Notes on Collecting Cuban Modern Art in Miami:
Today, there are a number of magnificent private art collections in Miami. The best known are those placed in public display by their owners, namely the Margulies Collection at the Warehouse, the De la Cruz Collection, and the Rubell Family Collection. The Jorge Pérez collection is also well-known because he donated a large part of it to the Dade-County museum that bears his name. These, however, are the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Although contemporary art reigns in South Florida’s private collections, Modern (ca. 1900-1970), Colonial (especially Latin American), and Non-Western Art are represented. The practice of art collecting has been growing since the 1980s, and given extra impetus by the presence of Art Basel and its satellites post-2001.
When the wealth of art collecting in Miami is documented and the story told, I am sure that Cuban Modern Art (1920s-1950s) will fill one long chapter. What follows is a personal testimony of the collection of such art in this city since 1980. By the use of the names Miami and this city, I often mean Dade-County. The observations are from an art historian, who has studied this art with one eye in archives/libraries and the other in the artworks. The collections, which have grown exponentially in the last thirty years, offer a wealth of visual documentation to curators, critics, and scholars producing exhibitions, catalogues, books, and videos on this period of Cuban art. All along, my writings and lectures have benefited considerably from being exposed to Cuban art in Miami. The time-line is 1980 to 2010, when I first and last curated exhibitions of this period in Cuban art.
This narrative depends on knowledge based on forty years of conversations with collectors, visits to collections, galleries, and museums, as well as research on the art itself. My memory of the art in specific collections is aided by recently reviewing exhibition catalogues, Sotheby’s and Christie’s sales catalogues, newspaper articles, and interviews with gallery owners. These notes give a brief introduction to Cuban Modern Art and to the collectors, outlines collecting issues, gives an account of the arrival and circulation of the art in question, and offers an insight into specific collections. Descriptions of the artwork in the selected collections is meant to give a sense, if highly concise, of the art itself and aspects of its importance in relation to the artist’s career and/or the history of Cuban art.
Cuban Modern Art
In the late 1920s, a group of young artists in Havana began to paint using non-traditional styles appropriated from European Modern Art. They were reacting against the various forms of naturalism promoted by Cuba’s art academy, San Alejandro, and in the process renovated Cuban art. The new direction(s) in art were then called by different names: arte nuevo, vanguardia, and moderno. Today, it is mostly known as modern. The term vanguardia persists and at times it is inaccurately use to designate the art of the 1940s.
Cuban art is often discussed in terms of generations, rather than movements, and the generations coincide with decades. Among the best-known artists of the 1930s, also known as the Vanguardia generation, are Eduardo Abela, Víctor Manuel García, Amelia Peláez, Antonio Gattorno, Fidelio Ponce de León, Arístides Fernández, Carlos Enríquez and Wifredo Lam. They tended to simplify forms and painted in more saturated colors than had been used in traditional Cuban art. These artists also reinvigorated certain “Cuban” themes, like the island’s landscape, peasants and their traditions, and AfroCuban culture, with sympathy for the working poor and the marginalized.
The 1940s generation introduced bright coloration and elaborate forms, often labeled as neo-baroque. This approach to form, thought at the time to have a certain Cuban quality (compared to then Mexican or North American art), was used to represent everyday life with emphasis on the city of Havana. The outstanding artists of that generation are Mario Carreño, René Portocarrero, Mariano Rodríguez, Cundo Bermúdez, Roberto Diago, Mirta Cerra, and Luis Martínez Pedro. To be sure, the art of Peláez and Lam reached their full force in the 1940s, after developing strong personal styles already in the 1930s.
A new generation of artists emerged in the 1950s, some continued to work with figuration and the most avant-garde turned to abstraction, influenced by such a tendency in global Modern Art at mid-century. Among the better-known artists of the third generation modernists are Agustín Cárdenas, Guido Llinás, Hugo Consuegra, Raúl Martínez, Tomás Oliva, Raúl Milián, Rafael Soriano, José María Mijares, Agustín Fernández, Loló Soldevilla, and Sandú Darie.
In the 1960s, painting was challenged by film, photography, and posters, art forms with potential to reach the masses as desired by the revolutionary government. Three major painters emerged during that decade, Antonia Eiriz, Angel Acosta León and Servando Cabrera Moreno, while Martinez transformed his style from abstract expressionism to an adaptation of Pop Art.
The artworks of the aforementioned artists and a few others are the ones that make up the collections discussed in this essay. Cuban Modern Art was for decades collected by a Cuban educated elite, mostly professionals, and foreigners. The artworks, mostly paintings, were sold for moderate prices, or even gifted to friends. Beginning in the 1990s, the art of the first and second generations began to be assiduously collected outside of Cuba, mostly in this country, and the prices increased considerably. After years of neglect by curators and collectors, the works of the third generation are increasingly exhibited and collected.
I have known twenty or so collectors of Cuban Modern Art in Miami since the 1980s. Their collections have ranged from over twenty to hundreds of paintings, less so drawings, and even less sculpture. The collectors have been primarily businessmen, doctors, and lawyers. They are mostly men or couples, and in two cases women. Their ages range from forty to eighty years old. Some have passed away. The older ones were familiar with Cuban art before exile and the younger ones became aware of it in Miami. The ones I have known are part of a Cuban elite, they migrated to this country in the 1960s, are well educated, come from solid middle-class to prosperous families, and have succeeded in business or the medical and law fields. Most consider themselves Cuban, rather than Cuban American, and their self-image as exiles (originally refugee) or immigrant (lately diaspora) is in flux.
Some Collecting Issues
The collecting issues of motivation, privacy, duration of collections, and forgery are not unique to Cuban art. However, these matters have some characteristics that are unique to its collection in Miami.
In an article on collecting art in Britain, Zaza Hialethwa, succinctly states the basic motivations for collecting art practically everywhere. “Centuries ago, a lucrative culture of buying art was established. Rich people began buying art for three reasons: it looks beautiful, it makes money while it rests in their homes, and buying art is something that other rich people do.” (The History of Collecting Art-a Timeline, The Guardian, London, June 1, 2018). Thus, aesthetics, investment, and status drive this old and nearly universal practice.
These three motivations are present in our case, but each incentive has played changing roles since the 1930s. Up to the 1980s, aesthetic and cultural values were probably the dominant motivator in collecting Cuban Modern Art. In more recent times, investment has become more prominent. The global economic tendency to see art as a highly desired commodity coincided with the demand and increasing prices for Cuban Modern Art in the last thirty years. This circumstance has led to the emphasis in the economic incentive. At the same time, the increase in prices has left out the intellectual, middle class that originally collected the art in question. The issue of status has been constant in the collecting of Cuban Modern Art. For the intellectual class of its day, among which it circulated, the art provided the status of being progressive and cultured. It separated them from Cuban society’s old and new money class, especially the philistines among them. In more recent times, the sought status is socio-economic.
Beyond the outlined motivations, there are other important ones in our case. For Cuban and Cuban Americans (those born or raised in this country), a major desire for collecting has been pride in their Cuban identity and an affirmation of it on their walls. The condition of prolonged exile developing into permanent migration left Cubans without direct contact with much of their material cultural heritage. Works of art have provided a tangible and symbolic approximation to their culture. This has been particularly so in the case of pre-revolutionary works of art, those from the time that nurtures Miami’s Cuban nostalgia.
Yet, there is more to collecting. Zara Ellis, in her brief study of Gustave Caillebotte as a collector of Impressionist Painting, gives a more nuanced view of art collecting. “He bought many spurs including fulfillment, curiosity, respect and social acceptance. Collecting to Caillebotte was exciting, tempting, and adventurous. It brought him satisfaction but, it also brought him responsibility to preserve and protect." (Gustave Caillebotte and his Relationship to his Contemporary Art Market, Cheshire, Book Treasury, 2013). These motivations and behavior are present to different degrees in the collectors I have known. Motivations for collecting art are numerous and overlap. Temptation, excitement, personal satisfaction, and the responsibility to preserve the collected art live side by side. The preservation of Cuban Modern Art in Miami after decades of being exposed to all kinds of conditions, like excessive heat, humidity, and in some cases neglect should be acknowledged.
One of the issues that at first surprised me was the desire for privacy. I have repeatedly run into collectors of Cuban art who did not want to be identified by name or at least want to keep certain purchases a secret. This was particularly the case in the 1980s. Some did not want to call attention to themselves and their valuable possessions. Most were fearful that the original owners would reclaim art left behind and later sold by the government, relatives or friends. In some cases that art ended in Miami leading in a few cases to lawsuits. The interest in privacy is perhaps best seen in the Lists of Works section of the exhibition catalogues of the Museo Cubano de Arte y Cultura (Miami), where many collections are labeled Private Collections. Today, most collectors of Cuban Modern Art list their names in exhibition catalogues.
The historical record teaches us that private collections of art are usually in flux, individual works or entire collections come and go. This is particularly the case In Miami with the art in question. The majority of the large collections of Cuban Modern Art lasted less than one decade, a few were in place for about twenty years, and fewer longer than that. Businesses that bust, divorces, aging and death, or just lost of interest has resulted in selling the artworks. Many of the collections discussed in this essay no longer exist or are being dismantled as I write. I include them because they should be part of the historical record. They have played an important role in the exhibition, preservation, and study of Cuban Modern Art. Fortunately, artworks from dismantled collections find their way to other and often newer Miami collections.
The one problematic issue has been forgeries. Whenever the art market for an artist, movement, or country goes up, there is a surge in forgeries. In the case of Cuban Modern Art, it is a post 1990 phenomenon. Growing wealth among Cubans in Miami since the 1980s, coupled with the Cuban economic depression of the 1990s, increased the demand and accessibility to the art in question. This in turn resulted in higher prices and an opportunity to make easy money from fakes. The lack of experts outside of Cuba made the situation worse. Forgeries were made in Cuba, Mexico, Spain, and Miami, among other places. These forgeries complicated the situation but did not diminish the demand. Consequently, many collectors bought fakes at one point or another. It did not help that some individuals, who were familiar with Cuban Modern Art, but were far from being connoisseurs, declared themselves experts and began to give certificates of authenticity.
