Obama's landing in Havana moved the rails of the Cuban art market. It seemd to be the definite shift in the long-awaited connection between Cuban visual arts and its natural client: North American collectors.
The then improved relations between the two arch-enemies predicted the aforementioned scene, and the positive indicator for the art market was Mr. Obama's visit to Havana in 2016. But not so fast; just two years later, in 2018, things would change and not precisely for the better. Arts in general and agents involved in managing Cuban fine art acquisitions, would be among the most affected.
On December 23, 2018, some emergent, mid and top-career Cuban visual artists and intellectuals united around a statement “La plástica cubana se dedica al fútbol” (Cuban visual artists quit and turn into soccer). The artistic performative action came up as a protest to Decreto 349, a 2018 alleged censoring document issued by the Cuban Government. The Decree among other aspects, had direct incluence in the trading of visual arts.
The resulting visit of President Obama in 2016, marked a positive commercial dynamic in Cuban visual arts trading. The scene with no precedent in Cuban soil, triggered several new private commercial initiatives that broke into the international art market. It was a panorama that undoubtedly contributed to some assuring that contemporary Cuban art would be the new great sensation in the world of contemporary art trade.
Accessing artists' studios became one of the established practices to welcome potential buyers and connect them with substantial art acquisitions. A considerable set of commercial spaces opened with no clarity about the legal frame of the economic activity they were about to undertake. There was hope that a promising future would put things in order. However, the Cuban state never explicitly ruled on the legal matter, neither in favor nor against, leaving everything in a sort of limbo.
It was one day in 2018, when the Cuban goverment launched Decree 349. Clearly it would be a questioning mechanism in which, among other things, the whole spectrum of the Cuban culture was up to be audited. Art management by private galleries, was also put in question.
The cultural battlefield and the commercial management of fine arts
After the publication of Decree 349 in 2018, nothing would be the same for new entrepreneurial activities in the art management business. Galleries and visual art agents would doubt whether or not, private ventures were about to be declared unlawful.
The Decree was perceived as a very subtle ptotocol, created to promote a natural hostile environment for cultural management in a broad sense. The commercial aspect of Cuban fine arts was threatened with strict controlling methods and worst of all, in not clear terms. The uncertainty has been carried out over time and it is still what defines the scene in 2021.
Cuban artist Mari Claudia García addressed the issue of Cuban private galleries on her work Cielo raso (Ceiling), through which she proposes “a reflection on the legal situation that private art spaces and their agents face in Cuba.”.
The tensions accumulated in the dynamics of Cuban art resulted in a catharsis at the end of 2020. The confrontation called up for dialogue between the artistic sectors and the government- owned art institutions, but nothing has been resolved so far.
Private galleries operators, for example, are still surrounded by strong inaccuracies during their practices. Neither the Decree 349 of 2018 (which does not establish anything exactly, as it promises to prohibit as much as it promises to authorize), nor the recent economic measures that regulate business activities in 2021, have clarified the legal limbo for visual art managers and private galleries that are not part of the goverment- run cultural institutions.
El Quinquenio Gris (The Gray Five-Year Period) in Cuba was that time during the 1970s when a kind of Stalinist Caribbean inquisition dominated all aspects of cultural life. Nowdays, the reflection of that repressive past is expressed in a context where, among other signs, the reality for private commercial galleries and agents is perceived as restrictive.
The entire ecosphere of Cuban visual arts continues to discuss the relationship between the commercial boom on Cuban soil after Obama’s opening to Cuba, and the resurrected ghost of the Gray Quinquennium. Is the economic influx in Cuban visual arts perceived as a threat by state institutions? What are the reasons for the ghostly winds?
Many connoisseurs insist on the link between the prosperity of the Obama era and the launching of Decree 349. In this framework of analysis, the Decree would be the logical response of the state institutions aligned with some classic positions inherited from the aforementioned Five-Year Period. What supports the interpretation, is the observance of a traditional perspective in which the state property will always prevails over the private.
Although non-state initiatives have reported excellent results, the tensions are evident. For collectors, Cuban private galleries have proved to be more inclusive and dynamic in terms of management capabilities. State and private visual arts managers coexist as if they were aspirants to a natural confrontation for the same market.
In the midst of the ghostly winds of the Gray Quinquennium, and a continuous situation of uncertainty, here we would like to relate some notable private spaces, as well as other promotional projects of a private nature. It is a list based on the criteria of endorsing commendable business initiatives, all managed from the common desire to defend good Cuban art and the Cuban culture in its broadest spectrum.
El Apartamento is unquestionable the most international private Cuban art gallery. With a varied roster of contemporary artists, this venue has managed to successfully break into the international art bazar. Notable are the occurrences by El Apartamento on important world- class art settings such as Art Basel Miami and Arco Madrid.
La sindical by curator and art advisor Sachie Hernandez is a project defending an exquisite line up of contemporary artists among which are Germany based Diango Hernandez and Juan Miguel Pozo. La sindical also works with younger conceptual artists like Mari Claudia García.
Avezes Art Space, is a space by curator and activist Solveig Font. This is a must- visit for those collectors interested in non-commercial contemporary Cuban art. At her own living space, Font’s venue has managed to become a melting pot for outsiders, hectic modern day art propositions, indi and conceptual art. Avezes Art Space is a straight ticket to know some of the most exquisite proposals in Cuban contemporary art such as the work of young artist Lester Alvarez.
Riera Studio, by Samuel Riera, an artist and educator with a tremendous interest in art brut. Besides the artist’s work, visitors can connect with the labor that Riera has been doing for the past two decades to research, promote, and defend the art brut scene in Cuba.
Behart is an internet social platform serving as a meeting point for several actors in the art trading panorama. It is an accurate online venue to get to know young artists and their most recent works. Behart is full of new valuable propositions by relevant and very active talents like the activist, writer and conceptual artist Julio Llopiz Casal.
Galería Avistamientos, by Cuban collector José Busto is a perfect entering point for international collectors. What is better than a gallery run by a collector? With over a decade in business, this gallery defends a curated selection of top contemporary Cuban artists. Galería Avistamientos also focuses on secondary market artworks.
Maxima Galeria, conveniently situated in the heart of Old Havana, this place is a NY style beautiful art gallery. The space will wonder you with artworks by local prized Cuban artists like Carlos Guzmán and Luis Enrique Camejo. A convenient roster of artists for collectors who do not want to bid on random new talents or not fully market validated artists.
Cuba Fine Art Box, is the last but not least on the list. Managed as a collective endeavor and a nontraditional entity, CFAB is a startup offering a Detailed step by step Service Scheme. The method approaches art acquisitions through a specific task management system developed to resolve the non-standardized processes affecting Cuban art commercializing.