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monitor piece on cuban art

Post #585 • July 20, 2005, 4:36 PM • 65 Comments

Diana Morrero for the Christian Science Monitor: Idealists once, these artists took different paths.

["Unfinished Work of a Mechanical Painter" by Rogelio Lopez] was an act of protest fitting for Volume One, a controversial exhibition in 1981 that placed 11 young artists on the map, set the course for contemporary Cuban art, and created an identity for a new generation of artists. ... It was called Volume One because they planned to organize other group exhibitions, but that never happened. The friends soon scattered across the globe, entering a competitive art market that, along with distance, strained relationships. Few still speak to one another today. But now, one of the 11, Leandro Soto, has a tantalizing idea: organize a long-overdue sequel. A reunion won't be easy.

This short article did a thorough job covering the history of this group and interviews a few Miami art world eminences, including Ruben Torres Llorca and Ramón Cernuda. Worth considering is Cernuda's comment, "Artists who live inside Cuba are paying a very high price for not properly connecting with the international art market," opposite the reporter's observation that "All [of the Volume One artists] continue to work as artists except Perez Monzón, who stopped after becoming disillusioned with the art business during trips outside communist Cuba." I wonder if opposite sensibilities ecnountered the same phenomenon, and one dove in while the other recoiled.

Via Artsjournal.

Comment

1.

ms quoted

July 20, 2005, 6:40 PM

Reading this article leaves me debating the importance of being involved in a closeknit artistic community. Is it a benefit or a hinderance?

2.

Franklin

July 20, 2005, 6:57 PM

That's a good question. I'm thinking that artistic societies are a thing of youth, and the better talents tend to split off: Vuillard and Bonnard from the Nabis, Giacometti and Morandi from the Surrealists, even Degas from the Impressionists, perhaps. Supposedly many of the Impressionists weren't even on speaking terms towards the end of their lives, with the exception of Pisarro, whom they all referred to as Pere.

I think that to the extent they form naturally around shared causes, they help. But eventually the better artists get a sense of themselves as they mature. They develop an internal compass that lessens their need for outside reinforcement.

I'm just guessing here.

3.

oldpro

July 20, 2005, 8:34 PM

As the resident old fart here, I would say a lot of it has to do with age, accompanied by purely mechanical developmental changes.

In any active art environment there is always something new "in the air". Talented young artists sense it, bring it down into their work and sometimes, under the right circumstances, discover each other. When you are a kid artist you start with nothing; anything goes, nothing to lose. This enables the classic synergy we have seen so oten repeated in modernist art: Impressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, Abstract Expressionism. The "isms" come about because the "look" of the art, the methodology of the making of it, concentrates and boils down to something very singular.

The mechanical factor is simply the nature of invention. Invention, after all, means something new, and something new means heading off on a new direction and building on it, eventually reducing the emphasis on invention at a regular rate because you are discovering and inventing within successively smaller ranges in the basic methodology. The whole idea is to make good art. When you have a good working idea you work out the variations until it gets exhausted. (Of course by then maybe you are exhausted.) You will then be working under your own steam without the regular need for large infusions of the freshness of discovery or the encouragement of a close support group.

I think this process of invention and discovery is the territory of young minds, as it is in science and mathematics, only without the tragic finality in those disciplines. Painters, in particular, have, in many instance painted their best work in old age. But then it is a matter of evolution and refinement and building rather than broad invention - finding ways to make what you do work better. Hans Hofmann is the classic case in Abstract Expressionism.

4.

Jerome du Bois

July 20, 2005, 9:34 PM

In Miami the wankers come and go, talking of Leandro Soto.

It is obscene to have this discussion under the topic of Cuban art, as if the aesthetic sensibilities of European and American artists amount to a hill of beans on a island where most people --but not the artists!-- must steal for a handful of beans.

Consider Ramon Cernuda's comment: "Artists who live inside Cuba are paying a very high price for not properly connecting with the international art market." Awww. Artists who live inside Cuba are whores, nothing more nor less. Their careers are bought at the price of all the dissidents in all the prisons in that terrible place. Idealism my ass. They should break their brushes and slash their canvases until everybody is free. Nobody else inside Cuba can connect with, create, form, or even think about, any kind of market, even local.

Out here in the Valley of the Sun Leandro Soto enjoys his professorship at a University whose art museum, led by Marilyn Zeitlin, who has Cuba wired, "boasts" a major and growing collection of art that is made by Cubans still based on the island (or safely dead, like Pedro Alvarez). Each piece was made by a man or woman who is only an enlarged version of Elian Gonzalez: a puppet.

We work to disgrace all those who would champion or promote any art made under castro on that dolorous island.

And you Floridians who blithely and continually ignore the horrible hell just beneath you while you debate what Clement Greenberg might have thought at one time in his life --you ought to be ashamed of yourselves. The way you people behave . . . as Val Prieto has written, La ronca los cojones.

Sincerely,

Jerome du Bois

Oh, and Franklin, if you were trying to bait me, in light of the New Mango maybe, I will always come to the defense of the Cuban soul. You goddamn right I will. They remind me a lot of Jews, my other heroes.

I thought you were a mensch. Maybe I was wrong.

5.

ahab

July 20, 2005, 10:53 PM

The article on soviet-era Lithuanian sculptors from a few posts ago touches on the pressures artists face to conform to one political ideology or another.

http://www.balticsww.com/lenin_to_zappa.htm

I would like to say, Jerome, that I too hurt for oppressed people, neighbours. And I am incensed with any person who supports the systems of such oppression. It seems you are offended that, by this very discussion, there is implicit support for Castro's dictatorship. Yours must be a touchy nerve - there is no conspiracy here to further the suffering of any person by any system whatever.

In oldpro's words you cannot "assign a motive" to me. I choose not to confuse my art with social injustices. I can not, for then my art would be even more pretentious. So I must speak out in the other ways that I find appropriate. You have your cause, I suppose I have mine. I do not judge you by yours.

6.

ahab

July 20, 2005, 11:05 PM

Thanks oldpro for reinforcing by "word and deed" this idea that artists need to persevere. You and PH (I'm pretty sure you know who I mean) are providing us 'young' artists (okay, me) with some timely motivation by your examples of stick-to-it-ive-ness.

