Monday, May 15, 2017

My Preview of Adiós Utopia: Dreams and Deceptions in Cuban Art Since 1950 at Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Raúl Martínez, “9 Repetitions of Fidel with
Microphones” 1968, Oil on canvas,
 
Wallace Campbell Collection, Jamaica

"...his guerrillas liberated them from that fire squad-happy despot Batista, who..." (Virginia Billeaud Anderson discusses a couple of artworks in the the exhibition 
Adiós Utopia: Dreams and Deceptions in Cuban Art Since 1950 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, co-organized by the Ella Fontanals-Cisneros foundation.)


My Preview of Adiós Utopia: Dreams and Deceptions in Cuban Art Since 1950 at Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Castro established a Soviet-allied Marxist-Leninist regime to rescue his people. They should have realized this shortly after his guerrillas liberated them from that fire squad-happy despot Batista, who unfortunately took with him the hundreds of millions he profited from theft, extortion and U.S. corporate kickbacks. Yet, Cubans were running away.
This wouldn't do, so Castro made it a crime for citizens to leave Cuba without permission. Like those killed by Berlin Wall border guards, large numbers of Cubans were killed by their fellow countrymen while attempting to escape the island. Manuel Piña's conceptual photo of a young man diving into the harbor represents this tragedy. You can see Piña’s photo in Adiós Utopia: Dreams and Deceptions in Cuban Art Since 1950 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, but you need to hurry because Adiós Utopia ends on May 21, 2017.
MFAH’s show thematically traces artistic response to Cuba’s social and political events, from the 1950s when the revolution offered utopian hope, through the subsequent decades of disillusionment in the face of failed ideology, government repression and economic collapse.
One imagines there was abundant artistic inspiration, such as the restriction of movement that inspired Piña, to be mined from nearly 60 years of tumultuous history. Cubans saw their constitution suspended, property confiscated, farms collectivized, censorship, imprisonment, torture, assassination and profound economic devastation. Ponder this economic reality: an embargoed, de-incentivized, wealth distributed people were left in the manure after the breakup of the Soviet Union ended trade and subsidies, after which shrunk oil dollars disrupted Chavez’s magisterial pledge to bankroll Castro’s “democracy.” Cubans had insufficient food and fuel.
It is a large exhibition, with over one hundred artworks by over fifty artists, including all of the predictable art forms, such as the poster art which propagandized the revolution, and the sculpture, installation and performance art which intoned ideological disenchantment. I was struck by a video associated with Cuba's war in Angola, and had actually forgotten that from 1975 to 1991, soldiers, many adolescents were conscripted for  mandatory military service in Angola.
Colorful geometric abstraction was a surprise. During the 1950s, while Castro studied the revolutionary discipline of his mentor Che Guevara, and intermittently guerrilla-attacked Cuba, avant-garde Cuban artists influenced by Modernism experimented with non-objective art. Shortly after 1959 though, once Castro was the kahuna in charge, abstraction began to be considered useless. Non pictorial markings with meaningless language hardly served the revolution, and were out of sync with “state guidelines” on art. Pictorial narration became the dominant mode of expression in Cuba and abstraction was pushed to the side, where it might have been overlooked.
Except for Ella. Cuban born, Venezuelan raised, Ella Fontanals-Cisneros created a foundation to support Cuban art. The Ella Fontanals-Cisneros foundation co-organized and partially underwrote the museum’s exhibition. At the preview, Ella told us that when she began visiting Cuba, she realized artists were working there “without help, without people buying their art” and she wanted to participate and help, so she began purchasing, and “getting it published.” Her foundation provided grants, arranged commissions, organized exhibitions, made sure artworks bounced around institutional venues, and importantly, oversaw scholarly documentation, which helped to rescue Cuban abstraction from obscurity.
I think Ella should run Cuba!

Sandu Darié, "Sin título (Untitled)", c. 1960–70,
 Tempera on canvas, Ella Fontanals-Cisneros Collection, Miami.

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