Matters were complicated by at least two factors. One was the peculiar method of doing authentications in the 1990s. The persons seeking a certificate would only pay for the service if the expert deemed that the work was real. Thus, the system encouraged erring on the side of authenticity. Secondly, many times authentications were asked after the piece was bought. This was equally problematic. My observation does not excuse any lack of ethics on the part of the so-called experts. They and I should have done a better job at educating collectors to the fact that a “no” is more valuable than a “yes,” for it saved money and face. I did reports of authenticity for works of art by Carlos Enríquez. I began when I was doing research for a monograph on this artist and wanted to see as much of his art as possible. By that time, I had seen a large sampling of his work in Havana and Miami. I detected many fakes and made mistakes both ways. A few that I thought were good, turned out to be false, and at least two that I thought at the beginning to be false, were authentic. Visually, the range of fakes goes from obvious to convincing.
For anecdotal sake, these are some of the situations I encountered with fake paintings. Many were done on old canvas, erasing the previous painting, and often using the old frames, nails, backboards, and even dust. Signatures were erased and replaced by desired ones, often above the original. Paintings were urinated on and put in an oven to create a worn surface; a kind of instant aging. Marine transparent sealing was put on the painting to make it oblivious to black light. Many false and hard to prove provenances made this useful tool ineffective. Fake certificates of authenticity also abound. One ingenious trick was to use difficult to find catalogues and books, replace the original illustration on a given page with the photo of a fake, make a photocopy, and present it to the potential buyer. The list of problems goes on.
Arrival and Circulation
Some of the art in question arrived in Miami with the first Cuban refugees in the 1960s. A lot more was brought to this country in the 1940s and 1950s by art dealers or collectors visiting Cuba. The vast amount arrived from Cuba, Mexico, and Spain post 1990.
Some lucky Cuban exiles who left early after the revolution were able to bring at least part of their collections. Others were able to smuggle their collections with the help of foreign embassies. One salient example is that of Isabetta Lancella, the daughter of Carlos Enríquez and Alice Neel. In the early sixties, she returned to her father’s house/studio in the outskirts of Havana, known as the Hurón Azul, and recuperated about a dozen paintings and drawings. She then took them out of Cuba with the help of someone in the Spanish embassy. The works included two major pieces of the 1930s: Hamlet, c. 1933 and Musicos, 1935. All of the works ended up in Miami and are still in the collection of Isabetta’s family. Some exiles brought just a few pieces without much drama. As the Cuban exodus began in earnest in the early 1960s, the government only allowed persons leaving the country to take a few articles of clothing and a ridiculous amount of money.
One of the interesting facts that the post-1980s collecting of Cuban Modern Art in Miami has brought to the surface is the amount that was collected by North Americans in the 1940s and 1950s. The art historian, curator, and director of the Art Museum of the Organization of American States, José Gómez Sicre, organized a number of shows of the art in question and had them travel throughout the U.S. during the 1940s and 1950s. The art in those exhibitions was for sale. Later, the art dealer Ramón Osuna, also based in Washington DC, sold Cuban art from his galleries, the first named Pyramids Gallery and the second Osuna Art Gallery. Gómez Sicre and Osuna were important pioneers in the marketing of Cuban art in the United States. At mid-century, a number of New York art galleries represented Cuban modernist artists: Pierre Matisse (Lam), Perls (Carreño), Julian Levy (Portocarrero), Rigl (Mariano), and Delphic Studio (Ponce). It should also be noted that American tourists, upon recommendations from Gómez Sicre and others, visited artists and bought Cuban art in Havana. Beginning in the 1980s and picking up the pace after 2000, many of those artworks bought in Cuba or in this country in the 1940s and 1950s arrived in Miami. Most famously, about a third of the paintings shown in the storied 1944 exhibition Modern Cuban Art at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, are today in Miami private collections. In the majority of cases, the artworks that came to this country at mid-century disappeared from view. Two telling cases are Enríquez’s Las Tetas de Madruga, 1943 and Gattorno’s La siesta, c. 1940. These were well-documented and admired paintings when first shown, then disappeared from view, their whereabouts were unknown. The first painting was found in 2005 by the collector and gallery owner Ramón Cernuda in a private collection in Dallas, Texas; the latter was found in the late 1990s by the writer Sean Poole in an attic in Massachusetts.
Beginning in the 1980s, Christie’s and Sotheby’s auction houses began to have specialized sales of Latin American art. These soon began to be important supply sources for Cuban art bought by Miami collectors. These auctions provided evidence of the Cuban art bought by North Americans at mid-century. The most famous example is that of film director Alfred Hitchcock’s acquisition of Ponce’s Five Women. It was resold by Sotheby’s in 1991. Another significant case is the 1984 Sotheby’s sale of Joseph Cantor’s collection of fifteen oils and eleven works on paper by Cuban modernist artists. Mr. Cantor was an Indianapolis collector, who made his money in motion picture theaters and real estate. He began to buy paintings by Lam during his first trip to Havana in 1949. Among the paintings in the sale were Lam’s renown Cuatro Elementos 1945, and Antilles Parade 1945. He also owned a few Portocarrero’s, including Figuras de carnaval 1952, and Ponce’s large Florero c. 1943. All of these major paintings are in Miami today. The selling of important paintings long in North American collections, but away from the public eye, continuous to this day. One major example is the 2007 sale in Sotheby’s of Carreño’s La danza afrocubana 1943, one of three related large duco paintings about life in the Cuban countryside. It was exhibited in Havana’s Lyceum in 1943, then in the 1944 MOMA exhibition, and later it was sold by Pearls Art Gallery. It remained in a private collection for fifty years. The painting was bought by Cernuda Arte for a record 2.6 million dollars and ended up in a Miami collection.
Two individuals working in Sotheby’s in the 1980s acted as an important conduit to Miami collections, Dolores Smithies and Giulio V. Blanc. They had extensive knowledge of Cuban art and were collectors themselves.
Whereas for decades Cuban Modern Art trickled into Miami, in the 1990s a flood gate opened. Miami art galleries, independent dealers, and major auction houses provided a growing prosperous class of Cubans a steady supply of art. A significant part of that supply came from Cuba. The necessities brought about by the economic depression of the 1990s, known as the Periodo Especial, led the Cuban government to allow the sale and exportation of the art in question. The dire poverty there and the wealth here also led to a good amount of smuggling. This was particularly the case with those artworks considered by Cuban officials to be too important to leave the country and thus classified as National Patrimony. Some of the work coming from Cuba belonged to known prime collections, others came from the professional class at large.
After my book on the first generation of Cuban modernIst artists came out in 1994, established and improvised dealers began to contact me in order to show me works of art recently brought from Cuba. Sometimes they knocked on the door of my former West Miami home without calling first. They obtained my phone and address from acquaintances of acquaintances. During a period of about two years, many came looking for certificates of authenticity and names of potential buyers. I provided only questions and my gratis oral opinion on the pieces. I saw many paintings ranging from fakes to pieces deemed national patrimony. Three stand out in my memory. One day a person just showed up and laid on the floor of my living room Enríquez’s Horno de carbon, 1937, looking badly damaged from the smuggling operation. This is one of the earliest and foremost Cuban protest paintings, based on an actual event the artist witnessed in a trip to the interior of the island. The image shows two emaciated men tending to a primitive coal oven in a hellish landscape. When I first saw it, my heart began racing because of the importance of the piece and the fact that it was almost destroyed. On another occasion, I was shown Enríquez’s Diablito, 1938. The relatively large painting shows an elaborately costumed shaman dancing in presumably an Afro-Cuban religious ceremony. This painting had been out of sight for decades and was remembered from a photograph in a journal and an exhibition entry. In this case, it was in rather good condition. The third of the outstanding pieces I remember was Ponce’s Naturaleza muerta con jarron chino, c.1944. This is a large, colorful, and ambitious still life, well documented and liked in its day. These paintings stayed in Miami.
Local gallery owners and dealers working out of their houses are responsible for obtaining and selling the bulk of the Cuban Modern Art In this city. Among them, Ramón Cernuda of Cernuda Arte has been instrumental in finding long forgotten and more recently acquired Cuban art. His many findings can be seen in his yearly publication, Important Cuban Artworks. The following are some of Mr. Cernuda’s most significant acquisitions for his gallery.
Carlos Girón Cerna was a poet and Guatemala’s General Counsel to Cuba in the 1930s. He and his wife Rosie befriended the Havana intellectual and artistic vanguard of the time. He became a friend of Ponce and acquired some outstanding and rare pieces from the artist, such as El baño, 1935, showing two nude bathers coming out of a body of water, and Naturaleza muerta, 1935, a minimal image full of pathos, rather than the expected sensuality associated with such a genre in art. The collection also had two notable portraits of his wife Rosie, one by Victor Manuel and the other by Ponce.
In the following decade, the European writer Robert Altmann took refuge in Cuba from World War II. He befriended many Cuban artists and intellectuals of the time, married a Cuban woman named Hortensia Acosta, and wrote and published on art. He put together a premier collection of Cuban Modern Art, which he took to New York in the 1950s and later to Paris. He continued to collect Cuban art in the 1960s, mostly third generation modernists. Recently, he parted with some of his collection and part of it ended in Miami.
