Manuel Altoaguirre was not mistaken when in 1942 he predicted that Mario Carreño’s work could “(…) get to be priceless, and as diverse as the world our senses can conquer.”1 The Cuban artist navigated within the different styles and nourished from several art history tendencies and periods, demonstrating that it was his expertise on the field what allowed him to be so versatile.
Carreño was one of the top representatives of the avant-garde art that emerged in Cuba during the first half of the 20th century. However, he didn’t settle, as others did, with the style that took him to the peak of his career. On the contrary, he was one of the first to defend the new abstract tendencies arriving from Europe and United States.
Likewise, he exhibited his work on various internationally prestigious galleries, and he was admired in foreign lands. Perhaps, all this propitiated his success in nowadays markets. In 2009, one of his canvases shocked the art world when it was auctioned for $2.18 million dollars, a sum that surpassed the $1 and $2 million dollars estimated by Christie’s Auction House.
The beginnings of Mario Carreño’s career date back to 1925, when he enrolled at Academia de San Alejandro. His educational training continued growing at Academia de San Fernando in Spain; then, he learns of Mexican mural painting and meets Dominican painter Jaime Colson in Mexico; then, he takes classes at Académie Julien and Écoledes Arts Appliqués in France.
After becoming an accomplished artist within the Cuban avant-garde of the first half of the 20th century, he turns, along with Sandú Darié and Luis Martínez Pedro, into one of the first to defend the new abstractionism movement inside Cuba with his work and his critic.
Work takes him to Chile, and he decides to stay permanently. There, he does a significant work as an artist and professor; he obtains the Chilean citizenship, and the National Prize of Art. His artistic work didn’t stop, and his pieces were exhibited at the Biennale of Sao Paulo (1951, 1953, and 1956), the Biennale of Venice (1952), and the Museé d’Art Moderne in Paris (1962).
Several posthumous exhibitions have been held in his honor, which demonstrate the significance of his work as painter, sculptor, professor, critic, and as one of the main representatives of Latin American and Cuban Art.
1. Manuel Altolaguirre, “Mario Carreño” (Catalogue, Havana: Lyceum, 1942).