by Paul Brindamour, April 15, 2017
Art plays an important role in Cuban culture. When exploring Havana, it is impossible not to come across jazz clubs, street musicians, restaurants with live performances, galleries, monuments, statues and public sculptures on almost every block. So, it wasn’t too surprising that the National Museum of Fine Arts would be such a treasure trove. One of its two buildings, the “Cuban Art” houses an astonishing collection of Cuban art, while the other, the “Universal Art” houses ancient and international art. Not having had much prior exposure to Cuban art, we were delighted to discover the works of Lam, Cardenas, Chartrand, Menocal, Garcia, Mendive, Pelaez and many, many others.
Across town in the Vedado, the Decorative Arts Museum, a grand old mansion along the lines of those found in Newport, Rhode Island, had its many palatial rooms filled with the opulent collections of the wealthy family that had made it their home prior to the Revolution. Being especially interested in glass, I was thrilled to find examples of Tiffany, Galle and Lalique in their collection. There were also fine examples of porcelain, paintings, furniture, carpets, and silver—all the things you’d expect from early 20th century aristocracy.
Because of the cultural importance of art, artists can become influential people in Cuban society. This was evident in two other stops we made. The first was “Fusterlandia,” the home/studio of Jose Fuster in the Jaimanitas section of Havana. In an homage to Antoni Gaudi, the renowned Barcelonan architect, Fuster has transformed his neighborhood into a surreal landscape using ceramic tile mosaics. The art, a mix of Revolutionary heroes and Dr. Suess-like shapes and creatures, was pretty self-explanatory, but you could purchase a guide book, along with an original Fuster tile. All proceeds from these sales went into neighborhood development.
In the Playa section, not far from the Instituto Superior de Arte (see description in previous posting), was “KCho,” a Community Center supported by the artist who goes by that same name. We were given a private tour of its library, cinema, computer lab, photo gallery, international arts collaborative, installations, and classrooms, which are all open, free to the public.