Two other notable foreigners who lived and bought Cuban Modern Art in Havana are William Bowdler and Odette Lavergne. Bowdler was a political officer in the United States embassy in Havana, 1957 to 1961, and bought paintings by Víctor Manuel, Portocarrero, Bermúdez, Estopiñán, and Milán; Lavergne lived in Cuba between 1964 and 1971, as wife of the Canadian ambassador, amazing a collection of fifty-eight pieces. She had a preference for Víctor Manuel, Peláez, and Portocarrero. Many of them are today in Miami collections.
Among the better-known Cubans whose collections Mr. Cernuda acquired, all or in part, are that of the husband and wife poets Cintio Vitier and Fina García Marruz, as well as that of Carmen Armenteros. Both were strong in paintings by Ponce.
Some of the collections brought to Miami by Mr. Cernuda were put together outside of Cuba. One unexpected place was Haiti. In the 1940s, Gómez Sicre organized a number of exhibitions of Cuban modernIst painters in Port-au-Prince at the Centre D’ Art. This center was led by a North American named Dewitt Peters, who sold the Cuban art to the Haitian elite and foreigners working in Port-a-Prince. Dr. Gerard Lescot, the Minister of Haitian Foreign Affairs between 1941-46, bought a group of fine Enríquez’s paintings and drawings. He also commissioned the artist, when Enriquez visited Haiti, to do a portrait of his wife. His most important acquisition was Enríquez’s Heroe criollo, 1941-2. In the early 1940s, Enríquez painted two similar oils of a mounted desperado with a woman in his arms and a gun in his hand, running from an unseen threat. He titled one Bandido criollo, 1943, which he sent to the New York MOMA exhibition of 1944, and the other, Heroe criollo, which he sent to an exhibition in Mexico and then to Port-au-Prince. Heroe criollo was never heard from again and it was thought that both titles belonged to the painting that went to New York. It is not unheard of that a work of art goes by two titles over time. Then in 2009, Heroe criollo was reunited with Bandolero criollo on the walls of Cernuda Arte and their history clarified.
Perhaps the first collection of Cuban Modern Art belonging to a North American happened in Port-a-Prince. Maurice De Young III, while manager of Hotel Olaffson in the mid-1940s, befriended Mr. Peters and amazed a collection of the art in question. He bought multiple paintings by Bermúdez, Enríquez, Mariano, Martínez Pedro, and Víctor Manuel. Upon his return to the United States, he brought his collection with him and recently his family sold it. Many of these works are today in local collections.
Other gallery owners have also played important roles in this story. Roberto Borlenghi, the owner of Pan American Art Projects, has a sharp eye honed from many years of working with art and the experience of two decades of purchasing visits to Cuba. Although he mainly represents contemporary artists, Mr. Borlenghi has brought large quantities of modern art out of Cuba, most notably pieces which border on national patrimony. To mention a few: Víctor Manuel’s Olvidados 1940s, a large and rare painting about ill-fated Jewish refugees from WWII; Mariano’s Mujeres luchando c.1940, one of his first colorful, sensual paintings; Diago’s Pianista 1940s, an over five feet oil on paper on canvas of an Afro-Cuban entertainer; and Peláez’s Peces grises 1931, a large, unusually dark, rather abstract, and stunning still life from her Parisian period.
Mr. Borlenghi bought the Diago from Antonio Alejo, a professor at the San Alejandro academy, who apparently got it from the artist. He bought Pescado gris from the son of a Havana collector named Luis Blanco, who acquired it from Peláez. Porfirio Sardiñas was a one-artist collector, he befriended and bought only works by Víctor Manuel. Roberto bought his collection, including Olvidados. Jorge Fernández de Castro and his wife Marta Sardiñas, Porfirio’s sister, put together a limited, but exquisite collection of paintings by Enríquez, Víctor Manuel, Ponce, Peláez, Portocarrero, Mariano, Bermúdez, among others. Jorge was a lawyer, who came from a well-known family in Havana, and along with his wife had close ties with most of the Cuban modernIst artists. They were a highly cultured couple, with a love for art and books. Long after Jorge’s death, around 2000, Marta took her collection surreptitiously to Spain. Soon thereafter, Mr. Borlenghi acquired most of it, including the much reproduced Bermúdez’s Retrato de Marta 1940s and Enríquez’s L’Ecuyere c. 1933. He also bought Enríquez salacious drawings for the illustrations of a controversial and erotic poem by the Renaissance author Pietro de Arentino.
Recently, Mr. Borlenghi exhibited in his gallery about eighty modernist works dating from the 1920s to circa 1960. In the group were significant paintings by Víctor Manuel, Peláez, Abela, Ponce, Enríquez, Bermúdez, Diago, Lam, Mariano, and Milián, among others. The exhibition also included two sculptures, one from Cardenas and the other, a large bronze, from Juan José Sicre. The latter was a pioneer of modern sculpture in Cuba and is rarely collected in the United States.
More notable galleries, which have sold Cuban Modern Art in Miami for years, are Gary Nader’s Nader Fine Art and Israel Moleiro’s Latin Art Core. The former offers modern art from Latin America, including Cuba, while the latter sells mostly modern and contemporary Cuban art. Latin Art Core has been at the forefront of marketing geometric abstraction from the 1950s and early 1960s. One other gallery, Tresart, founded by Antonio de la Guardia in 2006, specializes in Modern and Contemporary Cuban art. He has also been successful in importing modern style paintings from long standing Havana private collections.
There is a relatively new development in the demand for Cuban Modern Art. Speaking to two gallery owners recently, I was told that they are increasingly selling the art in question to collectors outside of Florida, many of them North Americans. Participation by Miami galleries in art fairs in Dallas, Los Angeles, Atlanta, New York, and Chicago have helped to expose Cuban Modern Art nationally and widened the circle of collectors. For instance, Bermúdez famed Romeo y Julieta, 1943, was in two Miami collections since at least the early 1980s. Recently, Mr Cernuda sold it to a collector in Massachusetts. Christie’s and Sotheby’s semiannual auctions of Latin American Art are also exposing the art in question to collectors everywhere. The continued curiosity about Cuba among North Americans and Europeans feeds the market for Cuban art.
The first major collection of Cuban Modern Art that I saw belonged to José Martínez Cañas. He was president of Frito-Lay of Puerto Rico from 1972 to 1977, when he put the collection together. In 1980, his collection was exhibited at the former Metropolitan Museum of Art of Miami, located at the time in the historic Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables. The museum occupied the second floor of the loggia behind and to the right of the hotel. A courtyard with a fountain and two grand staircases welcomed the viewer. It was actually a collection of Latin American Modern Art, which included many Cuban artists. There were fifty paintings in total. The Cuban selection was first rate and included works by Ponce, Peláez, Enríquez, Carreño, and Portocarrero, among others. It had five excellent Peláez paintings, three from her European stay, Mujer sentada 1929, Crisantemus 1930, and El coco 1932, one from the height of her career, a still life from 1943, and another still life from 1954. He also owned one of Lam’s best-known renditions of the woman horse theme, Femme Cheval 1950.
Two paintings stopped me on my track that day. These were Enríquez’s Eva c. 1940 and Ponce’s San Ignacio de Loyola c. 1938-39. Eva is a medium size canvas of a nude with a dreamy facial expression and painted in transparent layers of blue and green tonalities. The guard, seeing me stand in front of it for a while, came over and told me: “she was the painter’s second wife and when she left him for a woman, he put a knife through the figure’s stomach. Look closely and you will see where it was restored” I thought, what a painting and what a story! I told myself, I have to find out more about this artist. In 2010, I published a monograph on him, Carlos Enríquez, The Painter of Cuban Ballads. In the case of Ponce, I was moved by the extensive use of white, the strange still life of a rabbit with a dagger stuck on his bleeding neck, and the tilting figures. This painting, I mused, must be the most strange and irreverent representation of the founder of the Jesuit Order. I was also moved to research Ponce’s life and work, the result is an unpublished monograph, A Cuban Original: The Art of Fidelio Ponce de León. These two paintings were exhibited at the storied Modern Cuban Painters exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan in 1944. Sometime thereafter they ended up in Miami, where they are today.
An aside. Certain art exhibitions in important museums place a stamp of approval on artists, movements, or schools of art and add value to the works of art shown in it. The aforementioned exhibition at MOMA, which Cuban art historians and collectors have elevated to the realm of the mythic, is one of those.
“Mr. Cañas's possessions were attached after he was sued over misappropriation of funds. Judgments rendered over several years in Pepsico's favor [the parent company of Frito-Lay] transferred ownership of the instruments, as well as that of 50 Latin American paintings, which sold for $578,800 at Sotheby's in May” of 1984. (New York Times, June 29, 1984) Today, one of the paintings in that collection will easily cost the amount of the entire collection then. In the late 1980s and beyond, I saw many of these paintings in local collections and exhibitions at the former Museo Cubano de Arte y Cultura.
My early interest in Cuban art led me to curate a twenty-seven paintings exhibition, Origins of Modern Cuban art, in 1982. Its setting was the Frances Art Gallery of Miami-Dade College, downtown campus. At the time, I was working in that college as an art historian and Sheldon Lurie, the curator of the gallery, encouraged me to do the show. It included major paintings from The Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Modern Art of the Organization of American States, Washington D.C., and the Museum of Arts of Daytona Beach. These were works that had never been exhibited in Miami. Through acquaintances of acquaintances, I contacted a small number of persons who collected Cuban Modern Art In Miami and whose paintings made up about half of the exhibition. Two of those collections are worth writing about.
One afternoon, I visited the home of the late Francisco Mestre, a businessman, who lived on Sunset Drive. We walked around a spacious living and dining rooms, well-lit from large windows, where he showed me about a dozen paintings. The two I chose for the exhibition were Enríquez’s Los mambises, 1940s, an energetic and painterly piece about Cuban freedom fighters in action during the War of Independence, and Peláez Los botes, 1929, an austere early cubist landscape done in Europe. The biggest surprise of that afternoon is not related to Cuban art. In the backyard of the house, there was a large metal sculpture of a magnificent lion, supposedly from the Hellenistic period. As it turns out, many of the collectors I came to know collected art from other countries and times.