7.

oldpro

July 20, 2005, 11:51 PM

So what do we do, Jerome, toss out the paint, face south and shake our fists?

I don't like being bullied, told to be ashamed, sent on a guilt trip and have the old cojones called into question. I am sure no one else here does either. I didn't create or support Castro. Fight your own wars, and keep your stentorian righteousness to yourself.

8.

alesh

July 21, 2005, 12:04 AM

Oh Christ! Here comes Jerome, one of the most despicable faces ever to darken the door. This time, he's going to tell Cuban people, living under opression, the right and wrong way to deal with their situation.

Go away, Jerome. Spread your stupid hate somewhere else. I've personally lived under communist opression, and it is not the cartoonish state of being your brain is conjuring up. People living in Cuba are trying to live full, rich lives, whether it jibes with your sensibilities or not.

Go fantasize about your connection to the Cuban soul somewhere else.

9.

Elizabeth

July 21, 2005, 12:18 AM

jerome; I hate being bullied, told to be ashamed or guilt tripped and I dont own cojones old or other wise and if you were a mensch you would have spared us all that LECTURE. To presume we dont care is chutzpah!
Im too busy painting to shake my fists at Castro.
Answer OldPro......are we to shut down???what??

10.

Elizabeth

July 21, 2005, 12:30 AM

Oldpro; whats your take on the direction of figurative art today?? and whos work do you think has merit?? Im curious ....

11.

Franklin

July 21, 2005, 12:33 AM

Jerome, you're displaying the kind of binary thinking that makes Prieto's work so tiresome: anyone who's not raving against Cuban tyranny gets labeled as some kind of commie stooge. The last time I dropped by Babalu Blog, Prieto was characterizing John Kerry as a Sandinista. Even if one disagrees with Kerry's politics, that's not a useful assertion. I don't expect solutions to the problems in Cuba or anywhere else to come from Prieto.

I presented the above as a decent piece of reportage that talked with some main Miami art people and did so with more journalistic craft than we can expect from the Miami Herald. That's really it. I certainly wasn't trying to bait you. For better or worse, I am equipped to parse Greenberg.

They should break their brushes and slash their canvases until everybody is free.

One fascinating fact about art is that people continue to make it even as civilization slides into the sewer. Max Beckman, Bruno Schulz, Charlotte Salomon, Hisako Hibi, the list goes on and on. One of the first times I thought about being a painter was when, as a kid, I saw an article about Arturo Rodriguez. He fled Cuba to Spain, and then came to Miami. Should he have stayed and fought Castro? I'm glad he didn't.

12.

Elizabeth

July 21, 2005, 1:16 AM

Franklin; good point....and to add to that, art was being made on pain of death during the Holocaust... under life and death situations and certain death if caught ...amazingly some art was able to be hidden by the artists and retrieved much later......it was a record of history made by artists who knew the truth had to survive even if they might not.

13.

Jerome du Bois

July 21, 2005, 1:57 AM

To all:

I posted what I posted in response to Franklin's wanky post on so-called Cuban art. I mean, really, Franklin, how can you pick this gnat shit out of pepper when. . . ah, fuck it! I've written at least seven pieces about Cuban art, and there's plenty more coming.

Jerome, you're displaying the kind of binary thinking that makes Prieto's work so tiresome: anyone who's not raving against Cuban tyranny gets labeled as some kind of commie stooge. The last time I dropped by Babalu Blog, Prieto was characterizing John Kerry as a Sandinista.

This is the best you can do, zendog? Maybe you ought to double-check the mental weapons in your magazine. Hey, man, so sorry that us freedom-for-Cuba boosters should be "tiresome." Do you need a pillow for your weary head?

You are very far behind the times with Val Prieto. The last time I dropped in on Babalu, he had three vignettes from CubaNet. One was about two guys sitting on a park bench. A few minutes later a cop comes by and starts to hassle them about congregating as a subversive, counterrevolutionary cadre. They have to disperse. You're right, Franklin, that is very binary. You are either with castro, or you're against him, and when you're against him, the Roaches come out of the barracks with their sticks and beat the shit out of anyone who dares to cry Abajo Fidel! But you're not there. (Hey, you don't need to be there to be there.!) Neither am I, nor Catherine, but we two work for the day when none of us need be there, because the chimes of freedom will ring in Cuba.

But please please please Elizabeth, do not miss a brushstroke, because history hangs in the balance of what you do! Do not look at reality, whatever you do! Once upon a time, artists were prophets and risk-takers. No more. We must look elsewhere for inspiration --cosmology, subatomic physics, cognitive ethology--but artists? Come on, all, when was the last time, besides Marcel Duchamp (oh, yeah, I know what hell I've hubbed here)-- that artists actually scraped the sharkskin of reality until it bled a wound that would not heal? Everybody wants to talk about the Fountain, nobody wants to talk about Etantes Donnes. As I am way too fond of saying, That's a tell.

Maybe you all should feel guilty --as you all get huffy and defensive about-- as those who did nothing but stand up for their souls curl in the coffins of a living hell while we all stretch out in our sun-dried sheets in the USA.

So what if you feel guilty? Who are you, anyway?

14.

Verne Gripes

July 21, 2005, 2:05 AM

And there was I liking Picasso's art when I should have considered him a whore for not physically assaulting Nazis with broken paintbrushes.

15.

Kathleen

July 21, 2005, 2:29 AM

Commenter number 4 pointedly quit addressing anyone but Franklin some time ago, out of a sense of outrage which has apparently not diminished. It seems the "blithe" chatter about Greenberg has earned us the collective title "you Floridians". Yes, I, Floridian (Native Miamian), must say that Cuba is not just South of us, but with us, here, daily. The real and the imagined. Our histories are entwined; the pain of the shuddering stops, the joys of quotidian freedoms, all of it.

In our town, people can actually get physically injured because of thier stance on Cuban politics, or because they may attempt to show works by Miami Cubans which depict a likeness of Castro, albeit ironcally. The outraged public doesn't care what the artist may REALLY think, so long as it smells like a Capital C. Fistfights, gunshots, bombs. So, keep pointing your finger at us Floridians as an example of ignorance, ignoramus.

