Augustin Cardenas

French, 1927-2001 Biography

Augustin Cardenas was born in Matanzas, Cuba in 1927, and studied at the Academia de Bellas Artes de San Alejandro in Havana from 1943 to 1949. His first individual show was held at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Havana in 1955, and that same year he traveled to Paris on a scholarship. His wood and stone sculptures are biomorphic, and are intended to be provocative both intellectually and sensually. The affinity that the surrealists felt for his work led to his first Paris exhibition at the Galerie L'Etoile Scellle in 1956.  

Since then, Cardenas has been exhibited widely in Europe, the Americas, and Asia. At the 1961 Biennale de Paris, he was awarded the prize in sculpture. His many individual shows include FIAC, Paris in 1980 and 1984, Museo de Bellas Artes, Caracas in 1982, and International Gallery, Chicago in 1990. His works appear in many museums and private collections, including Fond National d'Art Contemporain, Montreal, Museum of Modern Art, Tel Aviv, Hakone Museum, Japan, Museo de Bellas Artes, Caracas, and Musee d'Art Moderne de la ville de Paris.

Cardenas lived in Paris since 1955, and worked in Paris and Carrara, Italy. Under the auspices of the magazine Avance, the First Exhibition of Modern Art was held in Havana. The magazine helped foment the changes in direction being taken by the visual arts in a context that Marinello defined as the "critical decade". 

Since his days at the San Alejandro Academy, the "master of masters" of Cuban sculpture, Juan Jose Sicre, recognized in Cardenas the vigor and creative imagination that accompanied him throughout his career, from his early work at the end of the 1940s through the experience of "Los Once" to the mature, definitive work of his Parisian period. 

In 1995, Cardenas was awarded the National Fine Arts Award, along with another Cuban sculptor, Rita Longa. Working inter-relatedly with wood, marble and bronze, he demonstrated that traditional media are not at odds with each other and seemed comfortable dialoging ideologically with Brancusi or Henry Moore. For many, Augustin Cardenas' farewell leaves a void, but the compensation is his universal legacy, in which he was able to capture, in the words of Ricardo Pau-Llosa, "the apprehension of those intangible forces that give life form." 

Cárdenas spent the last few years of his life in Havana, where he died in 2001.

Segundo Premio VI Salón Nacional de Pintura y Escultura, Salones del Capitolio Nacional, Havana, Cuba, 1953
Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, 1976
Fujisankey Biennal Prize at the Hakone Open Air Museum, Fujisankey, Japan, 1976
Premio Nacional de Artes Plásticas by the Cuban Ministry of Culture, 1995

Centro Asturiano, Havana, Cuba, 1950
Palacio de los Trabajadores, Havana, Cuba, 1952
Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana, Cuba, 1955
Galerie Daniel Cordier, Paris, France, 1960
Budapest, Hungary, 1973
Corea Gallery, Seoul, South Korea, 1987
Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana, Cuba, 1993
Salón de la Solidaridad, Hotel Habana Libre, Havana, Cuba, 2000
Haim Chanin Fine Arts Gallery, New York, New York, 2000

Centre National des Arts du Cirque, Chalons-en-Champagne, France
Fonds National d’Art Contemporain, France
Hakone Open Air Museum, Hakone, Japan
Musée d’Art Contemporain, Argel, Algeria
Musée d’Art et d’Industrie, Saint Etienne, France
Musée de la Sculpture en Plein Air, Paris, France
Museo de Bellas Artes, Caracas, Venezuela
Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana, Havana, Cuba

Sans Titre

Gouache and watercolor on paper
22 x 18 ⅛ inches
26 ⅝ x 21 ½ inches framed
Signed and dated lower right
Executed 1981

Private collection, France

Andre Breton once was quoted as saying that Augustin Cardenas had hands “efficient as a dragonfly.” In Sans Titre, 1981 there is no denying the precision and accuracy when Cardenas executed this piece. Cardenas rarely had a work on paper that served as more than a study for his sculptures. The attention to detail and texture that is seen in Sans Titre, 1981, leads us to believe that this was more than a mere study making it a rarity among his works. The figure in the foreground mimics Cardenas’s sculptural forms, yet has dynamism of its own. The negative space, just like in sculpture, is just as important as the positive space.