During the local search for my exhibition, I came upon one of the best collections of Cuban Modern Art ever. Lodovico and ConchitBlanc, with the help of their art historian son, Giulio, put together an exquisite collection of mostly masterpieces. They welcome me into their Coconut Grove home, which differed from Mestre’s in that its spaces were relatively small and dark. In an unassuming way, Lodovico show me one magnificent painting after another.
In an intimate living room was Peláez’s Dos hermanas leyendo, 1944, a large and bold gouache painting of two female figures reading, supposedly her sisters. The painting offers a unique combination of cubism and expressionism. It’s technique is looser than most of her paintings. I also included in the exhibition Los marañónes, 1939-40, one of Peláez cubist minimalist pieces with a strong round center. At the time, the painting was one of a few in the United States representing her post-Parisian early mature work. Another is Marpacifico, 1936, a favorite subject of hers, also in this collection. Leaving the peaceful Peláez paintings, I encountered the disturbing Enríquez’s El rapto c. 1933, from his Parisian period. The image shows, in mostly grey, black, and Venetian red, a seated man with a strong arm firmly holding a kneeled nude woman, her head and neck violently cut off. Of the many rape scenes in European art, where he took the idea, particularly from Surrealism, this is one of the most savage. I also borrowed this painting for the exhibition. Two other paintings, which caught my attention, but did not fit the purpose of the show, were Bermúdez’s Romeo and Julieta 1943, and Mariano’s Gallos peleando 1944. Bermúdez represented Shakespeare’s star cross lovers, nude in the tropics, she on a balcony, he reaching out to her, his pronounced nose surreptitiously touching one of her nipples. Mariano, the painter of roosters, rarely showed them fighting as in this painting. Having a different sensibility towards color, the former harsher, the later warmer, both paintings are chromatically intense. These two paintings were also included in the 1944 MOMA show, and when sold recently, each reached a price of half a million dollars. That sum was unimaginable in 1980. One last painting that I vividly remember from that day was Lam’s Femme Peignant ses Cheveux ca. 1938. He took the much-painted theme of a woman combing her hair and reduced it to its essence. In a large canvas, he represented a frontal dark-skinned female figure, dressed in white, and combing her long, jet black, straight hair. Minimal geometric lines, sure and precise, and a restricted palette give it an iconic quality. This is one of Lam’s outstanding paintings from his early mature period in Paris.
A cultivated taste, knowledge of art history, and money to buy when the art in question was relatively affordable allowed Lodovico and Giulio Blanc to put together an extraordinary collection. Due to aging and deaths, this collection, which lasted for over three decades, has recently been sold little by little.
I also borrowed two paintings for my exhibition from the collection of Francisco Olartecoechea. He was a chef from New York, who retired in Miami. This collection was pioneering for Miami, it had paintings by the major modernist artists and most were average.
Looking anew at the 1980s catalogues published by the former Museo Cubano de Arte y Cultura refreshed my memory of the collectors of Cuban art active in that decade in Miami. Those catalogues give evidence of the level of collecting in the 1980s. The Víctor Manuel exhibition (1982) included 26 paintings, 34 drawings, and 3 lithographs; Eduardo Abela (1984) 24 oils and 4 works on paper; Carlos Enríquez (1986), 29 oils and 31 works on paper; Cundo Bermúdez (1987) 33 oils, 25 works on paper, and 1 encaustic; Amelia Peláez (1988) 16 oils, 20 gouaches ( a favorite medium of hers), 9 drawings, and 3 ceramics; and Fidelio Ponce de León (1992) 35 oils, 15 pencil drawings, and 2 pastels. These artworks came mostly from two dozen local private collections. (About the collection of Cuban Modern Art in this museum, please see Postscript).
Among the collectors the Cuban Museum catalogues brought back to mind was Mario Amiget, a Cuban with strong Catalonian roots. He was a businessman, who specialized in boutique furniture for business. In his and his wife Ligia’s airy and well lid Coral Gables home, they had a large collection of Cuban Modern Art and some by Cuban American artists. Of the twenty some paintings I saw there on a couple of visits, I was most impressed by Peláez’s Naturaleza muerta con peces, 1943, her most expressionistic version of a subject she repeated over time; Enríquez’s Rapto, 1956, actually not a rape scene, but one of his last and most poetic versions of the man and woman riding on a horse into the sunset; and Bermúdez’s Cuarteto habanero, c. 1957, a lyrical take on his beloved musician theme. He was a close friend of this artist and owned many Bermúdez’s oils and drawings.
One of the most dynamic and intuitive collectors I met in the 1990s is Bruno García. He was a businessman in the printing business. By dynamic, I mean that he often bought, sold, and traded the works in his collection. I mention intuitive because he had little knowledge of Cuban art but had an eye for outstanding pieces. I visited his home in Coral Gables on various occasions. He was the first owner in Miami of the storied Enriquez’s Horno de Carbón, and the collector responsible for its major and excellent restoration. He owned the much reproduced Peláez’s Naturaleza muerta, 1949. It stands out for its intricate arabesque made of thick black lines and colors like sunlit stained-glass windows. He had a unique Carreño of a single drum, La tumbadora, 1950. Its vertical and narrow composition suggest that it was part of a tryptic. He owned numerous Víctor Manuel’s, including one of his most ambitious carnival scenes from the 1940s. He collected some colonial art, having at one time a small painting of a man on a horse by Guillermo Collazo, a rare find outside of Cuba. He also collected contemporary Cuban art, including that of Cuban Americans. He sold his collection of Cuban Modern Art some time ago, but kept his pieces of contemporary art. His collection was pioneering, he began collecting in the 1970s, and substantial. It had over one hundred pieces at its height.
The lawyers and businesspersons Pedro Ramón López and his wife Teresa Saldise amazed an extensive collection of Cuban and Latin American Modern Art in the 1980s and early 1990s. They owned General Bank, a Federal Savings and Loan, and an insurance business. Accused by the federal government of using their business to buy art for personal use brought their collecting to an end. The federal government won the case and took the Latin American art bought with bank money. The rest, bought with the insurance money, they took and fled to Spain.
I once visited their Miami Beach home, which spacious rooms and high walls were full of paintings. They had Lam’s Mañana verde, 1943, a widely exhibited masterpiece with allusions to Afro-Cuban nature spirits. They also owned Carreño’s Cortadores de caña, 1943. This large work is part of three duco paintings, where Carreño paid energetic tribute to life in the Cuban countryside. Today, Cortadores de caña and its companion pieces, Danza afrocubana and Fuego en el batey, are among his best-known works. Peláez was well represented. There were two from her Parisian years, then rare in Miami, Mujer sentada 1929 and Crisantemus 1930 (earlier in the Martínez-Cañas collection). They also owned a 1945 still life by her. It was a medium size gouache on paper with an intricate composition of strongly black outlines. I also remember Enríquez’s outrageous and beautifully painted Mas halan un par de tetas que una carreta c.1943, based on a machismo rural saying: a pair of female breast pulls more than an ox driven carriage. There, I first saw a geometric abstract Portocarrero from the 1950s, Tiro al blanco. It was rare then to find paintings from this phase of Portocarrero’s work. The last paintings I remember from this collection were three excellent Abela’s, Paisaje con animales, 1958, Cabeza de muchacha n/d, and Muchacha con flores n/d. Some of the paintings in this collection came back to Miami, others ended up in places like New York (Enriquez, Mas valen..) and Santo Domingo (Carreno, Cortadores…).
Another major collector of that time was the real state developer Arturo Munder and his wife Sylvia. Their collection was extensive and pioneering. They owned Peláez’s El balcón, 1942, showing two ladies with a caged bird in a balcony. A Havana scene. It made it to the cover of the catalogue for the 1944 MOMA exhibition. Another excellent painting in their collection was Ponce’s Barco fantasma c.1944, a highly abstracted image of a ghost ship in a violent sea. It’s mysterious quality arises from its nebulous forms and color: dark greens with bold white streaks. I also remember a cityscape by Abela, Ciudad de la Habana, 1960, a childlike and chromatic representation of a cityscape. One of my favorites was Enríquez’s Guasamil Baseball Club, 1950s. The painting represents a few poor AfroCuban children playing baseball on a street in Enríquez’s neighborhood. The quick execution suggests the improvised nature of their game in a marginal Havana neighborhood. Although baseball was Cuba’s major pastime game and it was play out millions of time in streets all over the island, it had never been shown in Cuban painting. Miami collections are rich in the “late” work of Abela (late 1950s-early 1960s) and Enríquez (1950s). To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Munder sold his collection some time ago.
A rare exhibition for Miami concerns the show of one private collection with catalogue. In 1988, Miami Dade College exhibited Twentieth Century Cuban Art from the Collection of Ramón Cernuda and Nercys Ganem. Mr. Cernuda is a businessman, who owned an editorial house and in the last twenty years the art gallery, Cernuda Arte. He is a long-time passionate collector of art and texts on the subject of Cuban art. In time, he has become a connoisseur of Colonial and Modern Cuban Art. Mrs. Ganem, like her husband, has developed a keen eye for determining the good, the bad, and the excellent. She studied literature and is an experienced editor.