I think the artblog comments have been nicely free of politics since number four took his sense of outrage home with him. It is a foolish assumption to suppose that because we have been talking about Greenberg or Duchamp or Jenny Holzer or Jules Olitski that we are ignorant of injustice. It is also foolish to assume that injustice is localized in Cuba. What about Haiti? There's plenty of injustice and terror right there. More, I'd say.

It is beyond rude to call artists working in Cuba "whores", especially when the one doing the name calling is having a nice glass of wine and crafting a little number based on outrages which were researched on the web. Try a little more love and a little less pathos for those whom you would like to help free, I'd suggest.

About that article, I read it after I found the link to it on Onajide's site, and I thought it was pretty slim. It needed at least a second page; it felt truncated, not much better than capsule review level depth, to me.

16.

Elizabeth

July 21, 2005, 2:44 AM

Jerome; Reread 5 7 8 and 9.........and think about what you say and who you say it to!

17.

Elizabeth

July 21, 2005, 2:47 AM

And now add 15 to that !!

18.

Elizabeth

July 21, 2005, 3:11 AM

Actually Jerome ..history does hang in the balance of what I do.....My father was a Holocaust survivor and Im the president of a Foundation that represents over 7000 survivors world wide and we will soon be holding the British Gov. accountable for stolen gold and loot taken from these same survivors and YES its all happening because "I" uncovered the evidence and because "I" am keeping a promise made to my father and because "I" believe you have to MAKE JUSTICE HAPPEN......so dont you dare preach to me... you ignorant man who makes assumptions and knows nothing!
btw. I never stopped painting all the while......and I take it back, I guess I must have cojones'!!!

19.

oldpro

July 21, 2005, 7:05 AM

Well, I guess we can be a hornet's nest when we want to be!

This is a great bunch of very articulate, even-handed responses. Last time I tangled with Jerome I felt like I was going it alone. Maybe we should be grateful to him for stirring us up like that.

20.

Elizabeth

July 21, 2005, 7:08 AM

buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

21.

that guy

July 21, 2005, 8:22 AM

I think the Free Cuba people have a lot to learn from the Free Tibet people. It pays to make bumper stickers and smoke a lot of weed if you want to see real change. Change in your ability to change things that is.

22.

Franklin

July 21, 2005, 8:55 AM

Hey, man, so sorry that us freedom-for-Cuba boosters should be "tiresome."

I handle this on a case-by-case basis. Prieto does an admirable job chronicling the difficulties of life in Cuba. This is heartbreaking and necessary reading. But periodically, hardliner activism in Miami becomes cartoonish (see if you can find Ros-Lehtinen's defense of TV Marti a few years ago), and anyone who points this out he labels as racist. It doesn't matter - the hardliners committed political hara-kiri with Elian, the effectiveness of the embargo has been, to put it gently, mixed, the hardliners' grandchildren are burning reggaeton CDs and going to their proms and are otherwise not joining Alpha 66, exilito Pedro Martin is going to remove the Freedom Tower from the Miami skyline with a half-billion-dollar condo development - history is yanking the rug out from under the hardliners. Meanwhile, John Kerry as a friend of the Sandinistas came out on Prieto's blog about a week and a half ago.

But excepting the preceeding paragraph, Artblog.net continues its policy, in force since our last presidential elections, not to discuss politics except as it bears directly on the art world. Political commentary I leave to blogs dedicated to the subject as I've dedicated mine to art.

23.

oldpro

July 21, 2005, 10:42 AM

I agree. Well said.

24.

Val Prieto

July 21, 2005, 3:03 PM

If I may interject with one question - being that I have no formal training in the plastic arts. If your talent and consequently your art is controlled by an entity other than yourself, is it really "art?" because such is the case with Cuban art.

Do you have any idea how many incredibly talented artists of Cuban descent live outside of Cuba?

Back in May, during the Cuba Nostalgia convention here in Miami, there was an exhibit of some incredible talent by Marielito artists alone. These were artists that exiled during the Mariel boatlift in the 80s who have busted their behinds in an attempt to garner the recoginition as artists that they richly deserve.

Yet somehow for the art powers that be, the fact that they live here, in the diaspora, prostitues their art. Gallery owners such as the one Jerome mentions arent interested in their work for the simple reason that their work isnt from the quaint island itself. It doesnt matter to them that these artists embody the cuban soul. Their art isnt worthy of the notoriety of their brethren still on the island because that mysterious and covertness and third worldly quality isnt there.

So then, what is it, exactly that these galleries and gallery owners are promoting? the artwork itself? Isnt art supposed to be from the artists free expression? I can assure you, if it comes from Cuba, overtly or covertly, it is not a true representation of the artist. It cant be. It is not allowed.

Or are these galleries promoting the suffering of the artist? Do they stand there and look at a painting and not admire the painting for the piantings sake, but for the artists innate ability to scrounge the canvas, the inks and the paints needed to create the work? In essence, they are selling the suffering of a human being. Not the representation of the suffering, but the actual suffering itself.

I am quite sure that there are many artists in Cuba that wish they could follow their souls. Im sure that most look forward to the day when they can finally give us a work with true meaning and not some trumped up representation of fidel castro because that's what will be allowed to be exported to some gallery in Arizona.

Artists in Cuba are just like everyone else on the island. Pawns of propaganda.

Just my two unlearned cents worth.

And about that comment about Miami Cubans protesting an art gallery with Cuban work featuring icons of fidel castro. Yep. You are damn right it's going to be protested. We can do that here in the states. It a right.

Let me know when you find an iconic work lauding Reagan allowed in Cuba.

25.

oldpro

July 21, 2005, 3:22 PM

Val, knowing little about this, may I ask in what way is painting supressed or censured, and to what extent does this suppression extend into the studio itself rather than just to the marketplace.

Also, how extensive is the probelm you refer to of gallery owners preferring the art of residents of Cuba over Cuban residents of the US. Is this an overtly stated policy in any instance?

26.

Val Prieto

July 21, 2005, 4:42 PM

Oldpro,

First, let me give you a bit of background on how things work in Cuba.

You are monitored by the state from early on. From elementary school onwards, you are monitored by your teachers. If you show a tendency to be what they consider undersireable to the revolution, then from then on doors close. Thus, you must alays be conscious of your actions and thoughts as any bad mark on your school record will prevent you from entering secondary education.

