Art On Cuba - - Index - Roxana M. Bermejo

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"


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. ƒ

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.

Courtesy Aldo Menéndez

PEPE FRANCO Silk screen Pepe Her­rera Work­shop, Madrid, Spain ALDO MENÉNDEZ Silk screen Fuera de Serie Work­shop, Madrid, Spain

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