Rafael Soriano, Un lugar distante (A Distant Place), 1972
Courtesy The Rafael Soriano Foundation

This past summer, two major paintings by the Cuban American artist Rafael Soriano (b. 1920, Cidras, Matanzas province) were donated to the Smithsonian American Art Museum. And this autumn, one of them will have a significant spot in a sweeping survey exhibition of Latino art in American culture.

The two works, Un lugar distante (A Distant Place, 1972) and Candor de la alborada (Candor of Dawn, 1994), represent distinct phases in the artist’s creative arc. “In the 1950s, the group my father belonged to, Pintores Concretos, introduced geometric art in Cuba,” explains Hortensia V. Soriano, director of the Rafael Soriano Foundation, which donated the works to the Smithsonian. “After leaving Cuba in 1962, his paintings began losing their linearity and angles. In the 1970s, there was still a touch of the geometric in his work, but he was beginning to develop his later visual language of light, form, and space. That’s why the 1972 piece, Un lugar distante, is so important. It’s a transitional work, a hint of what’s to come.”

By contrast, the second painting, Candor de la alborada, displays what Smithsonian curatorial assistant Florencia Bazzano-Nelson has described as Soriano’s “full-blown signature style—a symphony of glowing colors that curve through space to reveal a hidden knot of living matter.” Hortensia Soriano agrees, adding that “the shades of blue and the mastery of light in this particular piece are the unmistakable mark of his personal style.”

Rafael Soriano, Candor de la Alborada (Candor of Dawn), 1994
Courtesy The Rafael Soriano Foundation

“We are very excited to have in the collection two classic paintings by Rafael Soriano,” says E. Carmen Ramos, curator of Latino art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. “They show how Soriano aesthetically responded to the conditions of exile by turning to dreamscape visions that increasingly became spatially expansive.” Although the museum’s collection includes several works by Cuban Americans educated in the US, Ramos noted in a press release that the Soriano paintings “allow us to capture the perspective of the first generation of Cuban exiles who arrived as adults with significant careers in Cuba already under their belt.”

Ramos is the curator of the museum’s upcoming show Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art. A broad survey of work by Latino artists in the US from the mid-20th century to the present, the exhibition will feature close to 100 works in a range of media, drawn entirely from the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s own collection. Other Cuban-born artists in the show include Maria Brito, Carmen Herrera, Maria Martinez Cañas, Ana Mendieta, Teresita Fernández, and Emilio Sanchez—and, notes Ramos, “other acquisitions by Cuban American artists are also in process.” Our Americaopens at the museum on October 25 and runs through March 2, 2014. A US tour is in the planning stage.

For Hortensia Soriano and her mother, Rafael’s wife Milagros Soriano, it’s especially gratifying to see the artist taking his place in such an ambitious, wide-ranging collection. “Rafael Soriano has been called one of the major Latin American artists of his generation, and one of the premier painters of Cuba,” Milagros Soriano stated in a press release. “So it was fitting that his artwork be represented at our country’s leading art institution.” On a more personal note, Hortensia Soriano wrote: “I am thrilled that my parents are able to still be with me to enjoy this wonderful moment.”