If you want to enter a university and study art, then you must not be considered a contra-revolucionario or have been marked for those tendencies. If you are a student, and lets say your father or mother or aunt is a political dissident, then chances are you will be expelled, not for your own beliefs,mind you, but for those of your relatives.

if you are an art student and show, through one of your pieces a certain discontent with the political system or the revolution, then chances are you will either be reprimanded or expelled from school. You will never see any gallery or university in Cuba showing works that may be construed as ideologically at odds with the revolution. In a country of 11 million, with who know what kind of percentage of those being artists, does it stand to reason that every single one of those artists is in agreement with their government? Of course not. Cuba is not like here where you can rent a studio for painting, either. The studio is given to you by the governemnt for you to paint. If the government doesnt ike your work, then the studio is given to the next guy.

Walk any street in Cuba or market place in Cuba and you will not see a single piece of art that is critical of the government. Not one. It is not allowed. The repercussions are dire. Isnt that in itself highly suspect of truth?

As for the galleries issue. In Miami, obviously, it is not that extensive. There are plenty of Cuban owned galleries that display art from Cubans in exile. It is more apparent in galleries such as the one jerome cites, and other galleries, both private and academic, where the mere fact that the work is from Cuba - not necessarliy the work itself,mind you - is enough for that work to be displayed.

My brother in law is an artist, from mariel. Now, I dont particularly like him as a person, but his work is pretty good (from this layman's POV) and it has been featured here in Miami in many galleries. However, try as he might, he has never been able to have his work incorporated into any shows or openings displaying Cuban art anywhere else in the country. His work is completely Cuban, trained in Cuba and along the lines of the Cuban masters like Lam and such., yet it isnt considered Cuban because he no longer lives in Cuba. But the work, in itself, is Cuban.

I dont know if its an overtly stated policy. Im sure their are no guidelines written up to follow this, but unfortunately it is obviously the case.

If a gallery is doing a show on Cuban art, that's great. I am all for its promotion, but it should include the works of not just artwork from artists in Cuba, its should encompass the works of cubans in exile as well. Whether its from Cuba or Fort Lauderdale, if the artist is Cuban, then his work is as well.

One thing I would like to add, however. The government of Cuba not only suppresses the artist, but expolits him as well. Any work of art leant or acquired legally for a gallery here in the states from Cuba is a work that some person, some representative of the government chose to lend. It may not be what the artist believes is his or her best work and it may not be the work that the artist wants displayed, but it is the one that is in keeping with the message that government wants to put out.

Right now, in Cuba, there are hundreds of artists who paint not what they feel, but what will allow their work to be shown. There are artists that only paint works that they know they can display at a market place and have an art tourist buy, because it will get them a few dollars to obtain some paints or a couple of canvases or some chalk. But is it really art? Is it really a true representation of the artist? The buyer will bring it to the States and say "here's this great piece by so and so in Cuba" and will use it as a representation of Cuban art. But if the artist isnt free to paint what he so desires, is it truly representative of himself?

27.

oldpro

July 21, 2005, 5:17 PM

Thanks for the information. I understand, as an outsider, at least, how dreadful it must be in Cuba, and I sympathize entirely.

I never had any idea that there was a prejudice in favor of resident Cuban artists by galleries in this country. Some misbegotten idea of "authenticity", I suppose. Certainly a strange way to judge art. I am so attuned to considering only whether a work of art is any good in itself that it would be an effort to even consider where it came from in any evaluation.

The only experience I have had with this sort of thing was 15 years ago when i was living in a rented house in Coral Gables. Two very aggressive US Government agents came to the door and demanded to see the owner and when I said he wasn't there they wanted to some in and search the place for "contraband", but I told them no. Apparently the owner had a collection of art by Cuban residents, and apparently that was illegal back then. I guess it is not illegal any more, given what you describe. it is all very unfortunate.

28.

Kathleen

July 21, 2005, 5:38 PM

Openings tonight:

Wangechi Mutu at MAM--also JAM at MAM

Retratos; 2000 years of Latin American Portraits at the Bass (might be a members-only event)

29.

alesh

July 21, 2005, 5:50 PM

I live 10 minutes from the Bass, and in the last 5 years they've had nothing that's sounded interesting enough for me to go. Is something wrong with me? If the portraits show is any good would someone say so?

30.

alesh

July 21, 2005, 6:00 PM

Wow... yeah that's a good description Val.

"For Love or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story" gives a hint of what it's like, I suppose, although obviously Arturo Sandoval was one of a very few lucky ones. When I was younger I read a horrific book called "Against All Hope" which describes life for political dissidents in Cuban prison. Yikes!

31.

jake

July 21, 2005, 6:21 PM

well, i really favor the community aspect of art, if anything friends with like minds, and believe this should be fostered. this i think is the greatest point here, and believe the "opossers" are illustrating this in one way or another. I mean, i dont think there is a feeling of Miami art, is there? yet here are these folks going on about cuban "art". I crave the distinction of these "artworks" as painting or sculptural, because i think this is all these people are seeing as art. I know of a few artists in cuba doing "extensions" of art, performance or happeniing pieces in very smart ways, ways indicative of the environment, but smart enough not to be reprimanded for these things. I believe the general consencus of cuban art is the commodity it has been built up to be by the very people who have lost the "bigger picture" notion of an idealogy they have adopted either to support or protest the cuban situation. And anyhow, this is a long drawn out story, cuba, that rarely goes objective. In my view, it is a selfsustaining situation, impenetrable from outside.

but more about the sense of community: this is a hard thing to provoke, it mostly happens, but for example here, artblog, this is a community, and especially the regulars give it a kinda night-time coffee kinda feel(paris reference). if anything a forum, because to get into these conversations in a routine life will require a certain someone with, if anything, patience, and hopefully interest.

i have observed this group dynamic with scientific impetus, have accepted it as crucial, and research it constantly. The look is always different, but the dynamics are common. it is just a shared "vision" of anything will grow when nurtured by all of it's integers.

and when youve had this feeling, you truly long for it. The concept of outgrowing this seems a bit limited. I believe that choices in life occur that may separate or legnthen the bond, but, well, these guys are trying to put it back together. I just hope there is a sense of growth implied in this and they are not trying to re-live anything, it is kind of depressing to see this happen, the way nostalgia can be.

32.

