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Curatorial Practices
Interview with Cristina Vives, Curator, Havana, Cuba
by Mercedes Lizcano

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 We have come to Havana for the purpose of meeting and interviewing one of the art curators and experts of the Cuban avant-garde. What do you think of the recently inaugurated Museo de Bellas Artes (Museum of Fine Arts)? Cuban art finally has its own place.

Cristina Vives: I am very happy with this museum; it covers a marvelous range and has a fantastic collection. Even so, more space would be needed to recollect all the art currently being produced in Cuba. The Museo de Bellas Artes closed in 1996 due to deterioration of the building and in the conditions for exhibiting, storing and safekeeping the work. Prior to that date the museum housed both ancient, European, Latin American and Cuban art. Since its recent inauguration on July 21, 2001, these works are separated into different buildings, and there is a building dedicated exclusively to Cuban fine art, from works of the Colonial period to the latest generations.

A museum for gathering together the most contemporary Cuban works of art was much needed. Let us remember for a moment that the most up-to-date work housed in the previous Museo de Bellas Artes was, at that time, a 1997 painting by Flavio Garciandia, entitled All you need is love. The museum was completely outdated in its ideas, due in great part to the lack of space.

LA: What do you think of the price of entry to the museum? It appears a stimulus to give the Cubans themselves access to Cuban art.

CV: The museum prices of 5 Cuban pesos for the Cubans, and US$5 for foreigners is I think, very fitting. When I went to visit the museum I was surprised to see so many families there. At last, the vast majority of Cubans can visit this museum. The truth is that this is very necessary, since it is a practice that the Cubans had unfortunately lost for some time.

LA: Cristina, what is your impression on the organization of works in the recently inaugurated Museo de Bellas Artes?

CV: It would have been stricter in the collection of the 80s, and much broader in the selection of the 90s.
I have always been linked to the younger artists, for which reason I also see on the other hand the problems of the 90s. During that decade the majority of artists, for political and social reasons, endeavored to place an international focus on Cuban art. This resulted in:

1) Collectors, curators and art lovers beginning to look for the hidden avant-garde of Cuban art.
2) A strong gallery movement, international museums, curators looking for that art.
3) The commercial phenomenon entered Cuba and was taken advantage of by the artists. As a result of this commerce in Cuban art, the majority of the works representative of this period are not in Cuba, and for the same reason not in the Museo de Bellas Artes.

LA: Regarding the fact that many works are in the hands of foreign galleries and collectors, how do you view this movement of collecting Cuban art which has existed for some time and which is constantly increasing?

CV: It is a very normal phenomenon in which experts, professionals and those interested in art are curious to see what has been done in Cuba during these last decades. It is, moreover, a result of the entry of the dollar, the growth in tourism and the general opening-up of Cuba after what has been called the "Special Period."
After this period, and as from 1995 and 1996, there is an enormous interest to acquire works and, in this way, a strong gallery and collective movement began which continues to this day. National collecting does not exist for obvious economic reasons. As regards international collecting, there are two types of movements:

1) Collecting of individuals interested in buying art as something "trendy," as one more souvenir of the place visited, but, at the same time, this first approximation to Cuban art is a starting point for the deeper understanding that will come later.
2) More serious collecting focused on a sector of artists engaged in intransitive rather than contextual work.

In any case, both forms of collecting are positive for Cuban artistic reality, because they keep alive and provide still more incentive for the production and promotion of its artists.

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