MADE IN CUBA UTOPIAS AND SOME OTHER HONORS…
UTOPIAS AND SOME OTHER HONORS…
Cuban history is full of utopias. There are small and giant utopias, heartbreaking, silent, inclusive and exclusive ones. Under these lights, art has, luckily, been the most recurring defense mechanism. It is known that an utopia dies when it is achieved… while the moment of gestation has the highest utopic value. History is a process, as much as or even more than a utopia, though sometimes, the generational gaps between us and the historic event place the incident in past tense. The utopia used by Orlando Hernández to speak about the Taller (Print Workshop) goes beyond.
The exhibition AB(out) (Kendall Art Center, Nov–Dec 2017) and the accompanying monograph, entitled Todo lo que quería saber de serigrafía artística cubana... y nunca le contaron (All you wanted to know about Cuban artistic silk screen printing... and were never told), both by the artist Aldo Menéndez (1948), are gifted with surprising validity and novelty. Such qualities are seen in 120 Cuban silk screen prints on display at the Centro, many of them from Taller Portocarrero, founded by Aldo in
1983, which he led until 1990 and was originally named Taller Experimental de Serigrafía Artística del Fondo Cubano de
Bienes Culturales (Experimental Print Workshop for Artistic
Silk Screen Prints of the Cuban Cultural Assets Fund). This was an institution still finding its way, trying to recover an artistic market lost twenty years before. Progress was made and it began fertilizing the soil for the sustainable development of artistic silk screen printing, updated in less than five years, as no other graphic manifestation.
"I cannot think of a place with more utopias per square meter"
— ORLANDO HERNÁNDEZ
This exhibition, showing a wide range of national and foreign artists, can be analyzed as a testimony of our historical and cultural ups and downs. The skill of this production is based, as Menéndez says, on the human resources found in the Workshop, including the collaborators. In the midst of scarceness and limitations of all kind, these resources were the tool that placed those works in a prominent position overseas, on organizing the International Meetings for Artistic Silk Screen printing of the three initial Havana Biennials.
The initial rapprochement with international artistic silk printing was in 1942, Menéndez explains, when the Habana Lyceum showed an important exhibition of outstanding American silk screen printers. Then a prehistory in the commercial sphere occurred and new spaces and printings that contributed to foster in Cuba the takeoff of artistic silk screen printing, with some pioneers associated with constructivism: Salvador Corratgé and Wifredo Arcay and the poster maker Eladio Rivadulla, who developed during the 1950s a movie poster that represented the technical pillars for the renewed concept of the poster, later introduced by the designers in ICAIC. In this sense, the 1960s and the 70s are also represented by the creative UNEAC Printing Workshop, led by Julio Pérez Medina and that of the Casa de las Américas. Likewise functioned those directed by painters Luis Miguel Valdés y Carlos Uribazo. Each of them, friends and colleagues, were called by me, as member of the advisory committee, eager to share their experiences to start the Print Workshop in the Cuban Cultural Assets Fund, later renamed Portocarrero.
The Taller prioritized artistic elements over technical virtuosity and no one unaware of this art form could operate a scraper or waste ink in making reproductions. The results are unquestionable and the achievements are still vivid, in a style still existing in other workshops such as: Pepe Herrera and Francisco Bernal in Madrid, or Nelson Villalobo de Vigo, as well as La Siempre Habana, of Luis Miguel in Michoacán.
With a basis in historiography, there exists a well–informed spectator (who reads, searching in the sources and advantageously using the reviews accumulated through the canonization of the criticized matter), and a beginner, a historical witness, trying to have a broader vision and to take a risk with something the critics is still validating, and such is the case of Aldo, who, in his permanent betting, places individual, collective and systematic work to favor the creation of the artist, who took overseas, beyond our borders, Cuban artistic silk screen printing.
Aldo notes: Bernal, Pepe, Villalobo, Israel León, Rubén
Rodríguez, Ana Escobar, are some of the first emerging artists and recently graduated from the University of Arts (ISA), who joined the project. Alejo Carpentier donated one of his awards to purchase the equipment we started with. The support from leaders in the cultural field was crucial, persons who “never closed doors to us”, even at times when the Print Workshop became headquarters of the most controversial individuals and groups in the arts, even in the ideological sense. Even knowing full well that the more troublesome ideas came from there and that all were printed, we were supported by Marcia Leyseca, Nisia Agüero y Llilian Llanes.
The previous elements give artistic silk screen printing some additional virtues: the immediate reaction to social situations, and its lower price original art, reaching a greater number of the public, and give the Print Workshop the benefit of the economic support for an infinity of artists and a site for technical training.
Speaking of virtues, Aldo underlines the main asset of the Print Workshop was creating a very free atmosphere, an attractive environment for exchanging criteria, a cultural focus for youth interested in meeting local or foreign celebrities, with no barriers. In summary, an atmosphere of abundant permissiveness.
As Cuba was a consumerist paradise before 1959, this exhibition acknowledges the enthusiastic welcome offered by the national industry to this technique, and speaks about the results since the 1930 in the presentation of original commercial products.
This exhibition and the monograph attest to the luxury years of our silk screen printing, also seen in the diaspora, in the Miami Press Workshop, established by the painter Víctor Gómez. In short, this trajectory is to be seen as an experience, as Aldo's lifelong personal and social work. The monograph should become study material for artists and researchers. The KAC halls, a
Center directed by the collector Leonardo Rodríguez, devoted to safeguarding and promoting of Cuban plastic art works, are today an elegant space, with curator work from Henry Ballate and Ivonne Ferrer. For those reasons, the gallery temporarily became the paradise of printing.
History is a process, as much as or even more than a utopia, though sometimes, the generational gaps between us and the historic event place the incident in past tense.
PEPE FRANCO Silk screen
Pepe Herrera Workshop, Madrid, Spain
ALDO MENÉNDEZ Silk screen
Fuera de Serie Workshop, Madrid, Spain