Cuba’s preventive art acquisitions
The troubled waters of Cuba’s future cultural heritage
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 is the Cuban saying for "It's good fishing in troubled waters." But is such stormed watery scene the only factor of the alleged failure to preserve heritage art of every Cuban art period within the country?
The turbulent waters in which Cuban contemporary 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?
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 and it 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 preventives art purchases?
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?
Within the actual context there are two general conclusions to make that seem to best describe the panorama:
- In the future, it will be even easier to see Cuban art masterpieces anywhere else than in Cuba, even in Cochinchina, Vietnam, as remote as this place seems to be from a Caribbean geographic standpoint.
- 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 only reason.
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. Therefore, for several decades the Cuban visual art production would only, and almost exclusively, stay in hands of State- owned public managed collections, like public museums or art institutions. Cuban contemporary artists and individual intentions to collect art were literally pushed into a black hole, an extremely distant spot from the market concept of commodity which is attributed to art in modern times.
The natural mechanisms that function everywhere else to energize the art industry and the artistic production, came back one day by State order, but finding a coherence after so long would be an eternal daunting task.
After leaving behind that strict (and long) time in which amassing money by the 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 in the Cuban art field, but this whole new money thing 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), a strategy focused on proactively retaining essential contemporary works in the early stages of artists' careers before it was 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. However, 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 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. The preventive acquisition of Cuban contemporary artists was set but to fail.
As soon as there was a clear belief that it was important to preserve the artistic heritage inside the Island, a subtle antagonism began between the specific actions of the State conservation purpose and the natural elements of the market that would then come to 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), have been 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 inside the Island of Cuba for future generations.
Many implementations were envisioned, like specific Government fund allocations or a system that would incentive artists to use artworks to pay tax due obligations. Unfortunately none of these initiatives were firmly implemented.
Over time, the preventive art acquisitions became an on and off project that encountered many complexities even beyond the uncoupling described amid what the market would dictate and the still today State promoted ways of doing business in the art trading field.
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 the future generations.
It never was about predatory buying by international collectors, as some have insisted. International collectors have been 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?
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