The 1988 show included 24 oils and 24 works on paper by a wide variety of artists: Eduardo Abela (2) Víctor Manuel (4), Aristides Fernández (2) Fidelio Ponce (6), Carlos Enríquez (4), Amelia Peláez (4), Domingo Ravenet (1), Mario Carreño (1), René Portocarrero (4), Mariano Rodríguez (1), Cundo Bermúdez (2), Roberto Diago (1), Raúl Millían (3), Roberto Estopiñan (1), José M. Mijares (3), Agustin Fernández (1), Servando Cabrera (1), Angel Acosta León (4), Antonia Eiriz (1), Gina Pellón (1), and Arturo Rodríguez (1). The show was an eye opener in terms of the extensive size and quality of specific collections of Cuban art in Miami. This could not be gleaned from the Cuban Museum exhibitions, given that such shows were put together from various collections and many collectors chose to remain anonymous. Sheldon Lurie, the curator of the exhibition and the director of the gallery, wanted to do more shows featuring specific local collections, but they never materialized.
Soon thereafter, Ramón and Nercys began to invite me to their home in a high-rise apartment on Brickell Avenue. The condominium is one of Arquitectonica’s early iconic buildings in Miami. Their home is replete with Cuban paintings and drawings neatly presented in a series of rooms and corridors. You enter their apartment through an L shape passage leading to the living room. It is a spacious, well lid, white wall room, ending in sliding glass doors overlooking a balcony and beyond that, Biscayne Bay. It was furnished with two white sofas, two wood Cuban rocking chairs, and a black grand piano. This is the Hall of Fame. On the right-side wall is Enríquez’s Bandolero criollo, 1943, grand and commanding, followed by Mariano’s playful La pescera, c. 1942, then Ponce’s irreverent San Ignacio de Loyola, c. 1938-39, followed by Enríquez’s Eva, c 1940, the nude portrait of his second wife. These were among the paintings from the Martínez Cañas collection, which returned to Miami. At some time, Eva was replaced by Peláez’s Pescados 1950s, which is a still life of fish with its original frame. The image is rather abstract and painted in luminous white, blue and red. The wall ends with a large Acosta Leon’s Untitled, 1963, done in Europe at the end of his brief career. It shows a strange brownish creature on wheels and held by strings, as if a marionette. The figure rides against an off-white empty background. In reality, the subtleness and variety of colors of the background is difficult to describe. Mr. Cernuda likes to show it sideways, which works fine. This painting’s strong presence acts as an exclamation mark at the end of the wall. They are fans of Acosta Leon’s work and own a number of them, including one of his famed coffee machines and one of his haunting self-portraits.
Four of the mentioned paintings in this wall were included in the Modern Cuban Painters exhibition in MOMA in 1944: the two Enríquez, the Ponce, and the Mariano.
Turning right to face the shorter wall, it has a wide French door leading to an office-library. On the left side of the door hangs a small Abela of the 1950s or early 60s, his last period. It shows a mother and child in white against a nondescript background of brown and the most intense blue. In front of the painting, on a pedestal, sits a small bronze by Cárdenas, one of their favorite sculptors. To the right of the door is Lam’s Su Defaut du Jour, 1945. This large painting is a major piece from his brief and elegant white period. Using sharp elegant lines and soft patches of black, he conjured up ghostly hybrid figures, gently emerging from the void.
The other long wall of the rectangular living room has eight painting in two tight rows of four, one above the other. Beginning on the left, there are two rather large Mariano’s. The one below, Mujer y gallo, 1941, shows a monumental female figure, sitting in front of a landscape, holding a rooster about to peck her lips. This is his Cuban version of the myth of Leda. The one above, Mujeres luchando, 1941, shows two large female figures wrestling in a playful way against a tame landscape. Both are among his most recognized and thus reproduced works. Next are two Carreño’s on the upper row. Their styles are so different that they seem to have been done by two different artists. Carreño burned through visual languages during his long career and mastered them all. To the right is Costurera, 1943, a harmonious synthesis of line and magnificent colors. He transformed a laborious low paying job in a crowded interior into a fancy neo-baroque fantasy. The other Carreño, a synthetic cubist composition, is titled Pastoral, 1946, and it is another Cuban version of a Classical theme. In this room, Enríquez, Mariano and Carreño all have paintings referring to ancient Classical myths. Their interpretation of such traditional subjects served them to universalize their Cuban characters and scenes. Back to the painting, it shows three peasants at leisure, playing music and having a picnic, seated in the midst of a luxuriant landscape.
Below these paintings, there are two Havana interiors, one by Bermúdez, Desnudos c 1948, and the other by Portocarrero, Interior del Cerro 1943. The first is a rare representation of a Havana brothel, sanitized by the colorful visual language and by the title. The painting depicts a number of nudes seemingly waiting for customers in a neo-colonial interior. Portocarrero also painted a neo-colonial interior, highly decorated and inspired by the artist’s childhood memories of the houses in the Cerro neighborhood in Havana. The interior, more of a melancholic conceit than a representation of an actual place, reveals him as a master colorist and leader of the neo-baroque elaborate compositions, so characteristic of Cuban Modern Art in that decade. Mariano’s Mujer con gallo, Carreño’s Costurera, and Portocarrero’s Interior del Cerro are prime examples of the paintings which led the North American art historian and curator Alfred H. Barr Jr. to declare, in 1944, that the Cuban artists “were drunk with colors.” Bright colors and complex compositions are the two visual elements most associated with Cuban Modern Art of the 1940s, or the so-called School of Havana. The overall style was named by contemporary critics barroquismo or neo-baroque and went as far as being associated with a Cuban quality that went beyond mere subject matter. Barroquismo, according to Alejo Carpentier, José Lezama Lima, Guy Pérez Cisneros, and José Gómez Sicre represented national qualities at the level of form. Did the painters follow the writings of these critics in their choice of form or did the critics put into words what the artists were doing? Was it a little of both? I am still studying that. I do know that in the case of Peláez, it was an internal and organic process influenced by Cuban Colonial architectural ornament.
The last row includes two Víctor Manuel paintings, Retrato de Rosie, c 1935-36 and a landscape. Rosie was the wife of the Guatemalan poet and cultural ambassador Giron Cerna, who befriended many of the modernist Cuban artists of the 1930s. This was probably a commissioned piece. It portraits Rosie seating with her hands in her laps, one in an hieratical gesture. She seats straight up and looks out, but her eyes suggest that she is lost in thought and her mouth hints at sadness. The rural landscape is typical Víctor Manuel: river, bohios, palm trees, and relaxed guajiros under a blue sky. What is different in this case is the tremendous luminosity of the colors and suggested clear light.
The living room gives way on one side to the dining room. On the back wall, there was for a long time a large Peláez painting, Frutero 1947, with its original frame done by the artist. This painting lets the viewer observe the obsessive quality of her patterning, her organic approach to geometry, and her strongly lid colors. It is one of her most ambitious easel paintings. Later, the Peláez paintig was replaced by a large Tomás Sánchez landscape of water, trees, and sky. It is a magnificent example of his Platonic and meditative landscapes.
The rest of their collection is placed in corridors, a small waiting room, and bedrooms. In these spaces, the Vanguardia or first-generation modern painters are well represented by a group of excellent paintings. They are Abela’s Fiesta en el batey, 1927, representing a rural festivity and one of the earliest pieces of Cuban modernism in style and subject; Gattorno’s Guajiros y platanos, c. 1929, one of his sad guajiro paintings and another early example of Cuban modernism in art; Víctor Manuel’s Muchacha vestida en blanco and Dos mujeres, two large and sweetly melancholic paintings of languid mix-race women against sunny landscapes; Ponce’s Primera Comunión, c. 1933 and Los tres Cristos, c. 1935, top examples of his dark and white paintings respectively, not to mention of his humane religious work; Enríquez’s masterpiece of social criticism, Horno de carbón, 1937, and his dreamy depiction of a cleansing Afro-Cuban ritual, Limpieza de elementales, 1936; and Aristides Fernández’s La lluvia c. 1930, a bluish, dreary rainy day, different from the typical sunny ones represented by his contemporaries. These are outstanding paintings from a critical decade in Cuban Modern Art.
The 1940s also shine outside the living room. There are two excellent Portocarrero paintings of his long running series Catedrales, a linear early one, 194? , and one rich in impasto/color from 196?. Portocarrero is also represented by one of his most ambitious landscapes of the series Valle de Viñales, 1944. Along one of the halls, there is Bermúdez’s El monje rojo, 1948, a monumental and stark figure set against an empty background and painted in bold, broad brush strokes. A few paintings away is his often reproduced Retrato de Marta, 1947, a more signature style Cundo, portraying a friend of many of the modernist artists. Diago’s five by three and a half feet painting, Pianista 1940s, is a dark yet lustrous image of a standing nude black woman playing a piano, seemingly in a risqué Havana night club. One more painting of that decade in one of the back rooms is Victor Manuel’s Carnaval 1940s, a large and sunny view of a popular street festival. These are superb and, in some cases unique pieces (Diago’s Pianista and Bermúdez’s Monje rojo) in these artists’ careers.
At the end of one of the corridors is a 1970s large male nude by Servando Cabrera. It’s location, size, transparent layers of color, and frank nudity are eye openers. Of the 1960s painters, Servando Cabrera Moreno and Angel Acosta León are well liked among Miami collectors.
Collectors of Cuban Modern Art in Miami mostly stay away from works on paper. Mr. and Mrs. Cernuda, however, have an extensive collection of drawings. An entire long wall is dedicated to exquisite drawings made by every major and minor modernist artist. Some are seminal pieces in the artists’ development, such as Peláez’s Mamey 1936. The centered fruit of the title sits in front of a stained-glass window glowing in reds. This is one of the first pieces in which she incorporated the decorative elements of Cuban Colonial architecture.
I must confess that two of the paintings I have enjoyed the most in this collection are not by modernist artists. One is the largest Esteban Chartrand that I have seen, a panoramic view of the Valle de Yumuri in his native Matanzas province. Alexander Humbolt, the so-called second European discoverer of Cuba, could have based his studies on the Cuban landscape from this encyclopedic painting. The other is an intimate view of a remote beach by Leopoldo Romañach. Looking at this medium size painting one could feel the hot yellowish grains of sand, the beckoning turquoise water, the tranquil shoreline, the expansive blue sky, and the warmth of the soft wind.
