Considered by many to be the most important Cuban sculptor of the 20th century, Agustín Cárdenas (1927-2001) is most known for his involvement in Paris’ surrealist movement. While heavily influenced by Brâncuși, Henry Moore, and Jean Arp, he developed a unique, abstract style with a distinctly Cuban inflection. This aligned with greater trends in Latin American art toward universality, which emerged during the latter half of the 20th century. Other artists involved in this process include Rufino Tamayo and Roberto Matta, along with Cárdenas’s compatriots Amelia Peláez and Wifredo Lam.
Through abstractionism, this group unleashed the expressivity of forms without seeking the anecdotal, but at the same time without renouncing figurative allusions. For his part, Cárdenas established great finesse with materials such as wood, Carrera marble, granite, and bronze, creating works that vary in scale from small-format pieces to monumental sculptures.
Cárdenas was born in Matanzas, Cuba, a major port for the sugar industry. After studying at the San Alejandro Academy from 1943-1949, the artist rose to fame in Cuba as a member of the Grupo de los Once (Group of Eleven), together with painters such as Guido Llinás and Raúl Martínez, and sculptors Tomás Oliva, Pancho Antigua, and Díaz Peláez.
After exhibiting his work at the Palacio de Bellas Artes (now the National Museum of Fine Arts), Cárdenas was awarded a scholarship to study in Paris, which marked an important turning point in his career; catching the eye of André Breton, the main force behind surrealism, the poet endorsed Cárdenas as part of the movement, presenting Cárdenas’s first solo show in the French capital, which drew great acclaim. The exhibition received enthusiastic reviews from Octavio Paz, Michel Troche, and Alain Jouffroy, among other leading intellectual figures.
Cárdenas took part in many exhibitions, such as the IV Exposición Nacional de Pintura, Escultura y Grabado at the Centro Asturiano, Havana, in 1950, and the "Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme Eros" at the Galerie Daniel Cordier, Paris, in 1960. In later years, his work was shown at the Corea Gallery, Seoul, South Korea, in 1987, and was the subject of a more retrospective at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana, Havana, in 1993.