Art On Cuba - - Index - Irina Leyva-Perez

The first week of De­cem­ber in Mi­ami has be­come un­miss­able gath­er­ing for those in­volved or in­ter­ested in the art world. Be­sides the pres­ti­gious and cov­eted Art Basel Mi­ami Beach, which only a priv­i­leged and lim­ited num­ber of gal­leries and artists have ac­cess to, many satel­lite fairs have sprouted and gained im­por­tance. Th­ese fairs aim to draw part of that au­di­ence with pur­chas­ing power that vis­its the more im­por­tant ones, and at­tract mi­nor gal­leries eager to par­tic­i­pate but that can­not com­pete with the stronger ones. Also, some al­ready es­tab­lished fairs have changed their dates to take place on the same week. Among th­ese fairs, in which Cuban art is reg­u­larly ex­hib­ited, we can men­tion Art Mi­ami, which af­ter years of be­ing held in Jan­uary, changed to De­cem­ber a few years ago, be­com­ing the se­cond most im­por­tant. Another fair ex­hibit­ing Cuban art, which was re­cently moved to De­cem­ber and to Mi­ami, is PINTA. The lat­ter is spe­cial­ized in Latin Amer­i­can art and not only pro­vides space for gal­leries, but it also or­ga­nizes con­fer­ence cy­cles and book pre­sen­ta­tions.

This fair has gained im­por­tance be­cause of its size and the qual­ity and quan­tity of gal­leries that par­tic­i­pate.

In terms of the Cuban art that is shown and sold at th­ese fairs, there is still in­ter­est in modern art, es­pe­cially that from the so-called Avant-gardes, and more re­cently the ‘re­dis­cov­ery' of ab­stract art. How­ever, great in­ter­est has pro­gres­sively shifted to­wards con­tem­po­rary art, which lit­tle by lit­tle man­aged to shake off the re­gional la­bels of Cuban or Latin Amer­i­can.

This week of fairs is a cru­cial mo­ment for many artists, since their par­tic­i­pa­tion can not only fa­vor their sales, but also lead to fu­ture exhibitions, or the pos­si­bil­ity of form­ing part of the ros­ter of artists rep­re­sented by a gallery. It not only gives them ex­po­sure but also con­tact with col­lec­tors and mu­seum cu­ra­tors. The fairs also at­tract col­lec­tors from all over the world that gather in the same city to ap­pre­ci­ate and pur­chase the work of con­tem­po­rary artists.

Another in­creas­ingly com­mon phe­nom­e­non at the fairs is gal­leries pre­sent­ing a stand cu­rated around a theme or a se­lec­tion of artists based on a spe­cific cri­te­rion; mov­ing away from the tra­di­tional con­cept of ‘fair' in which ev­ery­thing is in­cluded. We also see com­pletely cu­rated fairs, or with spa­ces where they present projects by cu­ra­tors that are cho­sen by the se­lec­tion com­mit­tees. This has been the re­sult of the in­ten­tion of es­tab­lish­ing strict pa­ram­e­ters within the com­mer­cial ac­tiv­ity, which is the pri­mary mo­tive, giv­ing the event cred­i­bil­ity as the ideal place to pur­chase valu­able works of art. Each fair com­petes to es­tab­lish its le­git­i­macy in a con­text where such events con­tinue to mul­ti­ply.

Re­turn­ing to the topic of ‘Basel week', as this pe­riod is known in the city, man­ag­ing to be in­cluded in Art Basel Mi­ami Beach is hard. How­ever, there is a group of in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized Cuban artists that are regulars on the fair's stands. We can men­tion Jose Be­dia, Alexan­dre Ar­rechea, Los Carpin­teros and Car­los Garaicoa. Their works are com­mer­cial­ized by gal­leries that are con­sid­ered to be among the most im­por­tant within this con­text and that usu­ally par­tic­i­pate in this fair.

For a few years now, we have seen a more sta­ble pres­ence of Cuban art in Mi­ami gal­leries and in­sti­tu­tions. This ten­dency is not only lim­ited to artists that live in the city, there are also oth­ers that live for part or all of the time on the is­land. Up un­til re­cently, po­lit­i­cal cir­cum­stances had al­lowed the artists to visit fre­quently; it is not un­com­mon to find their work in a show in Mi­ami, since they travel con­stantly, ex­hibit­ing and sell­ing their work in the United States. Es­pe­cially dur­ing Basel week, they are seen par­tic­i­pat­ing in the dif­fer­ent fairs, tak­ing part in the exhibitions at the city's gal­leries or mu­se­ums or just vis­it­ing and net­work­ing.

