The Art Partners go to Cuba: Havana Art Explosion

The Art Partners go to Cuba: Havana Art Explosion 

January 25, 2016 

Art has always played an important part in Cuban life and now there are exciting times for the Cuban art scene. Avant-garde artists and show-stopping creatives are filling government-run galleries and running their own independent studios. Besides, Cuba is becoming an active participant in the global cultural dialogue and there is increasing the amount of interest from the international art world for Cuban Art scene. In November 2013 Phillips’ New York launched the first stand-alone section of Cuban contemporary art in its Latin American Sale. The auction closed with a 100% sell-through rate for the Cuban portion. Wasn’t too long until Christie’s and Sotheby’s saw its potential and took up the initiative as well.

For someone who isn’t very familiar with Cuban art, I would recommend introduction with it by visiting National Museum of Fine Arts first. The former, very soviet alike building, which was constructed in 1954, houses exclusively Cuban art collations from the colonial period to the present days. It will be possible to see the development of national features and works which reflect the strong symbolic imagery that has been prevalent in recent decades. The ground floor is dedicated to the contemporary shows of living artists.

  Ciro Quintana 'Aventuras y desaventuras de Ciro Art' in the Museum of Fine Arts

Ciro Quintana 'Aventuras y desaventuras de Ciro Art' in the Museum of Fine Arts

  View outside the Galleria Continua in China Town, Havana

View outside the Galleria Continua in China Town, Havana

  Installation view of the group show 'Anclados en el Territorio' in Galleria Continua

Installation view of the group show 'Anclados en el Territorio' in Galleria Continua

The next stop will be in China Town part of old Havana, where Galleria Continua opened its 4th venue in the walls of abandoned movie theatre at the end of 2015. The starting point to open up a new space in Cuba was a year ago when the performance of Michelangelo Pistoletto took place. That desire grew even more following the invitation from the director of the Havana Biennale, Jorge Fernández, to take part in the 12th edition, inviting Daniel Buren, Anish Kapoor, Shilpa Gupta, Nikhil Chopra, José Yaque, and Michelangelo Pistoletto. All this only has strengthened the concept to open up a new space. It’s the first time when the private gallery has come to Cuba, where exist only state-run galleries. After long negotiations with the cultural department to have permission to open private gallery, it was possible to remain the actual name of the gallery, however, this process is still on-going. But overall it showcases the first major steps of changes in the Cuban art scene.

  Subodh Gupta'Fuente' in the group show 'Follia Continua' at Centro Wilfredo Lam

Subodh Gupta'Fuente' in the group show 'Follia Continua' at Centro Wilfredo Lam

The gallery workers also directed me to visit The Wifredo Lam Center of Contemporary Art, founded in 1983 as an homage to Wifredo Lam, an important Cuban artist from this century. It has an extensive collection of artworks and exhibits regularly various artists from different regions. It also hosted an exhibition commemorating Galleria Continua’s 25th year featuring 15 international artists. A major installation of pots by Subodh Gupta in the centre of the courtyard, the endless column saturate red colour by Anish Kapoor or ‘Purification Room’ of clay by Chinese artist Chen Zhen – all this showed the great diversity of art represented by Continua.

  Anish Kapoor 'Infinite Column' in the group show 'Follia Continua' at Centro Wilfredo Lam

Anish Kapoor 'Infinite Column' in the group show 'Follia Continua' at Centro Wilfredo Lam

However, the best way to experience Havana’s culture is by meeting its artists and visiting their studios. Some of the phone numbers of artist’s studios available online, artists themselves are very friendly and more than happy to tell about their practice. During my trip, I was able to see Casa de Los Artistas, where several of Cuba’s famous artists have studios, including Pedro Pablo Oliva, Ernesto Rancano Vieites and Angel Ramirez; studio of Alexis Leiva Machado, also known as Kcho; studio of Esterio Segura; and studio of Yaone Capote, called El Bunker.

  Cuban Artist Angel Ramires in his studio

Cuban Artist Angel Ramires in his studio

  Installation view of Kcho's upcoming show 'The Sun of Cuba' at The Power Station of Art in Mainland China in 2016

Installation view of Kcho's upcoming show 'The Sun of Cuba' at The Power Station of Art in Mainland China in 2016

  Artwork by Ernesto Rancano Vieite

Artwork by Ernesto Rancano Vieite

I met with Esterio Segura the same day, who was also having his solo show at the Museum of Fine Arts. After giving me a tour of his extensive studio, Esterio kindly told me about his works and ideas in progress. Among the various of artworks in the studio, attention is captured by Goodbye My Love series —red aircrafts whose central part is shaped like a heart. GMBLove reflects the pain and the bitter-sweet taste of farewells. Apart from strong visual works, he has very provocative and censured pieces that are hidden in the backrooms, challenging the question of power and the current government.

  With Ernesto Segura at his studio with GBMLove piece

With Ernesto Segura at his studio with GBMLove piece

In one of Havana's area, Jaimanitas, is located wonderful artist studio of Cuban 'Gaudi' - Jose Fuster. His practice is a great example of artistic dedication and support of a community. He made a major contribution of rebuilding his local area over 10 years. He puts his own money he makes from selling his paintings and sculptures back into the community, redecorating his neighbour's houses, incorporating them into Fusterlandia.

Getting to know Cuban Art fills you with a sense of astonishment at so much original and impassioned art. Conceptual, international, naive or nostalgic about past times and about disappearing present – there is something that will touch everyone.

  View of redecoraited neibourhood by Cuban naive artist Jose Fuster

View of redecoraited neibourhood by Cuban naive artist Jose Fuster

  'The Tree of Light' by Rafael Villares, remained in the city after Cuban Biennial 2015

'The Tree of Light' by Rafael Villares, remained in the city after Cuban Biennial 2015