With a diversity of curatorial profiles, at the initiative of the artists themselves or as prestigious institutions in the Cuban art promoting circuits, the art galleries in Havana live an expansion moment. They are a business strategy and, also, specific ways of conceiving and rethinking Cuban art. PanamericanWorld shows six galleries that illustrate the different paths of art commercialization in the Cuban capital.
Emerged in 1962, it still has the goal of promoting the visual arts of contemporary Cuban artists, with the difference that in the 20th century they exhibited works by Mariano Rodríguez and Wifredo Lam -then contemporaries-, and now they are by Roberto Fabelo and Carlos Quintana. They also bet on the the visual arts heterogeneity, from painting and sculpture to the audiovisual image, although they are more difficult to put on the art market.
For Chrislie Pérez, main specialist of the gallery, it’s a global work, because in addition to the gallery’s space and functions, they have the Havana Auction (Subasta Habana) project, the only auction that exists in Cuba.
“There, the work of avant-garde artists is marketed, those who are no longer contemporary artists. In that sense the gallery is very organic, because if from the exhibition we can work with the contemporaries, also from Havana Auction we do it with artists from previous generations. The auction was held until 2012, in 2014 a special edition was made, and since then it hasn’t been done physically. What we do is the online auction, which works all year”.
How many exhibitions do you open per year?
“Usually we have six or seven exhibitions a year, lasting between one and three months, because that time allows us to promote the work, locate the artist, and the work of sales management, place the work in the market, present it to collectors. We have a group of collectors that follow us and we have tried to maintain a wide payroll of artists, and that always brings good results in terms of the works commercialization management “.
How do you select new artists to integrate Habana Gallery?
It’s an already recognized gallery, and that is why we are careful when it comes to incorporating new artists. The work is hard and we prefer to deepen and maintain the work of those we already have. What we do is invite new artists to collective exhibitions, see how they are inserted, their commercial outcomes, and that their work not only has commercial value, but also possesses a conceptual support that contributes to aesthetic and art questions. We always carry out personal exhibitions with artists who belong to the Gallery’s payroll, but we do collective exhibitions at least twice a year and they are a good opportunity precisely to diversify the programming and as an opportunity for new artists.
ESTUDIO TALLER GORRÍA
In San Isidro’s neighborhood, in the heart of Old Havana, it’s possible to visit one of the most interesting cultural projects of the Cuban capital: the Studio Workshop Gorría (SWG). The idea of this cultural project belongs to the well-known artist Jorge Perugorría, the best actor of the last decades in Cuba; although it’s his 20-year-old son, Adam, who is in charge of this venture’s management.
“This is the first Gallery that emerges in this area of Old Havana as an exhibition space for contemporary art, with a private management. SWG is a cultural, community project that seeks to have a social impact in San Isidro’s neighborhood, which is the end of the Cuban capital’s historical center and one of the parts least attended by the Historian’s Office, since in this area there are no architectural structures of a heritage value, as almost all of them are dwellings. The idea is to find ways for artists to come to this neighborhood, which still has many demolished or poorly constructed spaces, and to build their studios here. We are doing street art. We have projects to paint murals on several streets. We would like to bring to this neighborhood the art district, which is now in Vedado, where there are several galleries nearby and people interested in art can see them all. The idea is to do that here, that they can walk and see the art on the street. SWG also produces concerts; in addition, we made a workshop on architecture and urban planning for children in our facility and, as a closing, we took them, in a bus, to learn a little more about their city. We want to do other workshops, every two months”, Adán Perugorría said.
This is a private business of family initiative, which is committed to the marketing of paintings. “We have the artisanal souvenir, but the ones with most movement are the paintings. We receive visits by many foreigners from Europe and the United States, who have a lot of culture and understanding of what is painting, watercolor, and therefore we sell that very well. We have oil on canvas, acrylic paint, manufactured paper and mixed technique; we have work done in charcoal and lacquer, collage. There are several techniques, and there is an audience for everything. The important thing is not to lose the Cuban idiosyncrasy, for it to be Cuban art and it evokes Cuba both within the country and abroad. That’s why the motives are the Cuban daily life, Havana’s environment specifically “, Eladio Miranda explains.
“Many Cubans also come, both visitors and private businesses, restaurants or rental houses owners, who want to buy pictures for their business. There are people who order a certain type of work, and they come here because what we promote as art convinces them. There is a curious thing, and it’s the people who come here because they want to get in touch with the artist and order a family painting, something like nineteenth-century portraits, and people want to have a portrait in oil and a memory of their family. In that there is a very interesting resurgence”.
Why did you decide to start this business?
“Before there was a gallery here, but it didn’t work because there was no good selection criteria, nor were they clear about what they were looking for to show in this space. Of course, that failed, and then my wife, my in-laws, the whole family, decided to take up the project ourselves. I studied painting when I was young, and I don’t know how to paint nor I’m an artist, but I do have knowledge about art, and how to market it. We started from scratch, but we prepared the space, we got in touch with artists, with suppliers, we started looking for paintings that had not only a commercial outlet, but also artistic value, and the experience has been incredible. People have come who want to show their works here, because it’s an environment that allows us to appreciate art in this style of painting everyday life, which is the general concept of the gallery”.
How do you select the pieces?
“When we are going to include a new painter, we all discuss about it, we see the finish of the piece, the subject it addresses and that corresponds to what we want here, the quality of the technique used is very important, no matter what technique is, as long as it has quality and artistic value. There are people who have come to us to propose certain works of art, but we have had to tell them that this is not the space for a more elitist or specialized art”.