Be­sides the grow­ing num­ber of fairs dur­ing this week, there are solo and group exhibitions around the city with the ex­pec­ta­tion of be­ing seen by vis­it­ing col­lec­tors. An in­di­ca­tion of this ten­dency is the fact that the most im­por­tant mu­seum in the city, the Perez Art Mu­seum Mi­ami, had a con­tem­po­rary Cuban art ex­hi­bi­tion that week from the col­lec­tion of Jorge Perez, a renowned col­lec­tor and phi­lan­thropist from whom the mu­seum takes its name. The show, made up of works by artists that live in Mi­ami and Cuba, broke with the tra­di­tional di­vi­sion amongst Cuban artists ac­cord­ing to where they live. This ex­hi­bi­tion proves that Mi­ami is not the city it was be­fore, in which artists liv­ing on the is­land were re­jected. To­day, some of them fre­quently ex­hibit at ac­claimed gal­leries in the city, like Pan Amer­i­can Art Projects, Tre­sart, and Cer­nuda, be­ing ac­tive mem­bers of the group of artists th­ese rep­re­sent.

Another im­por­tant mu­seum in the city, the Pa­tri­cia and Phillip Frost, of the Florida In­ter­na­tional Univer­sity, had in the sea­son's pro­gram­ming an ex­hi­bi­tion by Cuban artist Rafael So­ri­ano.

This is also a time when the city's im­por­tant col­lec­tors open their in­sti­tu­tions or pri­vate res­i­dences and or­ga­nize spe­cial events to show­case their col­lec­tions. Among them we should men­tion Ella Fon­tanals-Cis­neros who, through her Cis­neros Fon­tanals Art Foun­da­tion, known by the acro­nym CIFO, con­stantly pur­chases and shows works by Cuban artists. For the ‘Basel week', CIFO pre­sented a show of ab­stract Cuban art by three artists. Like­wise, De la Cruz Col­lec­tion, in­sti­tu­tion cre­ated by well-known col­lec­tor Rosa de la Cruz, pre­pared

Force and Form for De­cem­ber, a show that in­cluded the work of prom­i­nent Cuban artists like Felix González-Tor­res, Ana Mendi­eta and Wifredo Lam.

The re­newed in­ter­est in Latin Amer­i­can art has al­lowed the me­te­oric reap­pear­ance and take off of the ca­reer of Cuban fe­male artists like Carmen Her­rera, and more re­cently Zilia Sanchez, whose works have reached as­tro­nom­i­cal prices. Maybe this has been one of the key fac­tors in the re­cent changes in two of the most im­por­tant auc­tion houses that sell this kind of art, Sotheby's and Phillips. Both have de­cided to move the sale of works by Latin Amer­i­can artists to the con­tem­po­rary art sec­tions, which cus­tom­ar­ily were sold as part of a re­gional cat­e­gory. This pro­gres­sive tran­si­tion has fa­vored the artists since it po­si­tions them on the same level as their in­ter­na­tional col­leagues. In the short term, this change trans­lates into a pos­si­ble in­crease in the prices of the works, and con­se­quently in the in­clu­sion of th­ese artists in im­por­tant col­lec­tions, exhibitions, and fairs.

It would be in­ter­est­ing to closely fol­low the sit­u­a­tion be­tween sep­a­rat­ing and in­te­grat­ing Latin Amer­i­can art with uni­ver­sal con­tem­po­rary and modern art. This topic has been broadly de­bated within aca­demic cir­cles, with­out reach­ing con­sen­sus, and now seems to reach the art mar­ket world. I re­fer to re­gard­ing Latin Amer­i­can art as a sep­a­rate cat­e­gory, as has been done so far; or in­te­grat­ing it like the auc­tion houses and many mu­se­ums are do­ing. There is a group of col­lec­tors and in­sti­tu­tions that fa­vor and sup­port the first ten­dency. How­ever, an in­creas­ing num­ber of peo­ple are con­sid­er­ing in­te­gra­tion as the most con­ve­nient op­tion. Mu­se­ums seem to have this di­chotomy as well; while some cre­ate col­lec­tions specif­i­cally of Latin Amer­i­can art, oth­ers are in­clud­ing more artists in im­por­tant col­lec­tive exhibitions; and they also present solo exhibitions within a broader con­text. We will have to see what the fu­ture holds in store for art and artists. In­te­grated or sep­a­rated? What will carry more weight? Ge­og­ra­phy or mar­ket value? ƒ

Be­sides the grow­ing num­ber of fairs dur­ing this week, there are solo and group exhibitions around the city with the ex­pec­ta­tion of be­ing seen by vis­it­ing col­lec­tors.

Art Basel Mi­ami Beach, De­cem­ber 2017 / Courtesy the au­thor

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