I would like to leave this extraordinary collection, which has been around since the 1980s and it is still growing, with a historical fact and a personal anecdote. On May 5th, 1989, agents from the United Sates Customs Service, complying with orders from the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Dexter Lehtinen 1988-1992, searched Cernuda’s home and office and confiscated about 200 paintings. The order alleged that the purchase of such paintings violated the Trading With the Enemy Act. According to court transcripts:
“This seizure is part of an on-going controversy surrounding the exhibition and auction of Cuban art organized by the Cuban Museum in Miami. Petitioner Cernuda has served the museum in various executive capacities during the last eleven years. Beginning in late 1987, dissension arose among museum directors and in the community concerning the museum's exhibition and auction of art created by artists now living in Cuba or those who have not renounced allegiance to Fidel Castro.
The dissension focused on a benefit auction planned for April 1988, which was to include such art. Those opposing the auction suggested that it would violate the TWEA, at which point auction organizers withdrew the disputed art to avoid any possible legal violations.
Despite withdrawal of the works from the auction, the controversy continued regarding the museum. Cernuda and other museum directors were the subject of death threats. A bomb exploded on May 3, 1988, damaging a director's car and the museum itself. Seventeen incumbent board members, opposed to the museum's dealings in art associated with Castro's Cuba, also resigned that month. Because of the controversy the museum was subjected to city and state audits, which failed to uncover financial impropriety. Nevertheless, the Florida Legislature withdrew its financial support for the museum on May 18, 1988.
After the April 1988 auction, petitioners attempted to comply with the TWEA by seeking licenses to exhibit Cuban works. Thus, in December 1988, Cernuda wrote to the Office of Foreign Asset Control ("OFAC"), the federal agency responsible for enforcing the TWEA, requesting permission to exhibit the work of a Cuban dissident artist. OFAC never responded to this request.
The next contact Cernuda had with government officials was on May 5, 1989, when agents of the U.S. Customs Service searched his personal residence and the office of his company, Editorial Cernuda, pursuant to duly executed warrants. The agents seized approximately 200 paintings that appeared to be of Cuban-origin. This seizure is the subject of this petition.
At present, the government has issued no criminal indictments against petitioners for TWEA violations surrounding the importation of the disputed paintings, although more than four months have passed since its agents seized the paintings. Nonetheless, Rule 41(e) gives this court the discretion to hear pre-indictment requests for the return of unconstitutionally seized property.” (Cernuda vs, Heavey lawjustia.com)
On September 18th, 1989, Distric Judge Ryskamp, United States District Court S.D. Florida, ruled that Ramón Cernuda had not violated the TWEA because art is “informational material,” and therefore falls under the First Amendment clause. He ordered the immediate return of the seized paintings. Due to this ruling, art could then be imported from Cuba and it has on a large scale. Collecting Cuban art and exile politics have clashed from time to time, but never so dramatically, nor with such influential results.
Now, a personal anecdote regarding one of my visits to Ramón’s and Nercys’ home. Every time I visited them, I met other collectors, artists, and intellectuals. Conversations touched on Cuban art, culture, politics, collecting (who recently acquired what), traveling, wine, and more. The food, Cuban of course, was always delicious and the wine, usually Spanish, flowed. In one of my first visits, I was sitting on the sofa in front of Enríquez’s nude painting of his second wife Eva Fregaville, when she walked in. She was about eighty years old and had not seen the painting since the early 1940s. Eva was shocked. She looked at it silently for a while and became teary eyes. She then sat down and explained that she posed for the painting soon after they began their relationship in 1939 and that he painted it rather fast. Beyond that, she did not want to talk about him. To add to the drama, she looked around and saw the irascible poet and novelist Enrique Labrador Ruiz, who she had not seen since the early 1940s, when Enríquez threw him out of his house because he was making a pass at her. That night, they got along well, and stories of a melancholic Cuban past filled the air.
There is one modernist artist whose work on paper is widely collected, Fidelio Ponce. He produced a vast amount of pencil and pen drawings, wonders of the imagination and the hand. To the best of my knowledge, the most extensive private collection of Ponce’s works on paper in Miami is that of the lawyers Pedro Martinez-Fraga and his wife Lisa. When I was working on an Enríquez monograph, he invited me to his condominium in the Brickell area to see Enríquez’s Bañistas 1937. This is a small, but seminal work of women bathers in a lake, one of his favorite subjects from this time on. He had many jewels by modernist painters. I was surprised to see two first rate Cerra paintings of Havana cityscapes. Today in Miami, there are a good number of paintings by this undervalued artist, but mostly of her peasant children. Then there was Ponce. He owns one of his few naturalistic portraits in oil and dozens of his drawings covering an entire wall. Ponce’s drawings show swift, effortless lines slowly revealing all kind of figurative subjects. At times, the drawings are accompanied by nervous handwriting of titles or thoughts.
A collector I met at the beginning of his quest and saw his collection grow into one of the finest anywhere is Sergio Delgado. He is an independent commercial realtor, who prior to beginning collecting in the 1990s had no knowledge or interest in art. Once he began collecting, he assiduously sought advised from multiple sources and read what he could on the subject, however, neither explains his sharp eyes for first rate works, or his wide range of taste.
The last time I saw his collection, Mr. Delgado lived with his wife Christine and young daughter in a spacious house off Old Cutler Road, nested under large oak trees. In the foyer, you are greeted by an intensely ornamented Portocarrero, Catedral, 1968. Curiously, as the Cuban government pushed hard to create an atheist society in the 1960s, Portocarrero painted an ongoing series of Cathedrals. This one has an angel between the towers. This work is followed by a large Lam of his white period, mid 1940s, mysterious in its myriad of suggestive forms and ambiguous space. It is a cousin of the one owned by Cernuda and both have been extensively exhibited. The wall ends with Mariano’s Mujer y pescado 1940s, in which a woman is holding a fish, rather than the usual (for Mariano) rooster or bird.
The foyer leads to a living room, which opens into a dining room. In the center of the main wall of the living room is Carreño’s spectacular La danza afrocubana 1943, a large duco with collage elements on wood. It represents an Afro-Cuban ritual dance in the countryside. Carreño picked up the duco technique from David Alfaro Siqueiros, who was visiting Havana in that year. “If Siqueiros' work in Duco realized the medium's power and muscle, Carreño was the first to understand its potential for coloristic lyricism,” read the May 1984 Sotheby’s auction catalogue. La danza afrocubana is both muscular and coloristic, a unique Carreño synthesis.
To the left is Peláez’ Untitled, 1950, a mid-size still life painted in red, yellow and dark green. The motif in the center of the composition is rather abstract, fruits if I had to guess, on a fancy tablecloth, and crowned by a stained-glass area. The design is dominated by a strong inverted triangle, softened by curvilinear flowing lines. Everything about it exudes elegance. Mr. Delgado had four more excellent Peláez, each worth at least a brief description. Across from the aforementioned one, in the dining room, was a large Naturaleza muerta en interior, 1948, in its original frame. The still life is of fish placed on a plate resting on an embroidered tablecloth. These elements are framed by columns, which elaborate capitals themselves frame a stained- glass window. The glowing colors are red, yellow and spring green. In the fish and other forms, she drew by scratching the paint. The composition is rather elaborate, typical of the 1940s work, yet it is easily legible.
In the hallway leading from the dining room to the kitchen are two more. One, Naturaleza muerta, 1949, resembles a stained-glass window in the fragmentation of the color areas and their thick black outlines. The color shapes are varied and their composition dense. To give an idea of current prices on a first rate, medium-size Peláez painting, this one sold for $348,000 at Christie’s in 2017. Further down the wall, in the Florida room, there is Peces, 1955, a precious abstract still life in sky blue, bright red, olive green, and light grey on a white background. In this one, she even ornamented the black outlined color areas with fine black arabesque. It’s central motif of fish is barely recognizable. These four Peláez paintings attest not only to the mastery of color and composition, but also to expressive nuance. She took a basic still life arrangement of fruits or fish, placed on an embroidered tablecloth, put it in front of a neo-colonial window, and did endless fresh variations. In these cases, she expressed elegance, strength, over abundance, and cheerfulness respectively.
The last Peláez that I saw in Mr. Delgado’s collection is Naturaleza muerta on frutas, 1935, a minimalist still life composition, which reminded me why her art was met with silence when she returned from Paris in 1934. It is about four by three feet, showing a plain vase with unidentifiable fruits placed on a round mantelpiece. The flat background consists of rectangular color shapes. As in most of her work, the centerpiece in seen frontal and the tablecloth from above, in Cubist fashion. The understated colors are various shades of light brown, dark green, white, and light blue. It is severe and refined. Too abstract and simple for Havana at that time, when narrative and sensuality reigned in Cuban art.
Back to the living room, to the right of the Carreño, is Ponce’s Retrato de Rosie, c. 1935. Like the aforementioned one by Víctor Manuel in Cernuda’s collection, this one was probably commissioned by her husband Carlos Girón Cerna; unlike it, it shows her standing in a relaxed pose. Nearby is the portrait of her husband, Retrato de Girón Cerna, c. 1935, also by Ponce. He portrait him seated at work in his desk, pensive. Mr. Delgado bought a number of excellent Ponce’s paintings from the former Girón Cerna Collection, which among other sources, confirm the close relationship the Guatemalan poet and the Cuban painter enjoyed in the 1930s, when the former was a cultural attaché in Havana.
