Recommended Posts

Cuban art makes a grand showing in Montreal

 

By Diane E. Foulds, Globe Correspondent | February 3, 2008

 

MONTREAL - Canada is a great enabler. For years it has served as a virtual way station for travelers, allowing them passage to Havana without running afoul of US travel restrictions. Now it is making possible a journey through Cuban art.

 

The prestigious Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is hosting the most comprehensive retrospective of Cuban art ever held outside Cuba's borders. More than three years in the making, the show surveys some 400 works by more than 100 Cuban artists. More than half of the works were brought from Cuba; the rest are on loan, largely from private collections in New York and Miami and museums, particularly Manhattan's Museum of Modern Art and the Arizona State University Art Museum in Tempe, whose holdings of Cuban art are the world's largest outside Cuba. Paintings and photography dominate, but sculpture, poster art, music, video, magazine covers, installations, films, even cigar wrappers make an appearance, all with the objective of capturing Cuba's elusive national identity, or "cubanida."

 

It is an ambitious task. For historical perspective, the museum has subdivided the show into five categories: colonial art of the 19th century, interwar avant garde, the post-World War II renaissance, revolutionary art after Fidel Castro's rise in 1959, and the caustic conceptualist art that has emerged since 1980. Each section begins with photographic close-ups of the people, conditions, and mood of the era, which is an education in itself.

 

Murder victims slumped on the street, an unsmiling Ernest Hemingway in a bar, prostitutes waiting for customers. Girded with these impressions, you then see the period through an artistic lens. There are dark-haired beauties and strong colors, which you would expect in Caribbean art. Less predictable is the originality of the work, the result, in part, of the island's geographic isolation. The big surprise is how good it is.

 

For Nathalie Bondil, director of the Montreal museum, it was a revelation. Having accepted an invitation to visit Havana's newly renovated Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, the French-born art historian was astounded "by the scale and quality of the art," she said. On a whim, she proposed an exhibit. In the three years that followed, Bondil traveled to Havana eight times. Bureaucracy was minimal, she said, as unlike the United States, Canada enjoys good relations with Cuba.

 

But the magnitude of the undertaking raises questions. Why, with Castro ailing, would Cuba roll out such a candid look at domestic achievements, hopes, and disappointments? Could the regime be loosening its grip?

The timing was "nothing political," Bondil said. She acknowledged Cuba's current drive to spur tourism, saying more Canadians visit its ocean-swept beaches than any other nationality. Bondil's motive was simple: to take the lid off Cuban culture. To make it happen, Montreal has picked up the tab. The museum has added several pieces to its collection and is keeping the door open for future collaboration.

 

Meanwhile, it is turning the show into a veritable Cuban celebration. Ongoing events include lectures, tours, and a Cuban film festival, including "Strawberry and Chocolate," an Academy-Award-nominated 1995 comedy about homosexuality. A 424-page catalog is being published in English, French, and Spanish. In its five chapters, some artists are given long-deserved recognition, like Marcelo Pogolotti, who produced hauntingly colorful avant-garde work in the interwar years.

 

Authored largely by Cuban scholars, the essays don't mince words. Discussing a contemporary artist's habit of ridiculing political propaganda, for example, Panama-based art critic Gerardo Mosquera laments that political slogans "have reached heights of absurdity comparable to North Korean standards."

 

The subtext is hard to miss. One is the message that there's a lot more to Cuban culture than crumbling facades and 1950s-era American cars. The fact that Canada is hosting the exhibit and not the United States, even though US institutions have larger collections of Cuban art, is a subtle reminder of the price the US public is paying for the embargo.

 

Havana boasts a world-class art academy, an esteemed photography school, and an impressive, if little known, art scene. Little known, that is, except for Wifredo Lam (1902-82), who ranks among the 20th century's leading painters. A whole gallery of the show is dedicated to Lam, a surrealist and Picasso protégé who died in Paris and whose paintings are stylistic hybrids reminiscent of Joan Miró, Fernand Léger, and Wassily Kandinsky.

 

Born to a Chinese father and an African-Cuban mother, Lam spent most of his life deconstructing the Afro-Cuban aesthetic. He lived many years in Europe, but returned to Havana in the 1960s. In 1967 he orchestrated one of Cuba's greatest artistic moments, the collective painting of a massive pro-revolutionary mural.

 

The canvas, a patchwork of images radiating outward in a great spiral, was the handiwork of some 100 Cuban and foreign writers, painters, and intellectuals. Each was assigned a square; number 26 was reserved for Castro, but he never showed up, so the square was left blank. This is the mural's first appearance outside Cuba.

 

One of the show's biggest revelations is how tolerant Castro has been of provocative art. Though dependent on Soviet subsidies, the Cuban leader eschewed Socialist Realism. And though artists were censored and even jailed in the 1980s and beyond, their defiance was not quelled.

"Castro was always open to abstract and Pop Art," Bondil said. "It was completely different from the situation in Russia."

