Focused Survey of Cuban Painter Amelia Peláez Organized by Pérez Art Museum Miami

Featuring nearly 40 works by this much-loved artist, The Craft of Modernity demonstrates Peláez’s contributions to Cuban modernism

MIAMI – December 4, 2013 The Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) will open its new Herzog & de Meuron-designed building with a focused survey of the work of Amelia Peláez, one of the most important Cuban painters of the modernist era. The first exhibition of Peláez’s work in the United States in more than two decades, The Craft of Modernity takes a socio-historical approach, examining Peláez’s work in the context of the changing material culture and urban landscape of Havana during the first half of the 20th century. On view from December 4, 2013 through February 23, 2014, The Craft of Modernity features nearly 40 works by Peláez, ranging from early paintings completed soon after her return to Cuba from Europe to ceramic works she created late in her career.

“With The Craft of Modernity, PAMM continues its commitment to showcasing the achievements of Cuban and Cuban American artists, and to being at the forefront of the study of Latin American art,” said PAMM Director Thom Collins. “As Peláez’s important contributions to modernism are not as well recognized as some of her contemporaries, her work demands to be studied and exhibited more thoroughly. By invoking aspects of everyday life in Havana in her nostalgic compositions, Peláez has endeared herself to several generations of Cubans—in particular, Cubans in exile—many of whom live here in Miami and collect her work.” 

Peláez is best known for brightly colored, quasi-abstract compositions that feature decorative objects and ornamental architectural motifs, evoking the traditional domestic interiors of Havana. Alongside artists such as Carlos Enríquez, Wifredo Lam, Victor Manuel, and Fidelio Ponce de León, Peláez personifies the primera vanguardia—the first wave of Cuban artists who traveled to Europe before World War II, where they were exposed to Cubism, Surrealism and other contemporaneous styles. When these artists subsequently returned to the island nation, they introduced the artistic innovations they had adopted abroad and transformed them by incorporating aspects of their native cultural and national identities.

Organized by PAMM Curator René Morales and guest co-curator Ingrid Elliott, The Craft of Modernity is framed not as a retrospective but rather as an investigation of the complex and suggestive relationships among Peláez’s abstract representational practice, architectural and interior design, and the changing nature of craft production in her immediate milieu. Among the highlights in the exhibition is an early drawing titled La costurera (The Seamstress), in which a figure of a seamstress is set among the colonial architectural motifs that would come to distinguish Peláez’s later works. This and other early drawings in the exhibition serve as a bridge between the artist’s modernist studies in Paris and her incorporation of Cuban architectural motifs after her return to Havana.

The exhibition also features a number of works that display the centrality of fabric to Peláez’s work and methods of experimentation, including Marpacífico (Hibiscus), in which the artist brought the crafted pastiche of Cubist collage into the background of a still life. In many works, such as Dama esperando (Waiting Lady), Peláez allied the tablecloth with the picture plane, suggesting she identified the tablecloth with the canvas itself. These and other artistic innovations led Alfred Barr, founding director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, to claim that Amelia Peláez helped to bring Latin American Art into the twentieth century.

“Peláez emphasized artisanship—the practice of making things by hand—precisely at a moment when Havana experienced dramatic modernization, resulting in significant changes to the status of local craft traditions” said Morales. “The Craft of Modernity understands her work in light of the many tensions that accompanied modernization, together with the rise of a consumer society as well as significant changes in the roles played by women within Cuban society.”

The exhibition is accompanied by a full-color catalogue featuring essays by Morales and Elliott.

Organization and Support
Amelia Peláez: The Craft of Modernity is organized by Pérez Art Museum Miami Curator René Morales and Guest Curator Ingrid W. Elliott.

About Pérez Art Museum Miami
Pérez Art Museum Miami, formerly Miami Art Museum, is a vital cultural and educational center in one of the fastest growing regions in the country, where a confluence of Caribbean, North American, and South American cultures adds vibrancy and variety to civic activity. With the opening of its Herzog & de Meuron-designed building in downtown Miami in December 2014, the Museum serves as a resource commensurate with Miami’s thriving community of artists, designers, and collectors, its art-engaged public, and the location of some of the world’s most important art and design fairs. PAMM is committed to collecting art of the 20th and 21st centuries and that represents and responds to Miami’s cultural diversity. The Museum’s new facility has enabled the Museum to expand its exhibition, public, and progressive education programs, and to provide its community with innovative and exciting cultural experiences. 

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