COL­LECT­ING AND SELL­ING/ A LIFESTYLE

Art On Cuba - - Index - ALDO MENÉNDEZ

Sil­via Dorf­s­man (Ha­vana, Cuba, Septem­ber 1963) does not fit the pro­file of the rich col­lec­tor who col­lects art to have a cer­tain pres­tige cor­re­spond­ing to a sta­tus or to di­ver­sify a port­fo­lio; nei­ther is she like the ped­dler sell­ing with in­dif­fer­ence for the piece and for whom it is just a way to make money. This en­tre­pre­neur­ial and charm­ing woman thinks of her­self as a tem­po­rary col­lec­tor who en­joys hav­ing the pieces on her walls while pro­mot­ing them: “…sell­ing to be able to buy and en­joy pieces by new artists I am pas­sion­ate about – she af­firms –, even if I own them for short pe­ri­ods”.

In­ter­view­ing her is easy; on one hand, be­cause she is the per­fect host who learned how to dis­tin­guish and cater for peo­ple's taste, and on the other hand, be­cause in many ways she is a di­rect and prac­ti­cal modern ex­ec­u­tive with al­ter­nate touches of fa­mil­iar­ity and re­fine­ment:

As a child I took plea­sure in look­ing at the paint­ings, glass­ware and porce­lain we had at home. I used to hide in my grand­fa­ther's stu­dio to open the clos­ets and look at the lit­tle fig­ures they kept there – Sil­via ex­plains. It was an im­mense de­light to leaf through the books and see their il­lus­tra­tions as I showed a pen­chant for draw­ing and dance, though I never stud­ied them. Even when I never showed abil­i­ties for sports, my par­ents were de­ter­mined to “dis­cover“them and af­ter years of in­tense prac­tice of rhyth­mic gym­nas­tics, my big­gest ac­com­plish­ment was to carry the flag be­fore a base­ball game. If I had be­come a dancer, to­day I would be like a Trop­i­cana dancer.

Where was all of this?

I spent my child­hood and ado­les­cence in Ha­vana – she an­swers –, be­tween La Pun­tilla, Playita de 16 and Fer­retero: lots of sea and lit­tle re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. Sil­via con­fesses that her uni­verse full of hap­pi­ness and in­no­cence ended all of a sud­den when in 1980, at the age of 16, she boarded a ship dur­ing the Mariel mass ex­o­dus to move to the United States with her fam­ily: her par­ents, ma­ter­nal grand­par­ents and sib­lings. Ev­ery­thing swiftly changed for her and that ex­pe­ri­ence de­stroyed her in­no­cence, turn­ing ev­ery­thing around, start­ing a very dif­fer­ent ex­is­tence from that in the Ha­vana neigh­bor­hood: “…there we would hang out on the street or my house, whose doors would only close af­ter mid­night – she re­mem­bers –, even in Mi­ami, which is very Latin, peo­ple live dif­fer­ently, in­side, they re­ally care about pri­vacy”.

Of course, Mi­ami is not the United States, and since I came here I have never lived else­where. I sort of visit the Amer­i­can cul­ture, but I am full of the Cuban­ness from both places: salsa over rock, rice with chicken over ham­burg­ers. The first year was ex­tremely dif­fi­cult, I didn't speak a word of English and I had to work dur­ing the day and study at night, a chal­lenge that I man­aged to over­come.

“The first fever a col­lec­tor must over­come is that of pos­ses­sion” — AMBROISE VOLLARD. Rec­ol­lec­tions of a pic­ture dealer.

I stud­ied In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs at Florida In­ter­na­tional Univer­sity (FIU), with a mi­nor in Art His­tory and I took some paint­ing and sculp­ture cour­ses.

