THE FOR­TU­ITOUS NA­TURE OF A CALL­ING

Lu­ciano Men­dez’s Con­tem­po­rary Cuban Art Col­lec­tion

Art On Cuba - - Index - ONEDYS CALVO

The Cuban art col­lec­tion has a short–stand­ing and frac­tured his­tory. Dur­ing re­cent decades, af­ter na­tional pro­duc­tion pre­sented it­self to the world with daz­zling and re­newed spirit, a high per­cent­age of our plas­tic arts mainly in­creased in over­seas pri­vate col­lec­tions. That is why, Lu­ciano Mén­dez’s con­tem­po­rary Cuban art col­lec­tion has the ad­di­tional ap­peal of re­main­ing in Cuba.

More than 500 artis­tic works and 60 artists are part of such a col­lec­tion, no­table for its high qual­ity pieces of art and for be­ing very as rep­re­sen­ta­tive, par­tic­u­larly of pic­to­rial art of re­cent years on the is­land. Pieces cre­ated by Luis En­ríquez Camejo, Moisés Fi­nalé, Roberto Fabelo and Kcho, among other renowned Cuban painters, se­duced this ex­pe­ri­enced banker, un­til he be­came a col­lec­tor rec­og­nized for his sound judg­ment.

When and with what pur­pose did you turn your at­ten­tion to­wards Cuban arts?

For work rea­sons I came to live in Cuba in 2004. At first I be­gan pur­chas­ing af­ford­able pieces to dec­o­rate the of­fices of the bank in which I worked and for my home.

I started vis­it­ing ex­hi­bi­tions and ap­proach­ing gallery own­ers and art crit­ics, and I sensed an au­then­tic ex­plo­sion of good art, be­yond what I have seen in other coun­tries I have vis­ited as a banker. Be­com­ing a col­lec­tor was not a de­lib­er­ated de­ci­sion; in­stead, I ac­quired more and more pieces of art, with more eco­nomic rel­e­vance, that gave me greater sat­is­fac­tion.

Still a bank of­fice, the work­place is now an ex­hi­bi­tion site cher­ished by em­ploy­ees and vis­it­ing clients; some lat­est, who of­ten visit our of­fice, also do so in­ter­ested in the new art work ex­hib­ited in the bank.

At home things are sim­i­lar, so, col­lect­ing Cuban art pieces be­came un­stop­pable for me. The hobby has taken on a con­sid­er­able di­men­sion. I ac­cept be­ing called a col­lec­tor.

Do you still pur­chase pieces just be­cause you like them, or do you con­sider the com­mer­cial po­ten­tial im­plicit in col­lect­ing art­works?

The com­mer­cial po­ten­tial is present in any eco­nomic choice: if you pur­chase a house, a ve­hi­cle or any other as­set. All daily hu­man de­ci­sions have an eco­nomic com­po­nent. In an art col­lec­tion, that is not in­her­ited, ob­tained through work and sav­ings, you have to be cau­tious. I do not have a com­mer­cial pur­pose. I’m happy with the in­vest­ment not fall­ing un­der the mean value.

If I sup­port young artists, new grad­u­ates from arts schools be­cause they are part of my col­lec­tion, and if I sup­port self–taught artists, from the in­vest­ment view point, to any an­a­lyst, it is er­ro­neous. But in my view, a col­lec­tion and a col­lec­tor should not only con­sider the value of a col­lec­tion in five or fifty years’ time, but should be guided by their defin­ing fea­tures.

What are the keys to defin­ing your col­lec­tion?

First, I solely and ex­clu­sively pur­chase pieces of work by Cubans liv­ing and work­ing in Cuba. So, out of the 500 works, some might have been painted away from Cuba, but I would dare to say that all of them were painted on the is­land.

A few of the pieces were not in Cuba, and in a way, I have res­cued them.

I do not col­lect Van­guardia (avant–garde) or Colo­nial works. Se­condly, I buy solely and ex­clu­sively pieces I like.

This means I dis­re­gard pieces sold at in­ter­est­ing prices but not to my lik­ing. If I do not like them, they will not be part of my col­lec­tion.

Thirdly, I get a lot of in­for­ma­tion, I try to visit many ex­hi­bi­tions; vis­it­ing all is im­pos­si­ble be­cause there are many. I read pub­li­ca­tions, and of course I read Art On Cuba. And I care about crit­ics’ opin­ions.

