Adiós Utopia: Dreams and Deceptions in Cuban Art Since 1950 at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston by Theresa Escobedo
Featured image: Glexis Novoa’s Sin título, (de la Etapa práctica series, 1989)
Adiós Utopia: Dreams and Deceptions in Cuban Art Since 1950, an aptly titled exhibition on view now at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is an engaging sample of multimedia artworks from Cuba since 1950 and is the first full-scale exhibition of Cuban artwork in the United States since the 1944 exhibition, Modern Cuban Painters, presented by the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
During a time of favorable relations between the US and Cuba – nearly a decade after the The US abandoned its right to intervene in Cuba’s internal affairs – the MOMA exhibition presented, with approximately eighty oils, watercolors, gouaches, and drawings, a selection of the era’s vigorous modern Cuban art.The artworks included were brought to this country by noted art critic of the time Jose Gomez Sicre. The historic exhibition marked the end of a period of close cooperation between Cuba and the United States that began with the 1940 election of Cuban President Fulgencio Batista.
Adiós Utopia, as it’s title says, picks up with artwork from 1950 – a time during which revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, with later aid from Argentine Ernesto “Che” Guevara, waged guerrilla warfare and incited a civil war against the existing Batista regime. It is through the filter of this warfare and complex political strife that the works shown in Adiós Utopia are made.
Less comprehensive than other exhibitions of Cuban art on the continent have been (take the Montreal Museum of Art’s 2008 ¡Cuba! Art and History from 1868 to Today, for example), Adiós Utopia makes accessible a sweeping selection of art from the modern era in Cuba.
The presented artworks persist through censorship and paradox. On an island geographically, economically, and technologically isolated, this selection of posters offers a surprisingly cosmopolitan perspective from the island: the influence of East German and USSR graphic innovations can be seen combined with boldness of color and Cuban zeal to survey the connections between idealism, power, propaganda and art.
So passionately and emotionally biased, there are few works in the exhibition that offer an empirical glimpse at the Cuban experience, though Reynier Leyva Novo’s 1983 work Nueve Leyes de la serie El Peso de la historia (Nine Laws, from the series The Weight of History) is a minimalist infographic and Opus by José Ángel Toirac (2005) synthesizes numerical facts and figures excerpted from speeches by Fidel Castro.
“Through the lens of utopia,” this exhibition offers a broad view on the rise and fall of the dream of Cuba, however it’s important to note that none of the works are taken from Cuban state institutions. Too, some works reach themes beyond the confines of a country embattled in civil war and, like José Bedia’s Al límite posible, address a deeply Cuban spiritual heritage.
Adiós Utopia exposes to this American audience a sample of Cuban history which, in its making, was largely off-limits to Americans — a history which is difficult to come to know. It reflects a vibrant and fervent culture whose strength of feeling is easy to detect, but certainly the exhibition’s accompanying catalogue imparts more by way of context, for those interested to know more the environment which the works on view are the product.
Theresa Escobedo is a multi-disciplinary creative, curator, and artist living and working in Houston, Texas. Standout curatorial projects include Angelbert Metoyer: Seasons of Heaven, Collective Solid, and PROOF as well as their accompanying programs and publications. Theresa’s most recent creative work is executed through Main Street Projects, an artist-run collaborative active in the Mid Main neighborhood in Houston, which brings art into urban surroundings via historical buildings and invites artists to impact neighborhood experiences through creative place-making and social inquiry. It is with this dedication to community that Escobedo combines her experiences and continues to work as an independent creative.