Franklin

July 21, 2005, 7:10 PM

Val, I had a look at the Cernuda site and much of what you say could probably be made to stick. However:

- While it's true, and terrible, that no Cuban can criticize his government through his art, it's a leap to say that every artist in Cuba is therefore compromised by being allowed to work. For all I know, Flora Fong really feels like making those Dora-Maar-era-Picasso knockoffs and has no interest in criticising Castro. Maybe in turn the government perceives no threat from her. The paintings could therefore be sincere. (They're still pretty bad, unfortunately.)

- Selling artists by ethnicity has been going on down here for a long time, so much so that press releases coming out of Coral Gables galleries routinely start with, "Venezuelan Artist Jose Blow presents his latest works at So-n-So Art Gallery..." This strategy is indifferent to style and geared purely at selling art to collectors of like ethnicity. The Lowe Museum has been complicit in this a few times, most recently making much of Antionio Gattorno, whose works were inconsistent and often as insipid as wheat paste. If Cernuda is making a distinction between current Cuban citizens and expats, that's an errant idea of authenticity like Oldpro says, but one that differs from the more general type not by kind, but by degree.

- Whether your brother-in-law's case is anecdotal is hard to say. The artists cited in the Monitor piece are doing all right - Bedia, especially, who is represented by Fredric Snitzer and currently has a huge installation up at the Rubell Collection. Torres Llorca has work in the MAM and for a while was associated with Ambrosino Gallery. There may not be enough Cuban-Americans (compared to, say, Chicanos) for there to be a curatorial demand for their work outside Miami. It probably sounds like major hair-splitting to distinguish between Cubans and Cuban expats, but contemporary curators are trained to deal with those kinds of distinctions. Again, a lot of the issue is indifference to style. If you were going to do a show of work inspired by Lam, which would be a visual distinction, then you might end up hitting both groups and probably find some nutty Japanese guy to include as well.

In any case I look forward to seeing what gets made when Cuban artists can finally make whatever the hell they feel like making.

Alesh - nothing is wrong with you. They have a problem down there. (You didn't want to go see Yayoi Kusuma? That surprises me.)

33.

oldpro

July 21, 2005, 7:11 PM

That community feeling, when it blossoms and lives on its own, is a wonderful thing, Jake.

The reason for nostalgia is that when we are living that way, young and full of beans and nowhere and nobody, we don't know how much fun it was until we have outgrown it..

34.

Jerome du Bois

July 21, 2005, 9:57 PM

Franklin:

I'm glad I stirred it up, and I wish I could say I did it to get you and Val together, but I didn't. (I am also glad that Val showed up, unsolicited by me, to lay it out for you all.)

If you don't want to mix politics and art, as you said in one of the comments above, maybe you shouldn't post about one of the most volatile political mixes on earth. Really, isn't it silly to think you can talk about art on that island and keep it disembedded from politics?

Elizabeth:

Actually Jerome ..history does hang in the balance of what I do.....My father was a Holocaust survivor and Im the president of a Foundation that represents over 7000 survivors world wide and we will soon be holding the British Gov. accountable for stolen gold and loot taken from these same survivors and YES its all happening because "I" uncovered the evidence and because "I" am keeping a promise made to my father and because "I" believe you have to MAKE JUSTICE HAPPEN......so dont you dare preach to me... you ignorant man who makes assumptions and knows nothing!
btw. I never stopped painting all the while......and I take it back, I guess I must have cojones'!!!


I'm keeping a promise to my father, too, who also started a foundation, an educational one, and he blessed thousands, because he respected the human mind above all, as I do. My track record defending Jews and Israel is on the blog for over two years, and in my life for a lot longer. When I posted my comments I knew nothing about this background of yours, but if you look at the comment list I wasn't talking to you --I was addressing Franklin and oldpro and some other pseudonymo. I don't know you, so I certainly admit to (grateful) ignorance of your previous and undoubtedly precious existence. So don't shove your self-righteousness at me because I'm not a mind-reader. I take back not one word of what I have said.

To Kathleen:

It is beyond rude to call artists working in Cuba "whores", especially when the one doing the name calling is having a nice glass of wine and crafting a little number based on outrages which were researched on the web. Try a little more love and a little less pathos for those whom you would like to help free, I'd suggest.

I hope you real Val's comments, and took them to heart. And don't tell me how I'm living my life, much less one word about love; you know nothing about me, or us, or what we do, or how we endure, or what it costs to raise that glass of wine. And, yes, I'm rude, to rude people who I wasn't even talking to. (You might benefit by reading, for example, Ben Corbett's book This Is Cuba: An Outlaw Culture Survives.)

Catherine and I went to ASU Art Museum today and saw lots of Cuban art, including new acquisitions. It was like looking at blood and flies, but I got past it. One of these works was a painting by Aimee Garcia, living and working in Havana: a self-portrait, presumably, in Payne's Grey and bilious green, of a young woman blindfolded, with a smaller portrait, on the blindfold, of a young girl with an anxious expression, painted just between the blindfolded eyes. It looked like an illustration, well-done certainly, for Psychology Today, about somebody's Inner Child.

But the artist who made that insipid thing --an up-and-comer from Havana-- lives a life of comfort inconceivable to a hundred thousand anxious young Habaneras. It is a fact of life in Cuba that she benefits from their pain.

Finally, alesh:

I've personally lived under communist opression, and it is not the cartoonish state of being your brain is conjuring up. People living in Cuba are trying to live full, rich lives, whether it jibes with your sensibilities or not.

You haven't read our blog, I guess, alesh. Cartoonish is the complete antonym to what we are about. Read my pieces on Theo van Gogh, for example. The wounds bleed endlessly, the tears never stop. People in Cuba are trying to fill their jabas vinyl; rich, full lives . . . who the hell are you referring to? A man is arrested for trying to sell carrots out of a green plastic suitcase, because he doesn't have a license he couldn't afford in two years, if he could ever find a legal way to afford it. You've lived under communist oppression, eh? Good. There's an excellent novel called Havana Bay by Martin Cruz Smith. I learned a lot from it. Maybe you could, too.

Okay. I'm done. Everybody put your heads back in the sand.

JdB

35.

oldpro

July 21, 2005, 10:20 PM

Talk about "shoving self-righteousness" Jerome. Good grief!

36.

