Cuban Art News publisher and art collector Howard Farber
Courtesy Cuban Art News

Earlier this month, publisher Howard Farber and his wife Patricia traveled to Havana to give a presentation about their collecting experiences at the 6th Salon of Contemporary Cuban Art. In a quick interview, he reflects on his time in Havana.

Tell us about the talk that you and Pat gave on October 2 at the Fototeca de Cuba.

From the Farbers’ previous collection of American Modernist art, Georgia O’Keeffe, Petunia, 1925
Courtesy The Farber Collection

We were invited by the Centro de Desarrollo de Artes Visuales (CDAV), the organizers of the Salon of Contemporary Cuban Art, to give a presentation as part of this year’s program. The topic was “Adventures in Collecting.” We’ve been collecting for more than 40 years, and we wanted to share our story with others. It’s been a great ride, and it’s still a work in progress. The trip was a great opportunity to connect with the current art scene in Havana, and to meet old friends and make new ones: critics, artists, writers, curators.

Was there something particularly appealing about sharing those experiences with a Cuban audience?

Of course. My life for the last 12 years has been immersed in Cuban contemporary art and culture. Who better to share it with than Cuban people? Where can we have a better audience? This was a once-in-a-lifetime thrill for us.

The people at CDAV and the Fototeca were so gracious, and did everything humanly possible to make the event wonderful.

From the Farbers’ previous collection of Chinese contemporary art, Geng Jianyi, The Second State, 1987
Courtesy The Farber Collection

An amazing thing, though, was that 45 minutes before the event began, there was a torrential rainstorm. The heavens opened up with thunder, lightening, and flooding, turning the streets to rivers and making travel almost impossible. We were sure that no one would come to the talk. Imagine our surprise when a hundred people showed! This is Cuba and Cubans—dedicated to the arts and eager to learn more. We love that.

What did the audience find most interesting or surprising in your talk?

That’s hard for me to answer, as I don’t know what people think. But there was a collective gasp when we told them that Cuban Art News is read in 171 countries.

I don’t think anyone knew that the interest in Cuban art is that international.

Patricia Farber, curator Abelardo Mena Chicuri, and Howard Farber giving the presentation at the Fototeca Cubana as part of the 6th Salon of Cuban Contemporary Art in Havana
Courtesy The Farber Collection

We also spoke briefly about the Cuban Art Awards, which are being sponsored by our nonprofit organization, The Farber Foundation. I think people were very pleased to hear that somebody is giving individual artists the recognition they deserve. And we hope the monetary rewards will make a difference, especially for the “Young Cuban Artist of the Year,” an emerging artist 35 or under.

For readers who might not know about them, tell us a little about the awards.

They will be given biannually, and there are two awards: Cuban Artist of the Year, and Young Cuban Artist of the Year. We started this spring with a team of nominators, on the island and off. They came up with a list of five nominees in each category. A separate jury will decide the winners. They will be announced in January.

Both the nominating committee and the jurors will be different for each biannual award.

From The Farber Collection, Los Carpinteros, Un Peso, 1991
Courtesy The Farber Collection

How would you describe the contemporary art scene in Havana as you experienced it on this trip?

I’d say the contemporary Cuban art scene is thriving and vibrant. There’s terrific energy around the visual arts. Cuba has become a major supplier of great contemporary art in all media but most especially, and new to me, video. I was very impressed with Caridad Blanco’s video show at the Wifredo Lam Center, Las otras narraciones, una década de animación en Cuba (The Other Stories: A Decade of Animation in Cuba). I also liked the show that Alejandro Machado curated at Factoría Habana, La utilidad de la Historia (The Utility of History).

From The Farber Collection, Carlos Estévez, A través del universo (Across the Universe), 1992
Courtesy The Farber Collection

Were you able to make many studio visits?

Unfortunately, no. There were a lot of meetings. I met with people from CDAV, of course, and the Museo Nacional, the Wifredo Lam Center, and the Fototeca. There were interviews—with Prensa Latina and another with Cuba Contemporáneo, to name only two. And I spent quality time with my curator, Havana editor, and friend, Abelardo Mena.

I regret that I didn’t have enough time to meet with artists. I’m already planning a return trip soon.

From The Farber Collection, Sandra Ramos, La Pesadilla (The Nightmare), 1997
Courtesy The Farber Collection

Did you make any acquisitions on this trip?

Well, it really wasn’t a collecting visit, but as we said to our friends and the audience for our talk, we never go home empty-handed. The latest additions will be posted on the Farber Collection websitesoon.

Any parting thoughts?

It is dazzling that one small island can produce such big talent. This is our job at Cuban Art News—to communicate Cuba’s art, and the excitement it inspires, to the world at large.

From The Farber Collection, Eduardo Ponjuán & René Francisco, Outside Cuba Inside, 1993
Courtesy The Farber Collection