I make an ef­fort to per­son­ally meet the artists and that is the fourth is­sue; as a col­lec­tor it is im­por­tant to in­clude and in­ter­pret the work by know­ing about the au­thor, his thoughts and in­spi­ra­tions, his spir­i­tual ex­pe­ri­ences to cre­ate. Artists re­flect them­selves in their cre­ation, so I need to know both. There are paint­ings I might col­lect by all means, be­cause I like them, but I al­ways try to learn about the artist’s per­cep­tion.

You have bet on Cuban art and its strength is one of the rea­sons you col­lect it. How do you be­lieve Cuban art is in­ter­na­tion­ally per­ceived, both from the com­mer­cial and the artis­tic points of view?

In global terms, in the artis­tic world jus­tice has not been served con­sid­er­ing the qual­ity of con­tem­po­rary Cuban arts. It is a pend­ing is­sue. The cel­e­bra­tion of Bi­en­nial ex­hi­bi­tions is im­por­tant. In the ab­sence of an Arts Fair in Ha­vana, the com­ing Bi­en­nial could be the most im­por­tant so far. I would sup­port an arts fair as it would be very pow­er­ful. Bi­en­ni­als fill those gaps. The evo­lu­tion in the last Bi­en­ni­als cre­ates ex­pec­ta­tion, with an in­creas­ing num­ber of vis­i­tors, col­lec­tors and crit­ics. The fo­cus is slowly shift­ing to Cuba.

What is your in­ten­tion when you or­ga­nize ex­hi­bi­tions with pieces from your col­lec­tion?

I want the Cuban au­di­ence to learn about it. I want not only the bank’s clients or my friends to know about it. Three ex­hi­bi­tions have been or­ga­nized in Ha­vana, in the José Martí Memo­rial and there are plans to or­ga­nize an­other in Jan­uary, 2018. I am also or­ga­niz­ing the Trav­el­ing Cuba ex­hi­bi­tion, to take pieces of art from San­ti­ago de Cuba to Pi­nar del Río. Fur­ther­more,

I am plan­ning an ex­hi­bi­tion in Spain for 2019, ini­tially in Barcelona and Madrid.

Why have you al­ways been the cu­ra­tor for your col­lec­tion?

Be­cause I feel pretty com­fort­able and com­mit­ted to tak­ing care of my own col­lec­tion. Per­haps at some point that will change, but at this stage and since I started the col­lec­tion to date, I pre­fer to take on that re­spon­si­bil­ity, I mean: se­lect­ing artists, pieces of art and de­ter­min­ing the des­ti­na­tion.

Ev­ery ex­hi­bi­tion has a pur­pose: in the first one, al­most all were ac­claimed artists; in the sec­ond, we find artists in the mid­dle of their cre­ative work, and in the third ex­po­si­tion, there were ac­claimed cre­ators, some oth­ers in the mid­dle of their cre­ative work and some be­gin­ners. The fourth ex­hi­bi­tion in­cludes ac­claimed cre­ators, but there is a new el­e­ment: sculp­ture.

The ex­po­si­tion in Spain will in­cor­po­rate pho­tog­ra­phy and video. The ex­hi­bi­tions are a mir­ror of what hap­pens in the col­lec­tion.

Why have you de­cided to in­clude four well known artists: Al­fredo Sosabravo, Roberto Fabelo, Manuel Men­dive and Pe­dro Pablo Oliva, in the next ex­hi­bi­tion, in­cor­po­rat­ing sculp­tures?

The fourth ex­hi­bi­tion is an ini­tia­tive shared with the José Martí Memo­rial. I be­lieve the first three closed a cy­cle. The cat­a­logues are white, blue and red, re­spec­tively. The colors of the Cuban flag. This one should be dif­fer­ent. I sought in­for­ma­tion on re­cent ex­hi­bi­tions and found noth­ing sim­i­lar. The ti­tle will be Be­tween Can­vases and Sculp­tures. No pre­vi­ous ex­hi­bi­tion has gath­ered these four artists, who are au­then­tic sen­sa­tions, both in paint­ing and in sculp­ture. That is why I sug­gest them. In my view, it is go­ing to be at­trac­tive and I have at­tempted to bring to­gether can­vases and sculp­tures highly rep­re­sen­ta­tive of each artist’s work.

... in my view, a col­lec­tion and a col­lec­tor should not only con­sider the value of a col­lec­tion in five or 50 years’ time, but should be guided by their defin­ing fea­tures.

How do you in­cor­po­rate sculp­ture in your col­lec­tion?

