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Largest exhibition of Cuban art shown in the U.S. in more than 70 years on view in Tallahassee
Amelia Peláez, Interior con Balcón (Interior with Balcony), 1947. Mixed media on heavy paper laid down on board, 22 x 30 inches. Courtesy of the Amelia Peláez Foundation. Private Collection, Miami, Florida. Image courtesy of Cernuda Arte.

TALLAHASSEE, FLA.- About two-and-a-half years ago Segundo Fernandez wanted to find a way for Florida State University’s College of Fine Arts and the Tallahassee community to come together.

His idea resulted in the FSU Museum of Fine Arts putting on largest exhibition of Cuban art shown in the United States in more than 70 years. The exhibition takes place Friday, Feb. 12, through Sunday, March 27.

Fernandez — a Tallahassee attorney, art collector and doctoral candidate in art history at Florida State — is also the guest curator for the exhibit “Cuban Art in the 20th Century: Cultural Identity and the International Avant Garde.”

The exhibit is certainly timely with the warming of relations between the United States and Cuba, but planning for the show started well before any recent diplomatic developments.

“This is not a political show,” Fernandez said. “It is just a coincidence that this show is opening just as the president has reopened relations between the United States and Cuba.

“Segundo was prescient when — over two years ago — he proposed this exhibition and he, art historians Juan Martinez and Paul Niell, and the museum began work on Cuban Art in the 20th Century,” said Allys Palladino-Craig, director of FSU’s Museum of Fine Arts.

The exhibition features works of artists past and present, celebrating Cuban landscape, history, mythos and a rich and varied aesthetic that is as individual as each artist.

“What we’ve tried to do here is be able to see the whole trajectory of Cuban art and how it changes,” said Fernandez, who also chairs the Dean’s Advisory Board at the College of Fine Arts. “What you have is a fantastic survey going from Colonial times all the way through Contemporary Period that depicts how these artists were players on the world scene.”

More than 100 works from private collections in Florida have been organized and assembled through the generosity of Director Ramón Cernuda and his staff at Cernuda Arte for MoFA’s exhibition. It is believed to be the largest art historical survey of Cuban art shown in the United States since the Museum of Modern Art in New York City showcased the work of about a dozen Cuban painters in 1944.

The project was not only extremely ambitious but also close to Fernandez’s heart.

Fernandez was born in Cuba in 1950 and grew up in Miami after his family emigrated to the United States in 1960. He eventually moved to Tallahassee in 1977 to work as an environmental lawyer for the state, and then started in private practice in 1983.

A law career has not stopped the lifelong art lover from pursuing his passion. He’s already received a master’s degree in art history from Florida State and is writing his dissertation to complete his doctorate.

“I have been a museum junkie since I was 3 years old,” Fernandez said. “My parents would take us to New York, and we would go see Broadway plays and games at Yankee Stadium. But all I wanted to do was stay at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.”

Growing up, he was always aware of Cuban art and has collected some over the years.

“As a very young boy, I remember paintings by some of the people in this exhibition hanging in my grandparents’ home,” Fernandez said.

For this exhibit, one of Fernandez’s goals was to showcase the fact that these artists were not considering themselves to be painters of Cuban art but rather Cuban artists who were participating in the international art movement.

“Cuban art in the 20th century was very much at the forefront of what we call the International Avant Garde movement,” Fernandez said. “There was a lot of interaction between artists born in Cuba and artists in the European and North American art worlds. (The Cubans) were studying abroad and bringing back ideas to Cuba, but they were also bringing ideas to Europe and North America.”

Along with the exhibit, the museum will hold two events featuring Cuban art experts.

Juan Martínez, who received his doctorate at FSU and is professor emeritus at Florida International University, will lecture on the era of Modern Cuban Art from 7 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 22.

A colloquium to discuss the global contexts of Cuban art through the intersections of law, cultural patrimony, the international art trade and collecting, with a focus on U.S.–Cuban relations in the 20th century will take place from 3 to 5 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 23.

Panelists will include Michael Carrasco and Preston McLane from the FSU Department of Art History, Fernando Tesón from the FSU College of Law, and leading expert on Cuban art Ramón Cernuda, director and CEO of Cernuda Arte in Coral Gables, Fla.
Cernuda had about 200 pieces of Cuban art confiscated by the FBI in the 1980s for violation of U.S. embargo. He was at the center of a federal court case in South Florida in which the judge found art was an expression of the First Amendment and the work product of artists like paintings and sculptures were not commercial goods banned by the embargo.

“For the longest time, everyone thought that art from Cuba would have been contrary to the U.S. embargo,” Fernandez said.

Cernuda also played a key role in helping Fernandez and Florida State put on the exhibition by offering his gallery trucks to collect the art from South Florida and bring the pieces to FSU as an in-kind contribution.

“His generosity saved the university tens of thousands of dollars in insurance, art packaging and transportation costs,” Fernandez said.

After more than two years of planning this complicated project, Fernandez is thrilled his vision is finally coming to fruition and he can share it with the community. The tough part, he says, is picking a favorite piece.

“They’re all my favorite pieces,” Fernandez said. “Having to pick one over the others is like having to pick which of your children you love most. They’re all fabulous pieces. There’s something for everybody.”

The Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts is located at 530 W. Call St., 250 Fine Arts Building.

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