I also took pri­vate paint­ing classes and my pro­fes­sor took me to the stu­dio of two painters I deeply love, Luis Marin and José Iraola. It was a great way of sign­ing me up – Sil­via states –, and the be­gin­ning of my love af­fair with art. At that time I was work­ing in the field of medicine, in­ter­act­ing with many doc­tors, so I started to or­ga­nize pri­vate cock­tail par­ties to pro­mote and help both painters sell their work. Then Marin sug­gested pay­ing me a com­mis­sion, I ac­cepted, and from there on I be­came ad­dicted to the con­stant chal­lenge of find­ing an owner for the pieces. A friend of Sil­via's ex­presses in­com­pre­hen­sion to her de­tach­ment, and with a smile she points out that that is her great­est virtue, know­ing how to let go of what she highly val­ues and is part of her lifestyle.

On oc­ca­sions I at­tended so­cial gath­er­ings in her cozy home. She also sold one or two of my works and even in­vited me to give a lec­ture about Cuban art from the 80s in her back­yard in Co­ral Gables. While con­tem­plat­ing her walls cov­ered with works you find, most of all, artists that em­i­grated in that pe­riod and

In the 90s I opened my own gallery… and since 2002 I work as an independent dealer. I had the priv­i­lege of meet­ing mas­ters like Jose María Mi­jares, Cundo Ber­múdez and Rafael So­ri­ano…

con­tin­ued to cre­ate here. She avoids men­tion­ing names not to for­get any­body, but through­out her ca­reer she has of­ten sold the work of Be­dia, Aguil­era, Lorca, Car­los González, Pepe Franco, etc. For Sil­via it was the first decade away from her home­land, an un­re­solved mat­ter, a cy­cle she in­tends to re­sume be­cause

– as she puts it –, “…it's a gen­er­a­tional mat­ter”.

Be­cause I iden­tify my­self with them. I un­der­stand them,

I ad­mire them, I ap­pre­ci­ate them. This is no rea­son for me not to rep­re­sent artists from the di­as­pora, from the avant–garde, as well as lo­cal artists. In the 90s I opened my own gallery and I cu­rated for two oth­ers, and since 2002 I work as an independent dealer.

I had the priv­i­lege of meet­ing mas­ters like José Maria Mi­jares and I po­si­tioned many of his works, as well as Cundo Ber­múdez' and Rafael So­ri­ano's. Nowa­days, I work with Cuban artists that live in the United States, in Cuba, or any­where else in the world, and when­ever pos­si­ble I choose peo­ple I know well…

Do you mean – I can see it in her face – ap­proach­able to pro­vide a cer­tifi­cate of au­then­tic­ity? Sil­via nods and brings up the sub­ject, due to the great num­ber of forg­eries of Cuban paint­ings in re­cent years: “…I bought pieces that turned out to be fake – she shows her an­noy­ance – with au­then­tic­ity cer­ti­fi­ca­tions from al­leged ex­perts. I was taken ad­van­tage of so I de­cided to fo­cus on liv­ing artists, on the pri­mary mar­ket. I had the priv­i­lege of go­ing into their stu­dios, choos­ing the pieces with them, and of­ten ended up with a new friend – it is the same with col­lec­tors. I can­not stand snob­bery, I love clients that are de­lighted by the art, ask fear­less ques­tions and, if they do not have enough money, ask me to set the piece aside to pay for it in in­stall­ments.”

She likes in­for­mal ne­go­ti­a­tions and con­fesses that she has closed some of her best deals: “…bare­foot right be­fore go­ing to bed at 11pm or in the morn­ing with an apron on while mak­ing cof­fee”. Sil­via ad­mits that Mi­ami is a tough mar­ket­place, even with grants, loans, awards, foun­da­tions, pa­tron­age, etc., only a few artists can live off their art “…there is al­ways more art than col­lec­tors and artists pay the con­se­quences, – she de­clares – many have to work to sup­port them­selves and be able to cre­ate with less fi­nan­cial pres­sure. We must not judge the courage of the artists­but just sup­port them when pos­si­ble, that is why my mis­sion is to find a de­serv­ing home for as many works as pos­si­ble. ƒ

Sil­via Dorf­s­man

CAR­LOS RO­DRÍGUEZ CÁR­DE­NAS Key of New York City, 1998

Acrylic on linen

68 x 120 in

OFILL ECHEVARRIA Golden Wall, 2016

Oil on can­vas

57 x 57 in

Sil­via Dorf­s­man's house with part of the col­lec­tion

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