I ar­rived late to sculp­ture, but I knew for sure I was go­ing to get to it, since the very first mo­ment I started col­lect­ing pieces of art. I had to be ma­ture as a col­lec­tor; I had to fol­low my evo­lu­tion un­til I could ap­pre­ci­ate three-di­men­sional art. The first pieces are by the four in Be­tween Can­vases and Sculp­tures, but I also have some other pieces in my col­lec­tion. The same oc­curs with pho­tog­ra­phy. We are in the 21st cen­tury and we can­not con­ceive an art ex­hi­bi­tion with­out pho­tog­ra­phy or video art.

Ex­perts in your ex­hi­bi­tions re­peat: José Veigas as critic, R10 as de­signer and Ri­cardo Elías as pho­tog­ra­pher.

I be­lieve in the im­por­tance of teams, hu­man teams. There are peo­ple who have been work­ing with me for 25 or 30 years in this of­fice. If the team works, it works. How­ever, in the next ex­hi­bi­tions the team shall be in­creased. In the show in Jan­uary in the Memo­rial, there will be a text from Pepe Veigas and an­other one Moraima Clavijo. As well as the pho­tog­ra­phy by Ri­cardo Elías, Rodolfo Mar­quetti will take pho­tos of the sculp­ture. Span­ish spe­cial­ists will work in our team in the ex­hi­bi­tion in Spain.

... I con­sider all col­lec­tors to have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to­ward so­ci­ety. Pieces of art are not to be merely en­joyed by the col­lec­tor, his rel­a­tives and friends. They are a her­itage to be shared.

How ap­pro­pri­ate or not is the arts mar­ket in Cuba for col­lec­tors, where the pieces are di­rectly ob­tained in the artists’ Stu­dios, with­out a gallery or a fair fa­cil­i­tat­ing?

The way col­lec­tors has ob­tained works has var­ied through his­tory. In Rem­brandt’s Hol­land, both, he and his co­evals painted for per­son­ally known buy­ers, and they even in­ter­acted with their rel­a­tives. The con­text of their leg­is­la­tion and the frame­work of what we call Gal­leries had lit­tle in­flu­ence on their col­lect­ing style.

In the 21st cen­tury things are dif­fer­ent. I am not in fa­vor or against any of the cur­rent prac­tices. We col­lec­tors must adapt with­out try­ing to change given prac­tices, which would be pre­ten­tious, es­pe­cially as a for­eigner. We can­not hope to ob­tain pieces as if we were in an­other coun­try: you are where you are. I en­joy this dy­namic as, as I said, one of my pur­poses is to meet artists and learn about their cre­ative process. In this re­gard, all this is fine with me.

With no in­ten­tion you be­came and con­sider your­self a col­lec­tor. What is your great­est re­spon­si­bil­ity as a con­tem­po­rary Cuban art col­lec­tor?

In terms of re­spon­si­bil­ity, I con­sider all col­lec­tors to have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to­ward so­ci­ety. Pieces of art are not to be merely en­joyed by the col­lec­tor, his rel­a­tives and friends. They are a her­itage to be shared. Artists cre­ate in a so­cial and his­toric frame­work. Those shar­ing that frame­work have a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing. Some works ex­hib­ited in Madrid, Paris or in any other city shall be per­ceived dif­fer­ently as in­ter­preted in the artist’s coun­try. They will un­der­stand some things but they will not rec­og­nize some oth­ers.

That is why I have ar­ranged the ex­hi­bi­tions and I do not rule out the pos­si­bil­ity to take one to Miami, so that Cubans liv­ing there may know the col­lec­tion.

How im­por­tant is it that the col­lec­tion is in Cuba, re­mains in Cuba and that you show your in­ter­est in shar­ing it?

For me this is like rain­wa­ter; it is nat­u­ral. I have been in this coun­try for al­most 15 years, my pro­fes­sional project is linked to it, and per­haps my life project is Cuba. Here I am, here there are the pieces of art and the artists. I can­not think of a bet­ter place than Cuba to have the col­lec­tion. ƒ

TOMÁS SÁNCHEZ Paisaje, 1983 Tem­pera on pa­per 20¾ x 28¾ inches

ROBERTO FABELO Ovo II, 2016

Acrylic on em­broi­dered silk 65¾ x 48 inches

MA­BEL POBLET Un­ti­tled

Mixed me­dia on PVC 60¼ x 71¾ inches

PE­DRO PABLO OLIVA

Las her­mosas tardes de Don Severo, 2009 Oil on can­vas

27½ x 19¾ inches

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