Tagged: cuba

Cuba Diary: San Suzie visits the 2012 Havana Biennial.

A 2012 sculpture by Alexandre Arrechea sits in the art deco lobby of the former headquarters of Bacardí Rum, built in the 1930s by architects Castells, Fernandez, and Menendez. (All photos by San Suzie.)

As just about anybody with a Gucci-clad toe in the art industry knows by now, the 11th Havana Biennial opened earlier this month to great fanfare and much speculation about what the month-long exhibit and its accompanying onslaught of American visitors means for the future of cultural relations between Cuba and the United States. Titled Artistic Practices and Social Imaginaries, the biennial is an ambitious citywide project that has attracted a host of likely and unlikely collaborators to produce Cuba’s most important collective exhibit in a decade.

As can be expected of anything artsy held in sunny, big-c Communist climes, the week of the opening was lively and crowded. The international jetset-ati parachuted into one of the oldest ports in the Americas to enjoy installations, performances, rum-fueled parties, dalliances with local working girls and a froufrou culinary-art collaboration that would cost the average Cuban a year’s salary for dishes like yuzu sailfish and guava maki. There was also so much frenzied art buying that the city seemed more like Miami Beach during art fair season than a biennial “born in the heat of a strong and vigorous national art movement.” (Or so says the breathy official website.)

A view of Havana from the main biennial venue.

In countless ways, the Havana Biennial is like most others — a bunch of art stuff thrown together in one place — and therefore held few aesthetic surprises. But it rises above the rest for the way in which the organizers have used the city’s sublime historic buildings and urban spaces. Havana was once the most important mercantile port to Spain and later the closest trading partner to the United States. Because of this, and also because the revolution halted the sort of late 20th century glass-tower development that has decimated historic neighborhoods around the world, the city retains a significant number of extraordinary buildings. Ranging in style from Spanish baroque to Art Nouveau, Neoclassical, Art Deco, and Modern, these buildings make Havana something of a living architectural museum of the Western Hemisphere.

The biennial highlights these locales and makes it possible to visit some that are usually closed to the public. There is the 18th century Spanish fortress that serves as the biennial’s main venue, as well as a crumbling Modernist ballet school and the decayed early 20th century neighborhoods used as backdrop by urban muralists. The art is nice. Some of it is thought-provoking — even enthralling. But it’s Havana’s five centuries of historic architecture that is definitely the star of this show.

The Havana Biennial is on through June 11, 2012. Plenty of pix after the jump.

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Miscellany. 08.16.11.

Getting set to party at the Tropicana in Havana. (Image courtesy of San Suzie.)

Hey y’all, San Suzie — the Art Nurse otherwise known as Rosa Lowinger — is quoted all over a story in the September issue of Vanity Fair on the history of Havana’s Tropicana nightclub. Unfortunately, the article is only available in the print magazine, but it’s worth the newsstand price for the anecdote about the 18-inch penis. (Seriously.) In addition, the photos are by none other than William Eggleston. Speaking of which, if you haven’t picked up Lowinger’s highly-readable book on Tropicana, this is as good a time as any.

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Miscellany. 08.08.11.

Havana Hot Rod: A 1957 Dodge Coronet on the street, in Cuba. (Photo by San Suzie.)

On Curls

Wigs (Portfolio), 1994, by Lorna Simpson. (Courtesy of MoMA.)

It’s my spoken rule never to actually read the New York Times Style section, just look at the pictures. But I couldn’t resist poking into Judith Newman’s essay on curly hair. As a sporter and supporter of all things big and curly, I’m always happy to see someone call the blowout mafia on the bullshit. (Seriously, formaldehyde??? That’s so Damien Hirst.) But the piece, I thought, overlooked what I think is an ethnic issue that is also tied to curly hair. We live in a society that prizes WASP standards of beauty above all. I think there’s a certainly undesirability to curly hair because it’s seen as too ethnic, too Jewish, too Latino, too Black. Too, well, unruly.

It still feels like a bit of defiance to wear hair that is big and curly. But not for simple aesthetic reasons. This story could have been an interesting dissection of what we as a society consider beautiful and why. Opportunity missed.

Now, back to looking at the pictures.

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Havana in the ’60s: The photographs of Jose A. Figueroa.

Waving goodbye, possibly forever. Olga, Havana, 1967, from the Exile series by Jose A. Figueroa. Part of the exhibit Mis 60/My 60s at Couturier Gallery in Los Angeles. (Images courtesy of Couturier.)

During the mid-1960s, when Jose Alberto Figueroa worked as the studio assistant to renowned Cuban photographer Alberto Korda, he regularly shot photographs of friends, family and his daily life in Havana. Figueroa never printed those negatives and never considered them aesthetic material, worthy of exhibition. As a photographer, he is generally regarded as a product of the ’70s, when he began working as a photojournalist for Cuba magazine — where he covered Cuban involvement in the Angolan Civil War and various aspects of domestic life. (Some of these images will be on view in a show that opens at New York’s International Center of Photography this week.)

The 1960s photographs were long forgotten by Figo (as he is known to friends and family), and only surfaced several years ago, when he and his wife, curator Cristina Vives, began searching through his archives for material that would become the book Jose A. Figueroa: A Cuban Self-Portrait. “We realized right away that there was important material here that had not been seen before,” Vives said of the images — which include photographs of friends going to parties and hanging out; of carnival and beach parties. Most striking are images of the artist’s mother preparing to leave the country.

First exhibited in Cuba in 2006 when Figo turned 60, and later in Finland, the collection Mis 60/My 60s, now on view at the Couturier Gallery in L.A., constitutes an intimate and unique portrait of Cuba in the 1960s. They are worth seeing not only for their beauty, but for the exhilarating counterpoint they provide to a place that is known almost exclusively through a near-mythical revolutionary lens.

Mis 60/My 60s is up at Couturier through Oct. 16.

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The Digest. 11.30.09.

Calzado de Luyano, by Jan Koster; part of a series on Havana. (Image courtesy of Jan Koster.)