Elizabeth

July 21, 2005, 10:28 PM

Im speaking from a great distance culturally and physically. let me start by saying that politically NOTHING will change (sadly) In Cuba till there is a "TIPPING POINT" and Castro DIES. Then its up to the 'people' to create a world that they want to live in.....and Im sure that when this day occurs many will react and be there,from within and without Cuba!
that said; I agree with Franklin though that the ART has to stand on its own from both sources (added to the conditions Val shared above), its good or its bad ART.....its still either or, despite its source.
The people in miami and elsewhere should purchase and support the art based on its own merrits.....anything else is illogical and silly in my opinion.

Val; thankyou for an articulate overview of the Politics versus Artistic freedom---------it just strikes me (after reading Vals comments) that it is illogical that Cuban art from within is given more value and credence, as opposed to the totally "Free Cuban Art' that is created minus any political repression or fear of retribution.
I would think that the 'Free Art ' would be embraced by the community moreso as the 'Real Art' since it was created in an enviroment of honesty openess and a genuine expression unimbued by fear.

37.

alesh

July 21, 2005, 10:29 PM

JdB is an insufferable blowhard, but to the extent that he points out that we are guilty of standing by and not doing enough while people suffer in Cuba, he is correct.

It may even be true that artists who live in Cuba and show work in the US grant tacit approval to the crimes of their government. Perhaps the moral road for a true artist in Cuba is to create work and hide it from the government, and from outsiders (no doubt many are doing this right now, awaiting Castro's fall). But I don't think it's Jerome's, or anyone else's, place to decree that.

38.

alesh

July 21, 2005, 10:32 PM

I disagree with elizabeth insofar as IF purchasing a work of art, however good, benefits a tyranical government, THEN the purchase is immoral.

39.

alesh

July 21, 2005, 10:42 PM

crap . . . third post in a row: personal worst.

Elizabeth~ "Free art" has the disadvantage of being made in the relative comfort of Hialeah.

That is to say, a person living under oppression has two choices: they can flee, or they can fight the oppression. There is a degree of selfishness in the fleeing. This may explain why Castro's government is strong, while almost every other Communist regime in the world has fallen or softened it's rule beyond recognition: it's most passionate citizen enemies have had an easy escape (to the US). In countries where escape was more difficult, dissidents could not leave, and this led in many cases to the fall of those governments (my country, the Czech Republic, is a good example, though my family was one of the ones that did escape).

So the "free" artist is not in a moral high-ground, is not, I would argue, necessarily the 'real art', compared to 'dissident art', created in secret by artists living in Cuba.

In my country, a project called Minisalon (very poorly documented on the web; maybe i'll do something about this...) was done while the country was under communist rule: small wooden boxes were mailed out to members of a dissident artist underground, each of whom was allowed to create anything that fit within the box, then mail it back (take that, MAil show at MOCA). The entire collection was later shown all over the world.

40.

Elizabeth

July 21, 2005, 10:45 PM

Alesh, I didnt say dissidant art or secretive art ....

41.

alesh

July 21, 2005, 11:13 PM

you were talking about art made in Cuba and shown in the US (?), which by definition (see Val's comments) is not dissident/secretive art.

42.

Elizabeth

July 21, 2005, 11:15 PM

my point is that logically the art made without fear, to me is more genuine then art made out in the open under castro's watchful eye........I dont unclude secretive or dissidant art in that. Also I think art should stand on its own as either good or bad despite where it comes from or what circumstances surrounding its creation.
Art made out in the open has to meet communist standards which means it is tinged as propaganda.....its purpose is to serve the government, not the art world.

43.

Kathleen

July 21, 2005, 11:23 PM

Jerome: I felt kind of bad writing that about the wine and the number, but your comments were pretty much horrible. I know that I don't know you, but I also know that you don't know me, or any of us, really, yet you condescended to and chastized us for not meeting up to the tenets by which you direct your own life.

I hate crapping on people's heartfelt sentiments, but I don't think it's right to insist that your heart is full of love and sympathy while engaging in condemnations. It is clear that your heart also contains hate, hate for the C entity for example, and for other entities of which you have spoken on your blog. I think you should accept that, and perhaps you might find that it has been leaking out inappropriately.

You must understand that you swooped down upon us (after apparently observing for some time) with some invisible test, alternately haranguing and dismissing us upon our inevitable failure. This is the behaviour of a zealot. Or a troll. It is unfair, uncharitable, and causes us to be unsympathetic to your arguments, regardless of thier impetus or veracity.

Unlike Elizabeth, I am not interested in proving to you that I am a human being. The test is not yours to administer.

On the matter of the impossibility of art under suppressive regimes, I must say that history has shown that meaningful art is always made, and you shortchange the creativity of a populace who labors to find and use the hidden language under such circumstances.

Whether or not it is just that they receive greater compensation, likely at the expense of the poor, depends on how capitalist you are. I would argue that major corporate CEO's, who are in the pocket of the US government (or vice versa) are living large at the expense of our nation's poor. So, I guess I agree with you about that "insipid" artist in Cuba. But it's not a very capitalist argument. I suppose the difference is that no one is trampling on those CEO's rights, of course. But the rights of the poor are trampled daily here as well.

Perhaps this oppressed artist shares her wealth, or runs an underground organization; I mean, I don't know her either. Just as I don't know what your glass of wine cost you, I don't know what her success cost her.

To Val Prieto: my point concerning the images of Castro was that Jerome had a poor assumption about the ignorance of Floridians as concerns Cuba. I fully adore the right to protest whichever images you choose, but I think that shooting the windows out of the gallery containing the images is not freedom of speech; it is a crime.

As for myself, I may be keen on protesting iconic images lauding Reagan!

Lastly, though I am aware that the topic of this post concerns Cuban art, I must adamantly insist that the injustice and hardships befalling Haiti right now are AT LEAST of equal magnitude as those befalling the good people of Cuba.

44.

Kathleen

July 21, 2005, 11:37 PM

Clarification for Elizabeth: I'm not making any statement about you, only implying that I shouldn't have to explain that I am doing good deeds for Jerome to become almost apologetic. The turn-around in his attitude toward you was remarkable, but I don't think we should have to prove ourselves to him. He should have assumed first that we perform good deeds and have pure hearts, but he did not. That's his problem.

