radical than the works of other surrealists.

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Maddie Webster / Gavel Media


Lam’s later stint in Cuba, where he was born, was a period in which he created (in my opinion at least) his most interesting pieces. Here he “blended human and animal imagery” and “synthesized human, animal, and vegetal” figures. Walking through the exhibit, I noticed a certain syncretic monster figure appearing in many of his paintings. It looks like something you’d see on Cartoon Network. Go check out the exhibit for this creature, alone, if not for one of the many other reasons.

Not only does this exhibit display Lam’s paintings and drawings, but it also includes a selection of personal items. Books, poetry, photos, and other random artifacts along with his collection of African sculptures are presented. The final grouping deals with his love for poetry, about which he said, “I believe in poetry. To me it is mankind’s great conquest.” In Italy from 1960 until his death in 1982, Lam collaborated with numerous poets. One poet decided to write individual poems for a collection of Lam drawings; the resulting poems are displayed under the drawings on the wall, adding another beautiful touch to the exhibit.

Wifredo Lam: Imagining New Worlds is up until December 14th, though I recommend visiting long before December. Tours are every Sunday at 2 p.m., so whether you go alone as I did or take a curated tour, find some time to check out this wild exhibit.

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Managing editor. Lover of history and all things 1960s. Lives by the lessons of The Rocky Horror Picture Show: "Don't dream it, be it."