Arts & Affairs Features

Paintings Between Latin America, Africa and Europe: Oswaldo Vigas

Image courtesy of the Oswaldo Vigas Foundation

The Boca Raton Museum of Art presents “Oswaldo Vigas: Paintings Between Latin America, Africa and Europe” (on view through May 21), a collection of works by the Latin American master which he created in Paris in the 1950s, and in Venezuela from 1969-1976. The exhibition is an homage to the artist by his son, the award-winning filmmaker Lorenzo Vigas – as an intimate lens through the eyes of their father-son relationship, honoring the launch of the new catalogue raisonné of his father’s work. The exhibition features several works that have never been exhibited before in the United States. The paintings are on loan from the Oswaldo Vigas Foundation.

One of Venezuela’s most prolific and influential painters of the twentieth century, Oswaldo Vigas (1923-2014) was recognized for his vision of the Americas. When interviewed in the 1950s and 1960s, Vigas compared his art to his birthplace, saying, “The Americas are a cosmos. Our continent is full of dark signs and warnings: telluric signs and magic that are deep components of our condition. At the same time that they reveal something, these symbols also compromise us in a disturbing world of effervescence. The intention of my painting is to reach them, interpret them and translate them into new warnings. My paintings are halfway between Latin America, Africa and Europe.”  Vigas is known for his singular vision that takes inspiration from his pride in his Mestizo identity, alongside the history, mythology and ancient art of Venezuela mixed with influences from European modernism.

Vigas is celebrated as a towering figure of modernism in Latin America, with a career spanning seven decades. His first solo exhibition in the U.S. was in 1958 in Washington, D.C. Described as “an artist who bridged the gap between pre-Colombian iconography and the experimental art movements of the 20th century,” Vigas received the International Association of Art Critics Award twice (in 2008 and 2014) and was the recipient of the Latin Union Award in Washington, DC in 2004.

“For South Florida audiences, at the crossroads here of the contemporary Latin American experience, this new presentation of the work of Oswaldo Vigas takes on a whole new meaning at this time in American culture,” said Irvin Lippman, the executive director of the Boca Raton Museum of Art. “We are thrilled to partner with the Oswaldo Vigas Foundation, and to welcome the artist’s widow and son to usher in the opening of this powerful exhibition.”

The new Oswaldo Vigas catalogue raisonné may be viewed online at The catalogue was researched by the Oswaldo Vigas Foundation with the support of Axel Stein, the former head of the Latin American Art Department of Sotheby’s. The first online catalogue raisonné of any Venezuelan artist, this valuable resource will allow scholars, curators, collectors and the public to access information about the artist.  The catalogue includes over 3,000 paintings, gallery and museum history and publications detailing the artist’s trajectory. The catalogue provides a clear understanding of Vigas’ first works regarding his vision of the Americas, and his period spent in Paris which resulted in his famous Central University of Venezuela (UCV) murals (now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site), and the numerous works he created before his death in Venezuela 2014.

A self-taught painter and muralist, Vigas’ work includes paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, ceramics and tapestries. The artist was featured in more than one hundred solo exhibitions and is represented in numerous public institutions and private collections around the world. He identified as “Mestizo,” a South American term for a person of mixed indigenous and Spanish heritage. As a child, he was keenly interested in the pre-Colombian artifacts and petroglyphs in the region. Although abstraction and figuration can be found in his paintings, Vigas did not want his work to be labeled as either. A modernist who masterfully blended elements of cubism, surrealism, constructivism and neo-figuration, each painting is imbued with his ongoing exploration into his Mestizo identity. Pre-Colombian lines and figurations can easily be seen in his work. His affinity for the female form and his strong, gestural style are hallmarks of his work. Vigas was a contemporary of Picasso, Ernst, Léger, Calder and Lam, and he became close to these artists while living in Paris during the 1950s and 1960s (especially Picasso, who encouraged Vigas to reflect on notions of ancestry in his work). Vigas was the first artist to represent Venezuela at the Venice Biennale when its national pavilion was inaugurated in 1954, and again in 1962 to organize the Venezuelan section. He was successful in France, where his works were exhibited alongside artists Jean Arp, Chagall, Giacometti, Laurens, Magritte, Matisse and others.

Vigas returned permanently to Venezuela after 12 years because he passionately yearned to contribute to his own country’s art scene by utilizing the knowledge he gained in Europe. Some say this move prevented him from gaining the international traction of his contemporaries in Paris from that era.

This new exhibition at the Boca Raton Museum of Art is a labor of love for the artist’s son Lorenzo Vigas, winner of the prestigious Golden Lion Award at the Venice International Film Festival in 2015. He subsequently directed a 2016 documentary about his father’s life entitled “The Orchid Seller” (El Vendedor de Orquídeas) and was recently deeply involved in the creation of his father’s online catalogue raisonné. “The film about my father asks us to reflect on the passage of time, the importance of memories, and above all on the origin of the impulse to create,” said Lorenzo Vigas. “My father’s art was always woven with the primeval roots of Latin American culture, yet he is no longer viewed merely as a ‘Latin American artist’– he is now acknowledged as a modern universal artist.”