One of the take-away from this collection is a love for the work of Ponce and a keen eye for recognizing his best. Facing the dining room table, the relatively large Bañistas, c. 1935, shows two nude women walking out of the water, a subject matter he did not repeat. The figures are painted in dashing brush strokes and the sea barely suggested. The usual sensuality associated with such a subject is only found in the paint itself. In the Florida room is one of Ponce’s most moving versions of En el camino a Emaus, 1941, which he signed and titled on the lower right side of the canvas. He dramatically painted the figures in dark ochre contrasting with the pearl white desolate landscape, choosing the charged moment in the Biblical story when Christ appeared to two of his disciples on the way to Emmaus. Although they supposedly did not recognize him until later, there are strong emotions shown in their faces. In that area of the house, there is also a head of Christ by Ponce, Cristo 1930s. It is conceived in terms of light and less so shade.
I liked best the last two Ponce’s I saw that day. Next to each other, opposite the entrance to the master bedroom, are a Florero, c. 1934, originally from the Girón Cerna collection, and Novicia, 1938. The still life shows a one-legged round table holding two glass containers. Out of the smallest one, a single thin stem rises to end in an unidentifiable white flower. Its companion is an empty long neck bottle. The still life sits against a white wall and it is framed by white curtains with some streaks of baby blue. The overall impression is poignant, it suggests the thin line between life and death, the spiritual and the material.
The other painting shows a nun or pious woman figure covered with a white cape and crowned with a white head cap and a wreath. The only visible flesh is her expressionless almond shape face painted in ochre. She seems frozen in time and space. In front of her are two books, one with a cross on the cover, and a glass with a long stem; the background is empty and of a different shade of white. Here is a world of total silence and stillness, a separate reality.
To continue my tour of this collection, the last painting that caught my attention in the living room was Aristides Fernández’s Descanso c. 1930. This is a rare find in Miami, where there are few paintings by this artist. Fernández died young and left a very limited quantity of work. The dark image shows two women, one carrying a child, and resting as the title indicates. They reclined in a rather desolated landscape with leafless trees and two skinny animals. His expressionist style merely suggests figures and landscape. Like the one seen in Cernuda’s collection, it is mostly painted in different shades of blue, giving it a melancholic mood. Opposite this painting, between living and dining room, is the large Lam, Studio para La Jungla, 1943. It depicts a hybrid figure with a three-quarter moon head seen emerging from a background of stalks and leaves. It seems like a study for The Jungle 1943, thus its title. A close relative of this painting is in permanent display at the Museum of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Back in the hallway to the kitchen, there is a colorful neo-baroque still life by Bermúdez, Naturaleza muerta con Peces, 1948. In contrast to the quite 1930s still life by Peláez across the way, it feels like a shout. While on Bermúdez, Mr. Delgado was excited that day because he had just acquired the aforementioned Romeo and Julieta, 1943, from Lodovico Blanc. Bermúdez 1940s paintings are his most sought after and this one is on the top of the list.
In the Florida room there is a wall with seven paintings in close proximity. On the left of the mentioned Peláez 1955 abstract fishes, there is Víctor Manuel’s Carnaval, 1940s. This is a large version of a theme he repeated in the 1940s, a lively Havana carnival scene. To the right of the Peláez, there is an expressionistic Portocarrero’s Valle de Viñales 1940s. It is one of the largest and most expressionistic I have seen of his Valle de Viñales landscape series. Above the Peláez is Acosta León’s Untitled, c. 1962-63. It shows an abstract representation of the springs of an old bed without a mattress, a recurring subject in his mature work. It is appropriately painted in brown and shades of white. Across the room there is another Acosta León, in this case, small, uncharacteristically colorful, and playful. The work of Acosta León, it’s strange animals, objects, and machines on wheels, it’s sense of pain, and its unique style are interestingly widely collected in Miami. The paintings of his that I have seen in this city mostly predate 1959 or are from the last years of his life (1963-64), when he lived in Europe on a scholarship.
As for the rest of the collection, two more pieces stayed with me. One is Arche’s
Retrato de Angel Gaztelu, 1937, a portrait of the then priest, later Monsignor, and poet, who befriended many of the modernist artists. Arche used his streamline naturalism, a modernist version of Early Renaissance painting, to express Franciscan simplicity. Most surprising was to turn a corner and find an Alberto Peña painting, Cuba en marcha, 1936. Peñita, as he was called, painted images of social commentary and is not as well known or appreciated as his contemporaries of the 1930s. This painting is about four by three feet and represents workers, white and black, rural and urban, surrounding a large female figure with a machete. Is this his Cuban version of the famous Eugene Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People? In any case, it is a call to arms at a time of political turbulence in Cuba
Mr. Delgado, like others collectors of Cuban Modern Art, also has at least one painting by Esteban Chartrand, Víctor Patricio Landaluze, and Leopoldo Romañach. They are not only considered masters, but also thought to be pioneers in the expression of an authentic Cuban identity.
This magnificent collection, carefully and enthusiastically put together over a fifteen-year period, no longer exists. Mr. Delgado has sold most of the paintings, turning his attention to contemporary art.
A friend of Mr. Delgado, who began to collect about the same time, is Felipe Del Valle. He is a medical doctor with extensive experience in genetric. His collection is not as extensive, but it is unique in that he collects modernist and academic or traditional art in equal amount. Besides having important paintings by most Cuban modernists of the first and second generation, he also owns fine paintings by Miguel Melero, Leopoldo Romañach, Domingo Ramos, Armando Menocal, and Antonio Rodríguez Morey, among others. In passing, his large Rodríguez Morey landscape at sunset is a magnificent example of Romanticism in Cuban art.
An aside, the collector and gallery owner Roberto Ramos is, to the best of my knowledge, the first to bring and promote traditional, usually call academic, Cuban art in Miami. He owns a large collection of such art and lots of documents about it. His collection is documented in Great Masters of Cuban Art, Ramos Collections, Museum of Arts and Sciences, Daytona Beach, 2009.
I remember only a few paintings from my visit to Dr.Del Valle’s home many years ago. One is Peláez’s Pianista, 194? , showing two women playing piano in a neo-colonial interior. The multitude of lid-up colors and black outlines resemble a glowing stained-glass window. The artist did two or more variations of this painting with subtle changes. I know of two versions in Miami collections. Peláez figurative paintings often represent not only her family, but an entire sector of Cuban society at that time: white, upper middle class, educated, and domestic women. I also remember Ponce’s Soldado ruso, c. 1940, a half-length figure, which does not look like a soldier and much less Russian, seen against an empty background. The figure’s elegant shirt and the background are in white, while the face is in ochre, achieving a dramatic contrast of light and dark. The expressionist effect is enhanced by the loaded brush strokes. Nearby was Enríquez’s Caballo rojo, 1954, a fine example of his “late style.” The horse is seen from the side and rear, turning his long neck and head to look back out of curiosity or fear. Its red color boldly contrasts with the green vegetation of the landscape. One last painting I remember in that intimate living room is Víctor Manuel’s Paisaje con flamboyanes rojo y azul, 1940s, one of his typical river landscapes of the 1940s, yet different. The not so sunny day and the blue flower Poinciana’s suggest a certain downcast.
One painting that stayed with me from that visit was Enrique García Cabrera’s Mujeres recogiendo frutas, 1948. He was a traditional artist, who mastered illustration and painting, including murals. The eight by six feet painting greeted the visitor upon walking into the house. In a crisp linear style, he depicted two women impeccably dressed in white gowns, definitely not peasants, picking mangoes from a robust tree. One is carrying a basket half full, while the other is shown grabbing fruits, thus the title. In front of them rests another basket with mangoes and anones, behind them is a landscape with a modern cement bridge. In this work, Garcia Cabrera created a tropical paradise with a slight flavor of ancient Athens or Rome.
Dr. Del Valle and Mr. Delgado teamed up their collections and published a book to show and document them: Remembering Cuba Through its Art. Private Collection in Exile, 2004. The words “remembering Cuba” and “exile” are key to understanding the collection of pre-1959 Cuban art in Miami. As mention earlier, there is a significant emotional element, tied to nostalgia and national identity, in the collection of the art in question. It would be ideal to have more collectors publish their collections to help disseminate images and basic information for pleasure and study purposes.
Isaac Rudman is a businessman, who ArtNews included in its 2013 list of the 200 most important collectors in the United States. One of his interests is Cuban Modern Art. I saw part of his collection in a highly secured storage and in his home and that of his wife in North East Miami. In storage, he had first-rate paintings by just about every Cuban modernist. Two that stand out are Carreño’s Fuego en el batey, 1943, the companion piece to La danza Afro-Cubana and Lam’s Malembo, Dios de la encrucijada, 1943, one of his first full fledge paintings based on Afro-Cuban religious culture. It also marks the beginning of his life-long fascination with the Orisha Eleggua, the messenger of the Gods in the Lucumí religion. Given their key place in each of these artist’s careers, these works are highly valuable and price in millions of dollars. There, he also kept Mariano’s early masterpiece, La hebra 1939, representing a robust working-class seamstress, and a beautiful ornate interior of Portocarrero’s acclaimed series, Interior del Cerro 1943. It went on and on. One artist who stood out because of the quantity of works was Abela. Mr. Rudman explained that he had a special liking for him and wanted one day to sponsor an Abela exhibition.
From there, we drove to his condominium. At the entrance was a reclining nude in bronze by Botero. I smiled and thought I was going to see a mix of modernIst art from Latin America. Actually, most of the works on the walls were by Cuban artists. Above the sofa was Peláez Mujer, 1941-44, a large representation of a single woman, seating on a chair, holding a pair of scissors, and surrounded by an intricate embroidered piece of cloth. Behind her, the decoration of the wall and ceiling gives her a kind of halo. It is a monumental and elegant representation of a seamstress, a recurrent figure in Cuban art and literature, and offers quite a contrast to Mariano’s La hebra in the same collection. On the main wall of the dining room is another Peláez. This is one of her minimal still life of the 1930s, of which are now half dozen excellent examples in Miami. Its horizontal composition shows a small vase with unidentifiable fruits, around which is a difficult to define form of white semicircles. The background is made up of two flat bands of orange, brown and gold. In these very different paintings, one can see Peláez unique combination of cubism and pattern.
