Cárdenas was born in Cuba in 1927 into a family that came originally from West Africa. He studied sculpture at the San Alejandro School of Fine Arts. He had his first solo exhibition in Havana in 1955 and after this received a scholarship to travel to Paris. He went to Europe the same year and it was here that he developed his particular creative style. He lived in Paris until 1994 and exhibited in more than 100 group exhibitions, and 40 solo shows all over the world.
From the very beginning of his time in Paris, Cárdenas became a member of the Surrealist group created by André Breton. Cárdenas’s sculptures are worked in a variety of materials including wood, marble and bronze and for the most part represent fantastical, poetic and elegant “biomorphic” shapes. His famous totems in wood evoke his African origins. Without being figurative, he often uses the shapes of a woman’s body. André Breton writes in 1959 that “from his fingers, this great blossoming totem which, better than a saxophone, outlines the curves of a beauty queen’s waist.”
The dynamics of the flowing rounded lines produce a unique effect in their combination of erotic and symbolic themes. The timeless beauty, exotic plasticity, monumentalism and elegance of the shapes of his compositions have brought him recognition around the world.
His main legacy is his sculpture and his drawings. He drew all his life, creating innumerable new shapes.
Fonds National d'Art Contemporain, Paris
Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris
Musée de Sculpture en plein air de la Ville de Paris
Musée d'Art et d'Industrie, Saint Etienne
Museo d'Arte Moderno, Caracas
Museo National, Cuba
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels
Musée d'Ixelles, Belgium
Musée d'Art Contemporain, Alger
Musée d'Art Contemporain, Montreal
Musée d'Art Moderne, Tel Aviv
The Hakone open-air Museum, Japan
The Utsukushi-ga-hara open air Museum, Japan
Olympiads des Arts, Seoul
Lycée technique, Redon
C.E.S. Les Minguettes, Venissieux
Ensemble universitaire, Saint Denis
Lycée classique, moderne et technique, Creutzwald