45.

oldpro

July 21, 2005, 11:44 PM

Kathleen, Jerome has swooped before. It is best to let it go.

46.

Elizabeth

July 21, 2005, 11:49 PM

Kathleen; no worries ......I toatlly agree with your comment ..we dont have to answer to him or anyone for that matter....only to ourselves.
I spoke out not to prove to him that Im a human being .......but 1. to show him not to assume he knows people or their lives or their goodness or otherwise. and 2. that we arent just artists but that there are people doing things in this world to effect changes in all manners....its an evolving alive thing (history) and I always thought art and artists played a part in exposing the truth ........my way to expose and effect change will be in the American court system and not on canvas (yet).

47.

Elizabeth

July 21, 2005, 11:56 PM

on a happy note.....this blog is the best .........Its filled with intelligent caring articulate people who care about many things and art too.
OldPro ; I would love to meet for coffee or dinner next time Im in New York.

48.

Elizabeth

July 21, 2005, 11:57 PM

OLdpro; dont worry Im not hitting on you ...its safe hehe

49.

Jerome du Bois

July 22, 2005, 12:04 AM

The whole point of my original post, which still stands, is that Franklin and oldpro were content to yak about Cuban art career options as if castro and his giant shadow weren't even there, when it is a fact that no Cuban artist makes any money without castro getting a cut. Every other Cuban has to give castro a cut -- you think artists are going to be exempt?

Kathleen wrote:

You must understand that you swooped down upon us (after apparently observing for some time) with some invisible test, alternately haranguing and dismissing us upon our inevitable failure. This is the behaviour of a zealot. Or a troll. It is unfair, uncharitable, and causes us to be unsympathetic to your arguments, regardless of thier impetus or veracity.

Are you getting a case of the vapors? I suppose I should have introduced myself in a nice, polite, nonthreatening way to you, doffing my cap and tugging my forelock. Uh-huh. This ain't no tea party, Kathleen. I have no test. I made simple statements. Everybody tells me I'm such a meanie and to fuck off. Fine. I will. Until the next time some fool talks as if the real world didn't exist.

I'll now bow out, just after Elizabeth brings you all back to the true priorities of artblog . . .

JdB

50.

Franklin

July 22, 2005, 8:27 AM

Jerome: ...Franklin and oldpro were content to yak about Cuban art career options as if castro and his giant shadow weren't even there...

At the point you chimed in, Oldpro and I were discussing the way artist groups form in general in response to the question in #1. After one post each on this from each of us, you presumed a host of failings on our parts because we hadn't launched into an attack on Castro, calling into question the state of my cojones (they're doing great; thanks for your concern), the position of my head vis a vis the sand, and so on. If I cared about people being nice to me I wouldn't be blogging. But if you're out to change the minds of people you disagree with, eventually you're going to have to make a sacrifice: you're going to have to give up the pleasure of insulting them. I say that as someone who, despite having become rather skilled at insulting people, had to make that choice himself. You will find that you can't have it both ways.

Elizabeth, thanks. Oldpro is actually here in Miami if you want to hit on him invite him for coffee.

Kathleen: we're talking about different orders of rights-trampling between the US and Cuba, but your remarks about Haiti make me wonder about why we end up choosing causes; I guess if you took them all on you'd kill yourself out of dispair. Me, one of the reasons I don't eat mammals is because cattle farming is responsible for 60% of all deforestation. I think we all have to manifest our politics in different, and necessarily limited ways. Kathleen's reference to Val, for those of you not up on it, was an incident at Maxoly a year or two ago in which the gallery's display window featured a painting that dipicted Castro in an unflattering but I guess insufficiently unflattering manner, and said window ended up becoming subjected to gunfire. Like I said earlier, cartoonish.

Alesh: interfacing with a totalitarian regime is going to involve some moral compromise, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be done. Take China, for example, whom I'm convinced we're better off doing trade with than isolating them for myriad, longtime, egregious human rights violations. Art in theory is a decent way to start this because it crosses cultures so well.

51.

oldpro

July 22, 2005, 9:19 AM

Don't worry, Elizabeth. I can take care of myself.

It is not the rightness of the cause, Jerome, it is the way you are presenting it. You don't convince people - especially those who probably basically agree in the first place - by attacking them for not dwelling on your interests to the exclusion of everything else. That is a method that only assures antagonistic reaction and allows you the masochistic comfort of continuous rejection.

52.

Jerome du Bois

July 22, 2005, 9:48 AM

Franklin:

Just to be clear: I am not interested in changing anybody's mind. Period. I'm a witness.

And it's fact that you and oldpro were talking over the heads of specific suffering people from a specific place. That pissed me off, and still does.

I sure as hell care more about those people's lives and feelings than the offended sensibilities of anybody on this blog.

JdB

53.

Val Prieto

July 22, 2005, 10:06 AM

I'd like to clarify one thing. While I believe in the right to protest anything or anyone that is promoting fidel castro or his ideals, I do not condone acts such as the one mentioned above where a storefront was riddled with bullets.

It's so difficult to explain what an unbridled hatred Cubans in exile have for fidel castro. It's there on so many levels.

I confirmed this during the Cuba Nostalgia Convention. I had a relatively cool booth with banners and computers and stuff set up. I also had a big sign on the side that said in big bold letters "have something to say to fidel castro? EMAIL FIDEL". We had a couple of laptops set up to email the ministry of the interior in Cuba.

People would be walking towards our booth, all smiles and pointing at this banner or the other. they looked enthusiastic about coming by, then they would get a glimpse of the Email Fidel sign and thier countenance would change completely. Smiles turned into frowns. they looked disgusted. Physically disgusted. There was such a repugnance to just the name "fidel" present at that place. I cant truly describe it.

And thats from Cuban in exile, living great lives as compared to their counterparts on the isalnd. Can you even begin to imagine what a Cuban still living in Cuba must feel if he does not agree with his government? Where icons of the bearded one are ubiquitous and they are being hammered and barraged with his image and sayings and speeches 24/7?

BTW thanks for the hospitality and courtesy shown to me here in these comments.

54.