Turning a corner, I encountered Bermúdez’s Niña en rosado, 1943, a vertical painting of a standing girl elegantly dressed in pink, daydreaming and waiting. Candy for the eyes. Turning again, I saw Ponce’s Dos mujeres, 1940s, a medium size painting of two half-length females in profile, looking into space. It is a soft, meditative image. In Santo Domingo, where Mr. Rudman has his permanent residency, he has Ponce’s Los Niños, c. 1938. This large painting in ochre and white impasto shows three children and a dog in a barren landscape, seemingly wandering and possibly lost. Not the expected happy or innocent representation of children. The painting is a close relative of an award-winning painting by Ponce of the same title and date in the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Havana. Isaac took me last to a small sitting room and there, among Taino sculptures, was Lam’s renowned Cuatro Elementos, 1945. It was smaller than I had imagined. The image represents, symbolically, the four essential elements in the Afro-Cuban religion of Lucumí: water, plants, rocks, and shells.
Mr. Rudman’s remarkable collection of Cuban Modern Art is always in flux, with new paintings arriving and others leaving. He strongly believes in Sigmund Freud’s adage that a collection which does not change is dead.
There are three more local collections that I have not visited but should be mentioned because they -have substantial holdings of Cuban modernist art. Dr. Blas Reyes, a well-known dermatologist, has an extensive collection of 20th century Cuban art numbering in the hundreds. He has a democratic taste and the collection includes major and minor artists. A major part of the collection is dedicated to Cuban Modern Art and the works range from that of well-known artists, like Víctor Manuel, Enríquez, Ponce, Pélaez, Portocarrero, etc. to not so well known, like María Capdevila. Two iconic drawings in his possession are Martinez Pedro’s Retrato con paisaje cubano, 1941 and Portocarrero’s Primavera, 1940, both illustrated in Gómez Sicre’s Pintura cubana de hoy. Dr. Reyes owns various paintings by two modernist artists that deserve more recognition: Cerra and Peña. One of the strongest holding of his collection are abstract paintings of the 1950s and early 1960s by many of the artists who practiced abstraction in Cuba. As of today, Dr. Reyes continues to collect.
Mr. Tony Argiz is the CEO of one of the forty major accounting firms in the United States. He has been collecting since 1978 and owns over fifty paintings by modernist and contemporary Cuban artists. Mr. Argiz has works by all of the best-known artists of the first and second generation modernists, including excellent Víctor Manuel, Peláez, Mariano, Portocarrero, and Bermúdez. His collection also features art by contemporary Cuban and Cuban American artists.
Worth mentioning are three large, outstanding paintings by Tomás Sánchez, Arturo Rodríguez, and Carlos Alfonzo each. This collection continues to grow.
Mr. Mike Férnandez is a businessman and a philanthropist. He began collecting in 1989 and has put together a grand collection of over one hundred artworks. He collects paintings and sculptures by modernist and contemporary artists, mostly Cuban. Mr. Férnandez has dozens of paintings by Lam, Peláez, Víctor Manuel, Bermúdez, and Portocarrero. The contemporary pieces by Sánchez, José Bedia, Alexis Leiva Machado, known as Kcho, and Roberto Fabelo, among others, are first rate. He is an active collector.
The collecting of Cuban Modern Art in South Florida has affected the history of this art in various ways. The quantity and quality of the art in question has made Miami, unthinkable to its creators, a major center for its circulation, study, and conservation. Art galleries and independent art dealers have provided a steady and quality supply. Quality is more difficult to prove than quantity, but I believe that if there were a cannon of Cuban art, the majority of the paintings I have described in this narrative would be part of it. Related to the marketing success of this art is the problem of forgeries, which is an issue in today’s study of the art in question.
In the last ten years, the first three generations of modern Cuban artists have received more attention than ever, certainly if measured by publications. During this time, books, book chapters, articles, and essayed exhibition catalogues have proliferated. Of major significance in terms of in-depth information about individual artists have been the monographs and catalogue raisonné. Practically every modernist artist has one: Lam (various), Bermúdez (2000), Consuegra (2001), Gattorno (2004), Abela (2010), Víctor Manuel (2010), Enríquez (2010), Pogolotti (20??), Rodríguez (n/d), Raúl Martínez (2012), Agustín Fernández (2012), and Portocarrero (2014). Peláez and Ponce’s monographs are forthcoming. Lam and Rodriguez have catalogues raisonné as well. A look at the plates in all of these publications, with the exception of Pogolotti, reveals that a sizable number of the artworks are in Miami private collections. The fact that local collectors helped finance the bulk of the above publications does not detract from the importance of the included artworks, while making these valuable books possible.
An important aspect of the collecting in question that is often taken for granted is preservation. Motivated to protect their investment and out of a sense of responsibility to safeguard their material heritage, most of the collectors I have known have seen to it that the art is protected and if needed restored. In Cuba, the lack of controlled temperature in most houses and the lack of money for restoration mean that many of the works that have arrived here need intervention. Works that were bought back in the 1940s and 1950s and have come to Miami from Latin America, the Caribbean, and even this country have often also need restoration, or at least cleaning. All of the pieces that I have seen in collections and galleries are well preserved, many having been restored since their arrival. Not all restorers are competent, but the majority of them are professional and have saved quite a few pieces from the ravages of time. The process has assured that the pieces are in good condition for present and future exhibition and study.
I believe that being a major repository of Cuban art brings a certain responsibility to Miami art institutions and collectors. That responsibility is to share it with the community, a large percentage of which is Cuban or of Cuban descent, through exhibitions. Unfortunately, local museums, mostly dedicated to contemporary art, have shown very little interest in curating monographic or collective exhibitions of Cuban Modern Art. Two recent exceptions are the retrospective exhibition of Amelia Peláez at the Pérez Art Museum of Miami, when it reopened in 2013, and the 2018 retrospective of Rafael Soriano at the Frost Art Museum. The Lowe Art Museum and the Frost Art Museum would be ideal venues for a comprehensive exhibition of this period of Cuban art because both have academic centers dedicated to the study of Cuban culture. I challenge these museums to use the resources in their institutions and in this city to curate a major exhibition on the subject at hand. I also challenge the collectors to finance it.
Although not a part of this testimony, there are a few local institutional collections that include Cuban Modern Art and should be acknowledged. The Lowe Art Museum of the University of Miami has numerous paintings and drawings by modernIst Cuban artists, including rare pieces. The majority were inherited from the former Museo Cubano de Arte y Cultura upon its demised in the late 1990s. Two collections bequest to that museum in the 1980s are worth mentioning. The Nicaraguan journalist Eduardo Avíles Rámirez donated fifteen drawings and at least one painting. While living in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s, Avíles Rámirez befriended and helped many visiting Cuban artists, gathering a small but important collection of Cuban Modern Art. There are seminal pieces by Enríquez, Abela, and Víctor Manuel, which reveal the early Parisian development of their mature style. A much larger donation is the former collection of Rafael Casalins, the food and art critic for El Nuevo Herald in the 1980s. He donated thirty-eight artworks of Cuban Modern and Contemporary Art. The highlights of the collection are a Lam and eight 1950s paintings by members of the group Los Once, which introduced Abstract Expressionism into Cuban art during that decade. There are two paintings each by Guido Llinás, Raúl Martínez, Hugo Consuegra and Antonio Vidal. In the 1980s and 1990s, there were few paintings by these artists in Miami and very little interest in Cuban abstract art. Mr. Casalins is, to the best of my knowledge, the first collector of Cuban art to bequeath his collection to a local institution.
The renown Cuban ethnographer Lydia Cabrera directly bequest her collection of artworks by Lam to the Lowe Art Museum. She was a close friend of Wifredo Lam in the 1940s and collected dozens of drawings and three unique paintings by him. Many of the drawings give an insight to Lam’s budding mature style, a synthesis of Cubism and Surrealism. The paintings are portraits of Cabrera (two) and a friend (one) in styles ranging from a mild cubism to a unique expressionism. These portraits are not typical Lam in their visual language and are very personal.
The Pérez Art Museum of Miami owns a number of Cuban modernist paintings donated by the businessman and philanthropist Jorge Pérez. The collection includes first-rate paintings by Peláez, Lam, and Bermúdez, among others. Mr. Pérez also donated an eclectic collection of Cuban paintings, which includes modest modernist works, to the Frost Art Museum of Florida International University. This collection has small fine paintings, not your typical ones, by Mirta Cerra, Enríquez, Acosta León, and Carreño, among others.
Since 1963 The Cintas Foundation has given annual cash awards on a competitive basis to Cuban artists living outside of the Island. It also awards prizes in literature and architecture. Last year it opened the competition to artists, writers, and architects living in Cuba. The collection is made up of works of art given by Cuban and Cuban American artists who received the award. It includes a large group of paintings by modernist artists, who left Cuba after the Revolution. It allows one to see post-Cuba paintings by the likes of Bermúdez, Mijares, Soriano, Consuegra, Llinás, Agustín Férnandez, and others. They attest to the changes and growth seen in the work of these artists as they reacted to a new life. There is a long trajectory of Cuban artists working outside the island since the late 19th century, with the largest concentration after 1959.
Finally, the Bacardi company has a valuable collection of Cuban Modern Art in its headquarters in Coral Gables. It has representative paintings by many of the Cuban modernists of the first and second generation. Its treasure is a 1938 mural by Gattorno about an idealized Cuban countryside. It was painted for their then headquarters in the Empire State Building in New York City and brought to Miami in the 1960s.
These collections also contribute to the wealth of Cuban Modern Art in Miami. Although these institutions seldom show the art in question, it is available for viewing and studying upon request.