The Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, presents a major survey of artist Zilia Sánchez’s works spanning from 1950 to 1996.
From April to October 2024, the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, will present a comprehensive survey of works by artist Zilia Sánchez (b. 1926, Havana; lives and works in San Juan, Puerto Rico). A singular voice in postwar Latin American modernism and geometric abstraction, Sánchez’s dynamic painterly practice encompasses a broad range of styles and themes. Spanning more than seven decades, her works are a product of continual experimentation.
Sánchez is best known for her iconic shaped canvas paintings. Stretched over wooden constructions, these works resemble bodily shapes while retaining abstract qualities. Through these works, the artist has explored formalist concerns while subtly grappling with significant social issues—notions of gender, feminism, and identity formation, among others. In addition to these stretched canvas paintings, the exhibition also includes a significant number of Sánchez’s earlier works, such as her abstract paintings in bright hues and geometric shapes created in the 1950s while living in Cuba.
In Havana, Sánchez was part of a group of painters that sought to leave behind figurative painting, which had dominated previous generations. In its stead, they mobilized abstraction, as an anti-establishment proposal and as a formal innovation. These were turbulent years in Cuba, as the repressive dictatorship was established, and a young generation of students, artists, and civic leaders resisted. In this atmosphere Sánchez began to develop increasingly complex formal proposals and test new abstract languages. In parallel with her abstractions, Sánchez developed her “Afrocubanos” series of paintings depicting abstracted, stylized figures and alluding to ritual practices and religious effigies. This exhibition gathers for the first time a robust group of these works, broadening understanding of the expansive scope and breadth of Sánchez’s practice.
The artist left Cuba in 1960, a year after Fidel Castro came to power, and settled in New York, where she became an active member of the cultural scene of émigré artists and writers. She worked as a graphic designer and as a theater set designer, while continuing to develop and exhibit her paintings. Experimenting with nontraditional materials, like sawdust, resin, and wax, Sánchez created a series of mixed media paintings that relate to the four elements, including Agua (1961) and Tierra (1968), along with more abstract themes such as Ecuación (Equation, 1963) and Sucesión (Succession, 1966).
In 1966, Sánchez moved to Madrid, aided by a fellowship from the CINTAS Foundation, to study conservation and restoration. She began to develop the style that would come to characterize her practice. Three-dimensional canvases with sensuous forms, her paintings of this period combine geometric abstraction with social, biographical, emotional, and erotic connotations, as works with titles referencing “Eros” and “Amazons” suggest. Since 1971, Sánchez has lived and worked in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The works she has created there are marked by an emphatic embrace of the female form, challenging the rigid and rational conventions of European modernism with a sensorial, feminist take on geometric abstraction.
The exhibition “Topologías / Topologies” encompasses approximately thirty works by the artist produced between 1950 and 1996. The survey will be accompanied by an exhibition catalogue featuring new photography, scholarly essays on the artist, and archival materials.
“Zilia Sánchez: Topologías / Topologies” is organized by ICA Miami and curated by Gean Moreno, Director of the institution’s Art + Research Center, and Stephanie Seidel, Curator.
Major support is provided by the Nicoll Family Fund, The Steven and Kathy Guttman Family Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Exhibitions at ICA Miami are supported by the Knight Foundation.