Savona, the works of Wilfredo Lam and the Magiciens de la Mer on display

From June 2 to Sept. 10, 2023, the Museum of Ceramics in Savona and MuDA in Albissola Marina are dedicating an exhibition to Wilfredo Lam and the 'Magiciens de la Mer,' artists such as Asger Jorn, Lucio Fontana, Enrico Baj and others who were the protagonists of a unrepeatable season in Liguria.

Entitled Lam et les Magiciens de la Mer , the exhibition that, from June 2 to September 10, 2023, the Museum of Ceramics in Savona and the MuDA Exhibition Center in Albissola Marina are dedicating to Wilfredo Lam (Sagua la Grande, 1902 - Paris, 1982), a great protagonist of world art between the 1950s and 1970s, and who for some time resided precisely in Albissola Marina to work with ceramics. In the exhibition the public will find more than thirty works by Lam, between totemism and new primitivism, in dialogue with other protagonists of the fertile season that made Albisola and its artisan workshops the fulcrum of international ceramic art: from Lucio Fontana to Enrico Baj, from Giuseppe Capogrossi to Roberto Crippa, from Asger Jorn to Maria Papa Rostkowska and Eva Sørensen.

Wilfredo Lam was “global long before the world was globalized,” mestizo by birth and then by culture, he devised a syncretic artistic language in which he fused European modernity, Surrealist influences, Afro-Cuban culture, and tropical references.For these reasons, the great Cuban artist has a very special place in the history of twentieth-century art. An indefatigable, almost nomadic traveler, he elected Albissola Marina as his permanent refuge in the early 1960s, a period in which the town was being transformed into an effervescent international art laboratory, grafting contemporary art onto a centuries-old ceramic tradition, capable of renewal in modern times.

The title of the exhibition, curated by Luca Bochicchio, Stella Cattaneo and Daniele Panucci, is intended to deliberately recall the seminal Magiciens de la Terre exhibition held at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 1989: the Parisian show aimed to involve artists from the five continents, challenging the presumed Western cultural supremacy, through open confrontation with subjects usually excluded from the European and American institutional circuit. Lam et les Magiciens de la Mer takes its cue from this reflection and translates it into a context (and place) very particular to Italian and international art history. We are in that dynamic season that, after World War II, saw the Albisole (Albissola Marina and Albisola Superiore) become an international gathering place for Italian and European artists, critics, collectors and art dealers; a time when many painters and sculptors began to address the themes of totemism, metamorphosis, and the mysterious and generative force of myths and supernatural spirits.

The arrival in Albissola Marina of Wifredo Lam, invited in 1954 by the Danish artist Asger Jorn, is not accidental and will have a strong impact on the area. Beginning with his final move in 1961, in fact, the life forces of nature, primordial spirits, and totemic animal and shamanic figures began to proliferate on vases, plates, plates and reliefs made at a rapid pace by Lam at Ceramiche San Giorgio.

Simultaneously, similar themes appear on works by other artists who gravitated around Albisola’s ceramic workshops, starting with the celebrated Ceramiche Mazzotti (which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, also celebrated by a dedicated project room inside the Ceramics Museum in Savona): Enrico Baj, Giuseppe Capogrossi, Roberto Crippa, Ansgar Elde, Lucio Fontana, Franco Garelli, Asger Jorn, Maria Papa Rostkowska, Mario Rossello, Rinaldo Rossello, and Eva Sørensen.

The idea of the exhibition is that these artists are the “magicians of the sea”: artists, Lam above all, who in Albisola have turned their attention to totemic figures, zoomorphic and anthropomorphic beings, the primordial forces of matter and essential gestures that bear marks, holes and scratches on it. And magicians are also the master artisans of Albisola, capable at the time of incredible textural and coloristic effects, and who still guard and hand down techniques necessary to shape, bake, and decorate clay.