Jack

July 22, 2005, 11:29 AM

Some relevant historical background:

In 1961, two years after taking power, Castro issued his “Words to the Intellectuals”. In a series of large group meetings involving Castro himself, government officials and leading Cuban writers and artists, the latter were told their work would be viewed through the prism of the revolution. Castro summed up his position thus: “Within the revolution, everything; against the revolution, nothing”. This decree became the cornerstone of the regime’s cultural policy from then on, and had a pervasive influence on artistic and intellectual life in general.

55.

oldpro

July 22, 2005, 12:15 PM

As is common with those who rant, you make factual mistakes, Jerome. I did not "talk over the heads" of any "suffering people". When you weighed in with your first jeremiad I had not even mentioned Cuba. Subsequently, from my own ignorance, I asked Val some questions, which he answered straightforwqardly. Anything else I said about the situation was purely sympathetic.

Once again hammering people out of the blue with accusations and guilt trips only accomplishes hostility for yourself and does nothing for the suffering people you claim to feel for. If you want to do something, go do it with effective political action. If you are just a 'witness", as you said above, wait until you are called.

56.

Jerome du Bois

July 22, 2005, 2:18 PM

oldpro:

I'd really like to get this over with.

The title of the post was Monitor Piece on CUBAN ART. Anything said after that must certainly be taken under that rubric, unless you ignore, which unsurprisingly you did. That's was bothered and bothers me. That's why I said what I said. And nobody, certainly not a teacher, tells me to wait for anything.

JdB

57.

oldpro

July 22, 2005, 3:09 PM

OK by me. It's over.

And of course you are right. My lowly status as a teacher certainly does not qualify me to tell a dude like you anything. I must have lost my head. Sorry.

58.

alesh

July 22, 2005, 4:15 PM

a woman trips on the sidewalk and falls into the gutter with a broken leg, writhing in pain. Two people walk by, and one comments to the other on the woman's beautiful dress. The other disagrees, says the dress is tacky and poorly made. They ignore the woman's painful writhing.

I think Jerome sees us as the two people in the above scenario, and it is not a position without some basis. But the way he goes about it makes him an asshole.

Just to be clear: I am not interested in changing anybody's mind. Period. I'm a witness.

Yes, Jerome, let's do be clear: this position makes you a coward, not a witness. If you are as aware of suffering as you proclaim, and you won't even try to convince people they should act against it, then you are more guilty then ignorant little us. YOU are as responsible for the Cuban peoples' suffering as one of Castro's thugs. If you cared, you would do something other then verbaly lashing out.

As is common with those who rant, you make factual mistakes, Jerome. I did not "talk over the heads" of any "suffering people".

I would call this a matter of perception, not fact, Oldpro. While I don't quite agree with Jerome's characterization, it is not completely without merit. It is certainly not a "factual mistake;" see my woman-in-gutter example.

59.

George

July 22, 2005, 5:00 PM

...since we live in the United States
We would retain a lawyer and sue the shit out of everyone including city for the broken sidewalk, and the two observers for doing nothing. If you can't sue, start a revolution. As you said it's all a matter of perception

60.

oldpro

July 22, 2005, 7:09 PM

Sure it's a matter of perception, Alesh. Correct perception and incorrect perception.

The article Franklin posted was about a group of artists who apparently did something interesting by getting together when they were young and then drifted apart. It refers to the plight of artists in Cuba, which is certainly terrible, but that was not the primary emphasis; that emphasis was only supplied when Jerome stormed in bellowing his righteous outrage. I reacted before that happened to Franklin's observation about the nature of groups of artists and why they split apart. it was a perfectly reasonabe and thoughtful response to the posting and to the turn Franklin put on it.

There is absolutely no way any reasonable person could call this "talking over their heads" unless there is a clear and immediate obligation -as would have been the case in your ill-chosen example of the injured woman - to do quickly something about the situation at hand. There was no such obligation nor did the circumstances compel that anything should or could be about it. Jerome rushed in and showered us with arrows tipped with guilt poison. It got the reaction it deserved.

61.

mek

July 22, 2005, 9:03 PM

Well Franklin, it seems as tho your topic has attracted one hot pulsing politcal cuban cajone, ...to be expected, no? hmmmm, with so many oppressed, starving, slaughtered, dying of aids human beings crying out into the Void right this very minute, you'd think Art would contain a more Political emphasis, but alas, we sit here comfortably painting, tralala. i have a lot to learn about the cuban diaspora. most of which doesn't particularly interest me. we all have our issues to address, don't we? Well, much ado about nothing concerning the graveless massacred albanians, the starving, shelterless hatians, the colombian innocents caught in the middle, the continent of africa (too many countries to count enduring unspeakable crimes against humanity, such as starvation, rape, torture, murder, aids) not to mention any homemade bomb of choice for any particular agenda...yes, to me it is quite understandable why most sustain their ignorance. Yes lucky, alive we are, and hopefully living up to our fullest potential. mr jdb, good luck on your journey, as we are all along ours.

62.

George

July 22, 2005, 10:44 PM

When has the world not had so many oppressed, starving, slaughtered, dying of aids human beings crying out into the Void? It's horrible but it's not a total singular definition of the human condition. Art touches on these sad truths in due course.

63.

mek

July 22, 2005, 11:42 PM

george - who said it was a total singular definition of the human condition? not i.

64.

mek

July 22, 2005, 11:45 PM

we all have our harps to pluck, our own weeping violins. various reasons drive us to be artists, eh?

65.

jake

July 23, 2005, 12:46 PM

I believe the general consencus of cuban "art" is the commodity it has been built up to be by the very people who have lost the "bigger picture" notion of an idealogy they have adopted either to support or protest the cuban situation. And anyhow, this is a long drawn out story, cuba, that rarely goes objective. In my view, it is a selfsustaining situation, impenetrable from outside.

i repeat this because i am concerned it went overlooked.
the sense of responsiblity assigned to an outsider having to save this situation is impossible. It a creation of the people in one way or another. And truly, the tones of these "revolutionaries" are too similar to endow them a sense of leadership, at least in a charismatic way, or a way that anyone other than themselves find appealing. They seem like what they are criticizing.

the feeling of guilt must truly lie in them, since they are really the only ones who truly know what it WAS like, and now sigh relief and sadness for what and who they left behind to "endure" the pain, while they seek "help".

i know the refugee feeling must not inspire a lot of confidence in the good nature of man. the exile feeling even less.


i refrian from further comment as it may only fuel the fire

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