ESTUDIO TALLER FIGUEROA-VIVES
It’s not just a gallery, it’s also a generation space for all kinds of artistic projects about contemporary Cuban art. Cristina Figueroa affirms that 20 years ago it was rather indefinite, because of the novelty that it was.
“The idea was to have a space where works were exhibited and exhibitions were generated in different institutions both in Cuba and outside Cuba. Sort of in a way of what was emerging. We have been organizing a little more, with a more structured work of cultural promotion and exhibition, for about 3 years or so, when we began to collaborate with the Norwegian Embassy in Cuba. They were very active in the cultural field, they invited us to collaborate together, and from there we have established a work process in which we inaugurate exhibitions, every two or three months”.
What kind of exhibitions?
“They are exhibitions that have a lot to do with social phenomena and how art can reflect them, or vice versa. Many times linking artists, but also cultural promoters or social managers, and that is the profile we have been working on. Of course, we always focus on contemporary Cuban art, with young artists and others already renowned. At the same time, we do a constant research for exhibitions, inside and outside the studio, and books or catalogs production. In this sense, my mother, Cristina Vives, stands out in the theme of the art books production, which may be about Cuban art, or artists’ monographs. In any case, the studio remains a meeting point in which we receive views from schools, academies, groups of artists, etc.”
Within contemporary art, what artistic manifestations do they include?
“Almost always we have variety in the artistic manifestations, because we work with an idea, not with a specific manifestation. First we work on the concept, and then we look for what artistic manifestations approach it, what artists have treated it. For instance, the last exhibition that we inaugurated deals with the theme of the night, and has audiovisual materials from films, documentaries, documentary photography and conceptual photography, all with the theme of the night. This last exhibition is called The Night Redeemed and mixes audiovisual producers, such as Damián Saínz and Roger Gutiérrez, with photographers such as Juan Carlos Alón. That’s why we almost always have collective exhibitions, and we are precisely looking at the possibility of inviting a Cuban artist and making a personal exhibition, to change the dynamics a bit”.
GALERÍA INTI ÁLVAREZ
The purpose of this gallery is to promote and make visible the work of the French-Cuban painter Inti Álvarez Hauville, who has toured several parts of the world with his art.
“I’m the author of all the works in the gallery, also in an iconic place in Old Havana, because the Loma del Ángel was immortalized in one of the first Cuban novels Cecilia Valdés or Loma del Ángel. That is to say, that it’s not only a pleasant place, in the historical center of the city, but that it has that kind of tradition and cultural aura”.
Why did you decide to open it?
“To visualize and make my work known in Cuba. It’s in a place with a lot of visitors and it’s a space that allows me to promote my work in Cuba permanently. I worked, for intance, at Gato Tuerto, I set an exhibition of mine there and I received many visits, I sold some works as well, and I met people interested in following my work, in seeing new pieces. The exhibition lasted about 8 months, it was still a temporary space, and when I finished I decided to open this space to exhibit my work permanently. It has been very important in that way”.
What works are you showing now?
“Right now I have a sample of different exhibitions I’ve done. They are works mostly in the figurative style, with Cuban representations of horses, huts… some things are not included at the moment because now I’m going to do an exhibition in the United States, but you can see here three works of an exhibition that I made in the gallery La Valse, in Paris. That exhibition was called Femme Bleue. I also have works from an exhibition I did in France with the theme of musical instruments, and pieces that were inspired by a song by Silvio, The Blue Unicorn. I have several representations of mulatas, that mestizo woman who is a well-known Cuban reference, and in general I always try to link my art with an object or a symbol of Cuba, from that mulatto woman to a fan, tropical fruits or a fighting cock”.
THE EYE OF THE CYCLONE
This gallery, opened since 2004 by Leo D ‘Lázaro, is also an art laboratory and a house. “It has all the things and functions of a house, but from the artistic point of view, and people can play music, play with interactive works of art, and the works of art themselves begin to change with that interaction, in an evolutionary way. It’s very interesting because it’s not a passive museum, or contemplative, but people can experience various sensations, there are different spaces and lights’ changes, several rooms. You can see me working, and I have a small space to show the work of other artists”, Lázaro said.
What are you based on to create your art in that interaction?
“I use the archeology of the present concept, and the eye of the cyclone is like the place where the archeology of the present is excavated. The concept of excavating the present consists of creating a present historicity, and achieving that historicity through the amazement capacity in each space, which is different from the other. It’s like fossilizing the present, what is happening now is historical, that’s why all the works’ colors are in sepia, because when creating that historicity people appreciate present more, they visualize it from a different perspective. In addition, interactivity with the works is important”.
Does not that prevent marketing the works?
“No, and the buyer can also legalize them because they are original works. I have pieces and also art objects. People can use them in the same way they would use them in their homes. The computer may look like a recycled structure, but when you see it turns on, it has Internet, it’s a surprise. Everything is intervened in that way, from the seats to the phone, which may seem like an inanimate object until you realize you can use it to make a call. There is painting, photography, sculpture, but I really work with all kinds of materials, marble, cement, metal, it depends on what the work tells me. I started 38 years ago and I always worked with all kinds of materials and all kinds of sizes”.
Your art also transforms the neighborhood where you live, how do you achieve it?
“This is going to be something like an art neighborhood because several artists live here, and everyone is very happy with that art movement that is put on the streets’ walls. There are people who tell me that they have seen pictures of what is transforming the neighborhood, in foreign magazines, because it attracts a lot of attention. We have paintings, sculptures on facades and neighborhood columns. My interest is to create, intervene with my art in everything that I can. When I do things in the neighborhood, nobody pays me for that, and what I sell within the gallery is to continue creating, because satisfaction comes from creating”.
Text and photos: Beatriz Rosales Vicente