A landmark exhibition opened at the Walker Art Center
on November 11, Adiós Utopia: Dreams and Deceptions in Cuban Art Since 1950, views how Cuba's revolutionary epoch shaped 65 years of Cuban art. This powerful and unprecedented exhibition establishes a new narrative focused on the experiences of artists who lived and trained in Cuba and is a rare opportunity to discover 100 of the most important works of painting, graphic design, photography, video, installation, and performance, created by more than 50 Cuban artists and designers. Adiós Utopia is curated by Cuban independent curators Gerardo Mosquera, René Francisco Rodríguez, and Elsa Vega. Conceived by the Cisneros Fontanals Fundación Para Las Artes (CIFO Europa) and The Cisneros Fontanals Arts Foundation (CIFO USA), the exhibition is organized in partnership with the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH), and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. Museum advisors on the project are Olga Viso, executive director at the Walker Art Center, and Mari Carmen Ramírez, the Wortham Curator of Latin American Art at the MFAH, both known experts in contemporary Latin American Art.
Anchored by key moments of 20th- and 21st-century Cuban history, Adiós Utopia is the most comprehensive and important presentation of modern and contemporary Cuban art shown in the United States since 1944, when the Museum of Modern Art in New York presented Modern Cuban Painters. Although many artists have since emigrated from Cuba to live and work abroad, Adiós Utopia focuses on the untold narrative of those artists who remained in Cuba, were educated under the revolutionary educational system, and whose careers evolved after Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution. Through a selection of pivotal artworkscreated in each of seven decades since 1950the exhibition explores Cuba's artistic production through the lens of its artists, illuminating both the dreams and deceptions contained within the revolutionary process and the idea of utopia.
Olga Viso, Walker Art Center executive director, commented, "Through a selection of pivotal artworks, created in each of seven decades since 1950, the exhibition explores Cuba's artistic production through the lens of utopia, both its construction and its deconstruction. Adiós Utopia will introduce U.S. audiences to key events in Cuban history and explore how this history affected individual artists, shaped the character of art produced on the island, and conditioned the reception of Cuban art both in Cuba and abroad. The exhibition also offers a big, institutional, pan-disciplinary moment for the Walker, in which we have all programs involved in exploring the art of Cuba across disciplines."
"CIFO Europa was created to be a platform for Latin American art to the world," Ella Fontanals-Cisneros, founder of CIFO Europa said. "Research for the Adiós Utopia project was initiated by CIFO Europa several years ago with a team of important Cuban curators. I am so delighted that the foundation has led the way to bring this notable exhibition to cities across the U.S., and in collaboration with these prestigious institutions."
Adiós Utopia: Dreams and Deceptions in Cuban Art Since 1950 explores Cuba's cultural and political history through the nation's artistic production. The exhibition was conceived in 2013 by the Cisneros Fontanals Fundación Para Las Artes (CIFO Europa) of Cuban-born collector and philanthropist Ella Fontanals-Cisneros, who has pioneered efforts to bring visibility and recognition to the work of Cuba's artists. The Adiós Utopia tour is being co-organized by the MFAH and the Walker Art Center. A related, comprehensive book being published in English and in Spanish by CIFO Europa, Cuban Art: Dreams and Deceptions Since 1950, accompanies the exhibition. The volume includes contributions by renowned Cuban-art experts; an illustrated chronology of major cultural events on the island over the last 65 years; as well as a selection of images of emblematic works that goes beyond the works featured in the exhibition.
The exhibition charts the development of artistic production on the island from just before the overthrow of the Cuban republican government by the revolution in 1959; through the period of revolutionary euphoria and Cuba's alliance with the Soviet Bloc; to the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s and Cuba's ongoing isolation and economic distress.
Drawing from more than two dozen collections in North America, the Caribbean, and Europe, Adiós Utopia showcases key works from each decade that were pivotal to the evolution of Cuban art. The project's initiator, and a key lender to the exhibition, is philanthropist and collector Ella Fontanals-Cisneros. The collection is distinguished by a strong concentration in Cuba's lesser-known modern painters of the 1950s and 60s; these works form the narrative of the exhibition's first section.
With Cuban art increasingly visible in the United States and abroad, Adiós Utopia provides an unprecedented context for understanding the recent surge of interest in the art of Cuba and around US/Cuba relations. Rather than offer a historical survey, the exhibition's thematic narrative explores how Cuban artists charted, commented on, and confronted the social and political programs set in motion by the Cuban Revolution through pivotal artistic movements: the Geometric Abstraction of the1950s; the Pop Artinspired figurative revival of the 1960s and 1970s, with a focus on the surge of documentary photography and graphic design, particularly in posters; the postmodern critical explorations of Nuevo Arte Cubano (New Cuban Art) during the 1980s; and the increasingly global and interdisciplinary artistic practices since the 1990s. The exhibition also introduces several major artists who are unknown outside of Cuba, including artists working in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s who have had little or no exposure beyond the island nation.
Rather than provide an exhaustive survey or totalizing account of Cuban art, the aim of Adiós Utopia is to reveal the dialogue and frictions among constellations of works that embody Cuba's utopian spirit and bring artists together across generations around shared themes.
The first section, The Utopia of Concrete Art, presents a choice selection of little known works from the 1950s, when a Constructive art movement flourished briefly on the island. Artists like Sandú Darié envisioned art in the construction of a utopiaone that drew on European modernist principlesquite different from the ideals ushered in by the 1959 Revolution. Until very recently, this work has rarely been exhibited in the context of Cuban modernism, and the focus has usually been on its vernacular traditions or seen as an anomaly outside of Cuban modernism.
The second section, Cult and Deconstruction of the Revolutionary Nation, features photography, sculpture, painting, and installations that chart the formation of national symbols in revolutionary Cuba, as well as the eventual subversion of these symbols by contemporary Cuban artists. Alberto Korda's photograph of Ernesto (Che) Guevara filtered into global popular culture in the 1960s and remains the most widely known and recognizable image of the Cuban Revolution.
The third section, The Imposition of Words: Discourse, Rhetoric, and Media Controls, addresses the major roles of public speech and censorship in Cuban society. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Fidel Castro and his fellow revolutionaries made effective use of news media and photojournalism to spread images that represented the popularity of their revolutionary project. Raúl Corrales remains one of the greatest photographers of the period, with images that represented watershed moments, such as Castro's First Havana Declaration to the General Assembly of Cuban People (ratified by over one million citizens), a critical response to US imperialism and foreign intervention in Latin American affairs.
The fourth section, Sea, Borders, Exile, highlights the significance of Cuba's status as an island in the revolutionary process. Surrounded by water, its insular nature facilitated control of the borders. Mass exile, in a country that had been a destination for immigrants, has been a dramatic process for the country, which art has explored eloquently. During the early years of the Special Period, an intensely difficult time caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, photographer Manuel Piña produced now-famous poetic images along the Malecón, Havana's Northern sea wall, which became the most conspicuous border to the outside world.
The fifth section, Inverted Utopias, Lost Illusions, charts the ways that art in Cuba has acted as a public spacealbeit a limited onefor critique and reflection about political revolution, taking on roles that mass media, public assemblies, and civil society have not been permitted to take. In the 1990s, the collaborative work of artists Eduardo Ponjuán and René Francisco led the way for a new generation of conceptual and performance artists on the island and abroad. This section also presents works of art that responded to Cuba's crumbling economy and utopian ambitions. The Oro seco [Dry Gold] series by photographer Ricardo Elías presents haunting images of abandoned architecture and machinery that once enabled sugar production, historically the country's most lucrative export.