Archive for October, 2008


Here We Are

As a result of the decades-long Cuban embargo, the work of contemporary Cuban artists has been noticed for many years by many important museums and curators around the world, but often remains a mystery to American collectors and art enthusiasts. And those who write about the commoditization of art, such as the Wall Street Journal, have been telling art collectors who buy art in the hope those prices will rise, to buy contemporary Cuban art.

This suggestion and idea is simple, and has been proven recently by the super hot rise of Chinese artists: when a closed society is opened up a little, its top artists see a substantial rise in exposure and thus in demand, and of course, in prices!

And it makes sense (if you buy art as an investment strategy rather than love of art).

Generally speaking, when an artist is in certain major collections around the world, such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Tate in London, and other such giants of the museum world, it attracts a certain level of collector interest, and it is almost always associated with a certain price range.

And there are many contemporary Cuban artists whose work has been in those and many other important museums around the world for a very long time, and whose work continues to attract curatorial, critical and savvy collector interest, but because of their lack of exposure to the American market in general (often created by their closed societies), their price range is not in par with their colleagues from other nations in the same level.

Several years ago, almost by accident, I became involved in the curatorial process of contemporary Cuban art, in an effort to help with fundraising efforts by the Havana Hebrew Community Center. Since then I have become an experienced curator in this genre and have acquired a wealth of good knowledge about the artists from that unfortunate and imprisoned island.

Aquí Estamos (Here We Are) is my latest curatorial project and brings to H&F Fine Arts and the Greater Washington, DC region recent work by several important Cuban artists working out of Havana as well as Cuban artists from the Cuban Diaspora.

How can this be done?

It’s a brutal, labor intensive touch and go process, as although art and books are the only two items exempt from the Cuban embargo, the heavy hand of the Communist dictatorship that runs everything on that unfortunate nation touches all aspects of life, including the creation and destination of art. Bypassing and escaping the government is not easy, but it can be accomplished if the artist is willing to risk it.

In the works that you’ll see at H&F Fine Arts we find narratives and imagery that represent many of these artists’ historical dissidence to the stark issues of contemporary Cuban life. The works are images that offer a historical and visual sentence in the history of an island nation behind bars with a powerful world presence in the arts and events of world history.

In Sandra Ramos’ works we see one of the most important contemporary Cuban artists in the world continue to visit themes dealing with racism in her homeland, the physical and intellectual drain caused by mass migration, and other austere realities of daily Cuban life. Ramos uses her body and her figure in many of her paintings and mixed media etchings to narrate the daily issues that confront her life in Havana. In her drawing “Larva,” Ramos anticipates a future Cuba where she may be allowed to spread her artistic wings to full capacity, without fear of how her visual imagery may be interpreted by her own government.

Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons, who escaped from Cuba in the early 1990s, also uses her image and body to deliver powerful biographical and observational elements of the realities of being a black Cuban woman in America. She has been called “one of Boston’s most prominent artists,” and as evidence it has been submitted that the Cuban-born artist has shown at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Minneapolis’s Walker Art Center, the Smithsonian, the Venice Biennale, and many other prestigious venues around the world.

And last year the Indianapolis Museum of Art hosted “Everything Is Separated by Water,” a mid-career retrospective of Campos-Pons’ paintings, sculptures, photos, and installations. And as an Afro-Cuban woman, Campos-Pons has used her cultural and racial background as the initial key theme of her own work, with long ties to her Cuban homeland, but also with a powerful influence of her evolving Americanosity.

Both Cirenaica Moreira and Marta Maria Perez Bravo also employ their bodies to become the canvas of their photographs, although in each case with a different goal. Moreira has been called “woman as vagina dentata” for the ferocity via which her images depict her themes of loss of freedom, feminism, and being a Cuban woman in a land of unabashed machismo.

Perez Bravo is considered by many to be the preeminent Cuban female photographer in the world, and her work addresses the fabulous rituals and images of Santeria, the unique Cuban mixture of Catholicism and African religions brought to the island by African slaves.

Kcho (Alexis Leyva Machado) is also considered by many to be among the leading Cuban artists in the world, and he first attracted international attention by winning the grand prize at South Korea’s Kwangju Biennial in 1995. This will be his initial debut in the Greater Washington, DC region.

Other artists in the show include work by Roberto Wong, whose powerful paintings develop intelligent ways to showcase ways in which freedom is restricted and Aimeé Garcia Marrero, considered by many to be among Cuba’s most talented new crop of painters. Her technical skills are married to intelligent interpretations of daily Cuban life and even the influences of the giant to the North.

The opening, free and open to the public is on November 8, 2008 from 6-8PM. H&F Fine Arts is located at 3311 Rhode Island Avenue, Mount Rainier, MD 20712, tel: 301.887.0080 and on the web at They are open Thursday and Friday - 11:00 AM-7:00 PM, Saturday - 10:00 AM - 5:00 PM and Sunday - 11:00 AM - 3:00 PM. The exhibition is open through November 30.

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In Brooklyn: destroying our past

My old neighborhood church in Brooklyn, Our Lady of Loretto, which also had a convent and an elementary school, is apparently being slated for demolition, as the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn has decided that Our Lady of Loretto, regardless of its architectural beauty and historical place in Brooklyn, is no longer worthy of remaining open and will surrender the property to the City of New York which has plans to demolish the church.
You can help by signing a petition here to declare Loretto a historical landmark; please sign it here.

The church was built originally by Italian immigrants who lived in the neighborhood, not by the Catholic Church. Stanley Molinari was our next door neighbor and I believe that it was his father who donated the land so that the church could be built.

By the way check out these mugs and see if you can find me in the class of 1970.

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First Fridays

Having lived in Spain, Italy, England, Lebanon and Scotland at some point or another in my adult life, I can testify that in many cities of the old world, businesses of a kind tend to cluster together. Thus if you are looking for spices, or perfumes or a tailor, you can be assured as you explore the souk in Bahrain that you’ll find a dozen different haberdashery businesses all next to each other once you discover which area is “tailor alley.”

In the new world, I suspect that if you own a shoe store, the last thing that you want is a couple other shoe stores opening next to you. After all, that would just be competition.

Art galleries are different in that aspect. In fact clusters of art galleries is the best thing that can happen to the individual art gallery: the more art galleries in one area, the best for all of them.

Why? Because then it makes the are a destination for people interested in art. In other words, if an art collector is interested in seeing some new artwork, and he/she has a choice of visiting an area where he can see 2-3 galleries or an area where he can see a dozen of them, guess which one would be a logical better choice.

And most major cities tend to then align their gallery openings and extended hours to happen on a particular day of the week, most frequently the first Friday of the month.

In my experience, I can testify that Philadelphia’s First Friday openings pack the streets around Old City, and the average age of the gallery aficionado is about 20 years younger than the Washington, DC First Friday openings. Details on all the Philly area gallery openings here.

DC’s art galleries are not as packed around Dupont Circle as they once were, but there are still quite a few art galleries there and the area also has their First Friday gallery openings going on for the galleries around Dupont Circle. Also generally from 6-8PM. Details on DC openings here.

And there is First Fridays in Fell’s Point in Baltimore too, but their website was not updated when I checked (shame on Baltimore).

A bit further South, Richmond, Virginia, has a great gallery scene beginning to develop and they’ve got their own First Fridays going on; details here.

Go see some artwork!

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