Authors who chose “the suburbs,” the two curators explain in the catalog published by Electa, “instead of the large metropolitan centers, a (international) microcosm, provincial but imbued with art, ingenuity, thought and manual skills, where artisans and artists who flock to kilns, factories, studios, beach clubs, art galleries-even those improvised in restaurants and cafes-speak the common language of ceramics, made of plastic matter, processes, expectations, colors and sharing. With the Mediterranean wave slamming incessantly on the shoreline, squeezing the village and its inhabitants against the hillside.”

The works of these artists, many of them unpublished and of exceptional value, will be displayed in the two museums through four thematic itineraries inspired by the macro-themes Totem, Animals, Metamorphosis and Signs.

One part of the exhibition, under the title Lam entre Mares. De Albisola a La Habana, will then be presented later at the Museo Nacional de la Cerámica Contemporánea Cubana in Havana (December 2023-March 2024), curated by Surysday Reies Martynez.

“It was a magical time for our land that of ceramics and artists in the Albisole between the 1950s and 1970s, during which we unveiled unsuspected skills and insights,” says Luciano Pasquale, president of the Ceramics Museum Foundation of Savona. “Wifredo Lam and the other ’wizards of the sea’ help us recognize in that time the virtue of art and culture capable of materializing a consciousness of place that we must continue to treasure. The artistic value and the protagonists of this exhibition give it an international caliber and contribute greatly to defining the new horizons of the Museum of Ceramics in Savona.”

The exhibition opens at the Museum of Ceramics in Savona on Mondays from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. At MuDa in Albissola Marina Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to noon and 5 to 7 p.m. For info:

The project is sponsored by the Savona Ceramic Museum Foundation and the City of Albissola Marina, with the support of the De Mari Foundation, the scientific contribution of Estate Lam, and the patronages of the Museo Nacional de la Cerámica Contemporánea Cubana, the Oficina del Historiador, and the Municipalities of Savona and Albisola Superiore. Exhibition designed and conceived by Luca Bochicchio, technical assistance and mediation Alessio Cotena, Marco Isaia, Donatella Ventura, graphic and exhibition design Giulia Gaggero and Davide Servente (gaggeroservente), Electa catalog.

The artist

Wifredo Lam was born in Cuba in 1902 to a Chinese father and an Afro-Hispanic mother. In 1923 he received a scholarship and moved to Spain, where he stayed for 14 years, also joining Republican forces in the fight against Franco. In 1938 he moved to Paris: he met Picasso and, through him, Braque, Matisse, Miró, Léger, Eluard, Tzara. In 1939 he held his first solo exhibition. He then moved to Marseilles, where many of his friends, mostly Surrealists, clustered around André Breton at Villa Air-Bel. In 1942 he returned to Cuba: here he deepened his artistic research by drawing on his childhood, youth and Afro-Cuban culture; he would paint more than 100 paintings, including La Jungla, later acquired by MoMA in New York. In 1946 he stayed in Haiti and attended voodoo ceremonies along with Pierre Mabille and André Breton. He then travels to New York, where he sees Marcel Duchamp again.

In the late 1940s he divides his time between Europe, Havana and New York. He frequents numerous artists, including Noguchi, Hare, Motherwell, Pollock, Asger Jorn and the CoBrA group. Beginning in 1947 Lam’s style evolves. The influence of oceanic art is mixed with that of African art, and the presence of esoteric elements becomes dominant. His work takes on international prominence. In 1952 he settled in Paris. In 1954 he also travels to Italy, to Albissola Marina, where at the initiative of Asger Jorn and Édouard Jaguer an international meeting of sculpture and ceramics is organized. During the 1960s Lam’s work reflects a growing interest in printmaking. Beginning in ’64, he divided his time between Paris and Albissola Marina, where he set up his studio in his new home. Here, thanks in part to his collaboration with the local Ceramiche San Giorgio, he experimented with the many possibilities offered by ceramics, transforming plates, vases and reliefs into sculptures and paintings with totemic, monstrous and animal figures, a synthesis of primitive art and the European avant-garde.

Pictured: room of the exhibition. Photo by Jorge Felix

Savona, the works of Wilfredo Lam and the Magiciens de la Mer on display
Savona, the works of Wilfredo Lam and the Magiciens de la Mer on display

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