Soriano Retrospective in Long Beach

Rafael Soriano artistThe Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD)* says that attendance at AAMD museums was over 60 million in 2015. Furthermore, according to the U.S. Travel Association, “76 percent of all U.S. leisure travelers participate in cultural or heritage activities such as visiting museums.”

Long Beach Museum of Art (LBMA) is the top-rated traditional museum in the area, according to TripAdvisor, just falling behind the Queen Mary for any museum-type institutions in the area. Located just a few minutes from the Long Beach airport, the Long Beach Museum of Art is only a 30-minute drive from either LAX or John Wayne Airport (SNA).

Long Beach Museum of Art was founded in 1950 as a municipal art center and is located in the historic 1911 Elizabeth Milbank Anderson House. In 2000, the Museum restored the residence and constructed a new two-story exhibition pavilion. Since then, the Museum has offered diverse and compelling exhibitions, which has resulted in increased visitors and program attendance.

From June 29 to October 1, 2017, an unprecedented retrospective on works of a highly acclaimed exiled painter will be at the museum. Rafael Soriano: The Artist as Mystic includes nearly 100 paintings, pastels, and drawings by the acclaimed master of geometric abstraction. The exhibition explores Soriano’s development by examining his early, transitional, and mature works.

Soriano (1920-2015) was born in Matanzas, Cuba which was commonly referred to as the Athens of Cuba in those days. One of the preeminent Latin American artists of his generation, this traveling show is an examination of his life’s work, including how exile affected his canvas.

In 1943, Soriano had a one-man show in Havana. A few years later, the Cuban Ministry of Education and Culture sent him to Mexico City where he met David Alfaro Siqueiros, among other Mexican artistic icons of the era. Upon his return, he co-founded the School of Fine Arts in Matanzas and served as its director from 1952 to 1953. During the pre-Castro age, several of his pieces of geometric art were acquired by the Museo de Bellas Artes in Havana, and he belonged to what was known as Los Diez (group of 10 painters) in Cuba.

“The 1950s would see a flourishing of Soriano’s work in Cuba, where he exhibited widely to great acclaim in both Havana and Matanzas. Soriano’s paintings, in turn, became the inspiration for many a poet, some in Cuba and some exiled themselves,” explains Elizabeth Thompson Goizueta curator of Rafael Soriano: The Artist as Mystic.

Soriano left Cuba in 1962. “The anxieties and sadness of exile brought in me an awakening. I began to search for something else,” the artist said at one point in time.

After his emigration, his style underwent a marked transformation. “He searches for an inner vision, one in which the artist confronts the complex reality that surrounds him, whether it is cultural, geographic, political or religious nature,” says Roberto Cobas Amate, curator of the Museo de Bellas Artes in Havana, about Soriano. “What emerges is a group of paintings that are suggestive in their very titles.”

Interestingly enough, Soriano’s wife, Milagros, helped the master to name his paintings. Soriano’s widow, living today in Miami, recalls that when she met the artist she was struck with a huge blow — of love at first sight. She not only encouraged him by jointly naming pieces of art but, she readied the canvases and frames for him to exercise his creativity.

Cobas Amate says of those early days in the U.S., “Soriano creates a new visual vocabulary that corresponds to the impact of diverse cultural surroundings. He prefers to soar to the highest reaches of heaven and have us share his cosmic journeys where any and all reality is possible.”

His daughter, Hortensia, shares that his imagery was very spiritual.  The spiritual energy and movement in his artwork were a reflection of the painter.

“Forging a cultural bridge between our two shores—which today we feel as a tangible reality — constitutes the best tribute one can pay to this universal, exceptional, and profoundly Cuban artist who, without a doubt, is Rafael Soriano,” closes Cobas Amate in an essay he wrote for the retrospective’s publication.

Rafael Soriano: The Artist as Mystic is organized by the McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College in conjunction with the Rafael Soriano Foundation**.  The retrospective is featured at the McMullen through June 4, 2017. From the east coast, it heads west to LBMA from June 29 to October 1, 2017.  After its three-month stay in Southern California, the exhibition will travel to the Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum in Miami (October 28, 2017–January 28, 2018). From there, a selection of the exhibition has been approved for display at the Museo de Bellas Artes in Havana, Cuba, representing a real socio-political breakthrough.

* Representing 245 art museum directors in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, the Association of Art Museum Directors promotes the vital role of art museums throughout North America and advances the profession by cultivating leadership and communicating standards of excellence in museum practice.

** Since paintings of Rafael Soriano were acquired by The Smithsonian in 2012, the Rafael Soriano Foundation has consulted, periodically, with The Write Counsel, the author of this article. 

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