For an investor, it is essential to bet on products and / or services around which stable environments are built. And it is also for those who collect art and invest large sums of money in that premium product.
The dream of every collector is to discover that his bet is in growing estimation. And where to better appreciate art than in the space to which the product is native, that is, in its national territory.
However, if we look carefully at the dynamics of Cuban fine arts and their commercialization processes, it is observed that from within, that is, in Cuba, the art buying and selling efforts are markedly unstable. The disappearance of flagship events of the Cuban art market such as Subasta Habana (Havana Auction) shows the incoherence of local management.
The absence of art in terms of heritage conservation stands out among the characteristics that define the panorama of visual arts in Cuba. More than 10 years ago, in the absence of a robust domestic private collecting, the communist State decided to start a program of preventive purchases (in Spanish compras preventivas). Young authors on the rise would be the target of these acquisitions of Cuban art.
However when you dive down the waters of Cuba’s preventive art acquisitions, it's noticeable why some would describe the scenery by the saying "A río revuelto ganancia de pescadores", which in Spanish translates as "It's good fishing in troubled waters."
The turbulent waters in which Cuban present-day visual arts have had to navigate, are linked to the results of the national intention to preserving art within the Island for future generations. But what about artworks pertaining to other periods of the Cuban art history?
Has the aforementioned stormed watery scene been disproportionately beneficial to international collectors? And to the detriment of the nation's heritage?
For an international collector of Cuban art, it is essential to know the nuances of the natural habitat of their art investments. Within the framework of positive market dynamics where the potential growth of Cuban art is predicted, every detail is valued.
Below we share some of the notions related to the possession (or non-possession) of Cuban art within the country, and the relationship of this phenomenon with the short and long-term opportunities for the collector sector.
Within the actual context there are two general conclusions to make. And this is what seems to best describe the panorama:
- And moving forward with the metaphor about fishing, we can comfortably state that it’s always better to catch the trout in disturbed water, as it seems to be partially the consequence of the fine art leakage in the Cuban art scene, although it is not the main reason.
As a third world country, Cuba could probably compete and win with more artists per capita than any first-world country. Cuba’s art institutions are also countless in proportion to the average modern nation.
If you have been in Cuba you will agree that the production of art is massive. Art is everywhere. Only in Havana in any single day, there may be happening a handful of different level visual art shows in a ratio of a few miles.
So with such extensive coverage, and an apparent firm conscience about the importance of art in a society, why is that we failed at preserving Cuban art within the island for future generations?
What about the so called compras preventivas (preventives art acquisitions)?
How did a State preventive art acquisition program derived into the alleged opportunism of international art collectors, the so call fishers of this story?
And is this phenomenon only affecting the holding of contemporary Cuban art or does it also impact the preserving of art from other periods like modern masters and avant- garde artworks?
As we speak, the ongoing inventory of prospecting Cuban future masterpieces inside Cuba appears minor to what’s already hold by international art collectors and other art institutions, museums or foundations worldwide. The same dangerous situation applies to contemporary Cuban artists of all career levels, with its lowest progressive incidence in non-contemporary artworks.
After the commercializing of visual arts was endorsed by the Cuban Government in the late 1980s, it was a must to have some strategy ready and in place. However, the scheme was set to fail due to contradictions still present these days. As other programs in the art managing field, the preventive acquisitions of Cuban contemporary artists were not successful.
Cuba's internal private art collecting is still almost nonexistent, and it's been like that since it was almost vanished as the Marxist ideology arose to power in the Island during the 1960s.
For several decades the Cuban visual art production would only, and almost exclusively, stay in hands of State- owned public managed collections, like museums and art institutions. Profit intentions by Cuban contemporary artists and collectors of art were literally pushed into a black hole, an extremely distant place from the concept of commodity that is attributed to art in modern times.
The natural market mechanisms that function everywhere else to energize the art industry and the artistic production, came back one day by State order. Nevertheless finding coherence after so long would be an eternal daunting task.
After leaving behind that strict (and long) time in which amassing money by artists (and those who work in the sector) was not ideologically correct in Cuba, things started to emerge to the right side. Well, somehow...
A different dynamic demanded modern management practices, but this whole new money thing in the art field would come to threat old sensitivities. It was then that the State institutions were instructed by the Government to work on several strategies and one of the most important actions aimed at preserving the visual heritage of the nation. It was the so-called preventive purchases (or preventive art acquisitions), the idealized strategy that focused on proactively retaining essential works early in an artist's career before it's too late.
It’s been a while since the term “preventive acquisition” was used for the first time in humankind, and it looks like it’s applied on assets that have not been validated yet, but on which there are hints anticipating further value. While the concept in most of the cases works just as previously described, it also happens that, at times, conceding the right course of action to work preventively would not work at all, like in the Cuban case.
As soon as there was a clear conviction that it was important to preserve the artistic heritage within the Island, a subtle antagonism arose that became enmeshed in the midst of the State's actions to conserve art and the natural elements of the market that would come into play.
Too many inconsistencies made that the revival of the interest for Cuban art collecting in the international art market, appeared to be just as those typical fishers that benefit from trouble waters. But anyone could tell that the escaping of Cuban works of every art history period, was a phenomenon beyond the so-called opportunism of international collectors. The roots of the situation has always been in the Cuban soil.
The State institutions' plan with their top program compras preventivas (preventive purchases) never aligned with the reality of the free market. The inner triggers in-between the new market processes (that are no so new in Cuba these days anymore), were mined by the same lack of vision and wrongdoings of the State regulating instances.
On the road, the preventive art acquisitions project developed into everything beyond the initial well-shaped Government intentions of preserving highly regarded visual contemporary art in the Island of Cuba for future generations.
Many implementations were envisioned, like specific public fund allocations and a system that would incentive artists to use artworks to pay tax due obligations. Unfortunately none of these initiatives were firmly executed.
Over time, the preventive art acquisitions became an on and off project that encountered many complexities on its way.
The lack of proper and leading actions to take over the international art market arena, the inability to conduct progressive and significant preventive art purchases, and the cancelation of a very important event such as the legitimating Havana Auction (that was happily celebrated for over a decade), contributed to the actual state of affairs.
Still these days, the convulse waters serve on a gold tray our Cuban visual artworks in the international market, because there have never been well executed intentions to take over the epicenter of the art production, right here in Cuban soil.
The scene is defined by the same troubled waters that make so hard to know exactly how much damage has been already inflicted to every Cuban's desire to protect our visual art patrimony for future generations.
It never was about predatory buying by international collectors, as some have insisted. International collectors were the rescue alternative to a national space in which there are no significant local private art collecting, but only public State owned art collections.
Of course it's better to catch the trout in disturbed water, but who is the ultimate liable instance here?