Born in Romania and raised in Paris, Sandú Darié worked first as a lawyer, then a cartoonist, before fleeing the Nazi invasion of France for the peaceful tropics of Havana in 1941. There he quickly became involved in Cuba’s globally-connected avant-garde circles, showing his early works alongside Arp, Picabia, Mondrian and Delaunay at Rose Fried Gallery in New York in 1951. In 1959 he became a founding member of the seminal group of concrete artists Los Diez Pintores Concretos
(alongside Loló Soldevilla). Each member of this group, celebrated for the first time in the United States in the groundbreaking 2015 David Zwirner exhibition Concrete Cuba
, made critical innovations in abstraction, expanding on the purist tenets of the original Concretes and prefiguring the later spatial explorations of artists like Soto and Vasarely. As Beatriz Gago notes in Más que 10 Concretos,
“There is a strong preoccupation in this concrete group for spatial awareness, to introduce in the work of art a phenomenology of movement and light that reaches often to the point of obsession, and that pushed their later work towards the development of op-art, and later kineticism.” (Beatriz Gago, Más que 10 concretos,
Madrid 2015, p. 20 ) This spatial awareness is clear in the work of Darié, who moved from painting to the reliefs and sculptures for which he is best known. He, like many giants of twentieth century art, owes some debt of gratitude for the success he achieved in shifting towards sculpture to the criticism of Clement Greenberg, who advised in a letter regarding his early work: “The two reproductions in the catalogue impressed me in the originality that they evinced… as promises, the beginning of something in the construction of the frame that could be a true expansion of the medium. The strips of wood that extend away from the work could be united among themselves in endless combinations… “ (Beatriz Gago in Más que 10 concretos,
Madrid 2015, p. 30)
Darié began to chase these “endless combinations” in the mid-1950s with the seminal series Estructuras transformables (transformable structures), to which the present work belongs. Here, Darié steps outside the Arp-like two dimensionality of his reliefs, creating an endlessly variable object by joining the “strips of wood” together and removing the central picture plane entirely. Thus, he creates an object that requires the spectator’s active participation: not only in the viewing, but the creation of the artwork. This revolutionary step “…constituted a transmutable form which, from the point of view of the composition, resulted in the autonomy of the work over the discursive will of the creator himself.” (Beatriz Gago in Más que 10 concretos, Madrid 2015, p. 43) With this gesture, Darié moves from the realm of the plastic into the realm of the spiritual, reflecting his fascination with the idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk, the complete and all-encompassing work of art. In an increasingly repressive political environment, Darié achieved ultimate freedom through his work, creating finite objects which contain infinite possibility.