Bronx Plans Art Exchange With Cuba
By RANDY KENNEDYJAN. 21, 2015
The Bronx Museum of the Arts and the National Museum of Fine Arts in
Cuba announced Wednesday that a major exchange of works from their
collections would take place this year and next in the most sweeping
collaboration between the two countries’ museums in more than 50 years.
The arrangement is the fruit of curatorial negotiations that began long
before the recent thaw in diplomatic relations, said Holly Block, the
Bronx Museum’s executive director, who has traveled to Cuba and followed
the work of artists there for two decades.
Over 80 works of art dating from the 1960s to the present will travel
from the Bronx’s permanent collection for display at the National Museum
from May 21 through Aug. 16, coinciding with the 12th Havana Biennial.
In the fall of 2016, more than 100 works from the National Museum’s
collection will come to the Bronx Museum, which has long collected and
championed work by Cubans and Cuban-Americans as well as other art from
Latin America and from Africa and Asia.
“There are, of course, huge differences between the Bronx and Havana,
but there are also a lot of similarities,” Ms. Block said. “The idea is
to reinforce the fact that the National Museum is a very local museum,
which is what we are, too.”
Large portions of Havana’s collection have traveled before — most
notably to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 2008 for the show “¡Cuba!
Art and History From 1868 to Today.” Since the United States imposed an
embargo on trade between the two countries in 1960, many exhibitions of
Cuban art have been organized here, and pieces from private American
collections have gone on view in Cuba. But there has never been an
exchange of this scale or ambition between the two museums. “It makes a
lot of sense for us,” said Corina Matamoros, a curator of contemporary
art at the National Museum in Havana. “Our museums have a common mission
and a common vision about contemporary art, created in specific
The exhibitions this year and next will be jointly titled “Wild Noise,”
a reference to the chaotic beauty of urban spaces based on a passage in
a Victor Hugo poem about “the wild noise where infinity begins.” Ms.
Matamoros, who spoke in Spanish through a translator, said: “I want to
be absolutely clear that because we’ve been so isolated for the last 50
years, I really don’t think the United States knows much at all about
Cuban art. I think this art, which spans from the ’60s until now, is all
going to be a revelation.” She mentioned artists like Antonia Eiríz
Vázquez, a painter of powerfully dark Goya-like visions who died in
1995; Raúl Martínez, a Pop-inflected painter and graphic designer, who
also died in 1995; and Alfredo Sosabravo, whose vividly colored
figurative painting often combines whimsy with a social bite.
The collaboration is another feather in the cap of the relatively tiny
Bronx Museum, which in 2013 commissioned the art for the United States
pavilion at the Venice Biennale, a complex installation by Sarah Sze.
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Ms. Block, the author of the 2001 book “Art Cuba: The New Generation,”
traveled to Cuba in December to talk to curators there about the project
and arrived serendipitously in Havana on the day that President Obama
ordered the restoration of full diplomatic relations. “I didn’t know it
had happened,” she said, “but you could almost feel it in the streets.
It’s a pretty amazing moment for this kind of collaboration to be
Past exhibitions at the Bronx Museum that have featured Cuban art
include “Revolution Not Televised” in 2012, with works by contemporary
Cuban artists in its permanent collection; the first solo American
museum exhibition of the work of Carlos Garaicoa, “The Ruins, the
Utopia,” in 2001; and “The Nearest Edge of the World: Art and Cuba Now”
in 1991, featuring the work of nine contemporary Cuban artists. The
museum’s collection includes works by Cuban artists like Ana Mendieta,
Wilfredo Prieto, Sandra Ramos, José Ángel Toirac and Tania Bruguera, a
performance artist who was repeatedly arrested last month during
protests in Havana demanding the release of political detainees.
The holdings of the National Museum of Fine Arts, founded in 1913, are
now divided between two buildings in the capital — one dedicated to
Cuban art and the other to art from around the world dating from the
classical period to the present. Ms. Block said that the diplomatic thaw
would not only provide a momentous backdrop for the exchange but also
open the possibility that moving artwork between the countries will
become far easier. “For private collectors, it hasn’t been so tough in
recent years to move works, but the red tape between governments for
transfers between institutions has been very difficult,” she said.
Moving people hasn’t been much easier. Ms. Matamoros said that after
years of being able to travel to the United States for art projects, she
was denied a visa last year by Cuban officials. After a perfunctory
two-minute interview, she said, she was given a form letter that said
her application had been denied because of a suspicion that she planned
to emigrate. “I very much hope that won’t happen next time,” she said.
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