 

When the Soviet subsidies vanished, living standards dropped, and works of art became even more politically abrasive, taking aim not only at Castro, but at the United States, too. A display called "Cuba, Island of Fiesta and Siesta," parodies the Cuban stereotypes pervasive in US society. But with Florida only 90 miles away, the US presence remains a constant in Cuban thought. All the more reason to hope that a similar show opens in the States.

 

"I must say that the lenders have been especially touched and happy to collaborate with us on this show," said Bondil in an interview published in the January issue of the museum's magazine. "The passion for Cuban art transcends all borders."

 

Diane E. Foulds, a freelance writer in Burlington, Vt., can be reached at [email protected]. dingbat_story_end_icon.gif

http://www.boston.com/travel/getaways/canada/articles/2008/02/03/cuban_art_makes_a_grand_showing_in_montreal?mode=PF

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

  • Similar Content

    • By Nameless_1
      Les juristes de la Ville de Montréal votent pour la grève
      AGENCE QMI
      Lundi, 2 décembre 2019 08:41MISE À JOUR Lundi, 2 décembre 2019 08:41
      MONTRÉAL | Déplorant que les négociations avec leur employeur piétinent, les juristes de la Ville de Montréal ont donné un mandat de grève à leur exécutif et prévoient une première journée de débrayage le 11 décembre.
      Le vote a eu lieu jeudi dernier. Les quelque 120 juristes, des procureurs pour la plupart, ont voté pour la grève comme moyen de pression à hauteur de 99 %.
      «Les négociations achoppent depuis plusieurs mois notamment sur les salaires», a expliqué leur syndicat – le Syndicat des employés et employées professionnels et de bureau (SEPB-571), affiliés à la FTQ -, lundi par communiqué, ajoutant qu’un rattrapage salarial de 3,6 % avec les procureurs provinciaux et une indexation des salaires raisonnable est demandé.
      «Nos demandes sont raisonnables puisque notre travail est équivalent à celui des procureurs et juristes provinciaux, notre expertise est la même, je ne vois pas pourquoi nous devrions accepter un salaire moindre», a déclaré Jean-Nicolas Loiselle, le président du syndicat des juristes de Montréal.
      Une médiatrice a été nommée par le Tribunal administratif du travail dans ce dossier la semaine dernière à la demande de l’employeur, a souligné le syndicat, lundi, déplorant que ce développement ait eu lieu après que la Ville eut annulé trois jours de négociations prévus par les parties.
      «Nous allons nous asseoir avec la médiatrice pour discuter de bonne foi comme nous le faisons depuis le début du processus de négociation, a affirmé M. Loiselle. Toutefois, force est d'admettre que l'employeur ne semble pas vouloir bouger.»
      https://www.journaldemontreal.com/2019/12/02/les-juristes-de-la-ville-de-montreal-votent-pour-la-greve
    • By felixinx
      À compter du 25 mars 2019, l'horaire des trains exo5 et exo6 sera modifié pour permettre la construction du REM dans le tunnel du Mont-Royal. La voie sera alors simple de la jonction de l'est jusque dans le tunnel (j'imagine à la Gare Centrale car je ne pense pas qu'il y a d'autres aiguillages dans le tunnel).
      Plus de détails : https://exo.quebec/fr/service-clientele/avis#36294469 - https://rem.info/fr/actualites/ligne-deux-montagnes-hiver-2019
      exo5 - Modification 6 départs exo6 - Modification de presque tous les départs exo6 - Annulation d'un départ direction Montréal en PM exo6 - Vendredi - Annulation d'un départ supplémentaire direction Montréal en PM, annulation d'un départ en PM vers Deux-Montagnes. exo6 - Changement des numéros des trains
      Les gares Mont-Royal et Canora deviendront une seule gare, entre les deux! Les trains rouleront aussi sur la voie qui était enfouie, du côte ouest, pour permettre la construction du côté est.
      Les mesures d'atténuations de janvier 2020 seront annoncés bientôt.
    • By nephersir7
      Il semble que depuis la fin 2014, Montréal est en train d'explorer la possibilité de recouvrir l'autoroute Décarie dans le secteur Namur/De la Savane. Il y aurait au moins 2 hypothèses à l'étude. L'étendue de ce potentiel recouvrement n'est pas mentionnée.
       
       
      http://www.seao.ca/OpportunityPublication/ConsulterAvis/DuJour?ItemId=1a3f81aa-ccb1-4046-9821-9ffa7f0254e2
    • By greenlobster
      The reason of this  new subect is in english is that it concerns a company not from France . One of the top 10 ten Europen IT companies will build a new IT megacenter for North America in, notre belle ville de Montréal, annonce debut 2019. 1600 empois sur 5 ans .Ils construrions une centre de donnéesNord Americain de plus de 400 millions , oui dans lz region de Montréal. 
    • By monctezuma
      Voie réservée sur PIE-IX