Ella Fontanals-Cisneros
Photo: Mauricio Donalli, courtesy Cisneros-Fontanals Art Foundation (CIFO)

In late January, the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation (CIFO) announced the recipients of its 2018 Grants & Commissions Program awards.

The media announcement also included the news that after its April exhibition, the CIFO Art Space would close.

Instead, the foundation will focus on working with partner institutions to create exhibitions that will tour internationally to reach a broader global audience.

In a phone conversation from Madrid, CIFO founder Ella Fontanals-Cisneros spoke with Cuban Art News about CIFO in Miami, Cuban art and artists, her own collecting, and CIFO’s plans going forward.

Two works by Carmen Herrera now on view at CIFO Art Space in Triángulo: Loló Soldevilla, Sandú Darié and Carmen Herrera
Courtesy Cisneros-Fontanals Art Foundation (CIFO)

CIFO Art Space has been presenting exhibitions in Miami since 2005. What’s the thinking behind the decision to close the space?

It’s a new step for us at CIFO. We started by asking: What can we do to encourage not only Latin American art but the artists to be better known?

We started to think, Well, maybe this is the time for us to be not so local.

Our mission has always been to support Latin American artists, so that more people have access to all of them and they have access to other parts of the world—other galleries and other publics in general. So this change came out of a need to step up our mission in different way—to be much more active, to step into a more international arena.

Two works by Sandú Darié now on view at CIFO Art Space in Triángulo: Loló Soldevilla, Sandú Darié and Carmen Herrera
Courtesy Cisneros-Fontanals Art Foundation (CIFO)

My idea has always been that the collection has to have good access by the public. And right now I’m thinking about how to make that permanent, eventually, in a much wider version for the general public around the world. And also for our artists. As I mentioned, it is very important for us that they have access to a much more global audience.

It’s an ambitious vision. What’s on the schedule for 2018?

We have two exhibitions in Ecuador. This year is the Cuenca Biennial, which is the one of the oldest biennials in Latin America. There, we will have an exhibition of the last 15 years of Grants & Commissions projects. And at the same time, in Quito, we will host the award winners for this year.

Aside from that, we will have an exhibition in Mexico, which will open at a new museum in Morelos, in Cuernavaca—an exhibition from the collection, of Gustavo Pérez Monzón, a Cuban artist who lives in Mexico. This is an exhibition that we did in Miami and also in Cuba.

A view of the exhibition Gustavo Pérez Monzón: Tramas, presented at CIFO in 2015–16
Courtesy Podfanatic

After that, we have another exhibition in Brazil. We don’t know the itinerary for that one yet. It will be a show of the collection in general.

And we have a small exhibition here in Madrid during ARCO, in February.

We haven’t completely closed the agenda for the collection this year. But we have at least four or five venues.

How would you describe the art scene in Miami at the present moment, and CIFO’s relationship to Miami going forward?

First, we still have our offices in Miami, and will do all of the processing of the Grants & Commissions from Miami.

A view of the exhibition Toda percepción es una interpretación: YOU ARE PART OF IT, presented at CIFO in 2016–17
Photo: Oriol Tarridas, courtesy Cisneros-Fontanals Art Foundation (CIFO)

We’ve been in Miami for over 15 years. And we have had that space, in which we were showing Latin American art and our collection, for the past 13 years. I think we have contributed a lot to what Miami is now as a city for the arts.

But I think it’s still just starting. Miami doesn’t yet have what we really want in general for the public, and the visitors are not as numerous as we would like to have. But we’re working on it. I think all the institutions in Miami are working on presenting better exhibitions to attract more people. But I think we’re still not there yet.

Remember, also, that Miami has a lot of other things to offer—the beach, the sun, the other things that attract a lot of the people who come to Miami. The cultural arena has to share that space with all these other things.

How does Cuba figure in your plans going forward?

In the last five years, I have bought a lot of Cuban art, which I think has enhanced the collection a lot. Because of the interest right now, we are presenting an exhibition of three Cuban Concrete artists that I’ve taken a lot of interest in promoting: Sandú Darié, Loló Soldevilla, and Carmen Herrera. For us, that is an important part of the collection.

A view of the current exhibition, Triángulo: Loló Soldevilla, Sandú Darié and Carmen Herrera, showing the work of Loló Soldevilla
Courtesy Cisneros-Fontanals Art Foundation (CIFO)

At CIFO, we include Cuba in everything we do. We have curators in Cuba who participate on our board of advisors, and are continually promoting new artists to come into the Grants & Commissions program. This year, one of the award winners is Cuban [Lázaro Saavedra, in the Mid-Career category].

A frame from the 2006 video El síndrome de la sospecha (Suspicion Syndrome) by Lázaro Saavedra, currently on view in Adiós Utopia at the Walker Art Center
Courtesy Walker Art Center & Ella Fontanals-Cisneros Collection

We also had planned an exhibition for the Havana Biennale that was supposed to take place in 2018, which was postponed—we don’t know what’s going to happen. But we always have plans.

CIFO has also bought some art archives that were in private hands in Cuba [Archivo Veigas, now Archivo CIFO-Veigas]. We have a project to put these archives in a great situation physically, because they were lacking the proper handling. In order to give them to Cuba, to leave them there. This is a project that we’re continuously working on.

So there are lots of things that we’re doing with the Foundation in Cuba. And outside Cuba with Cuban artists, of course.

What about your own collecting? What is of interest to you now?

Right now, I am in the process of reviewing the collection. Because I am planning to give part of my Latin American collection to the public, I am rethinking everything that is in it, and what would be the best way for it to stay available to the public forever.

Sandú Darié, Untitled, c. 1950, currently on view at CIFO Art Space
Courtesy Cisneros-Fontanals Art Foundation (CIFO)

I’m also reviewing what doesn’t fit in collection anymore—not what isn’t valuable, but what doesn’t fit. So I’m going through a period of rethinking—rethinking the collection, rethinking what we have in it, reorganizing, taking things that maybe don’t fit anymore. So that we can really be clear about where to go.

I am constantly buying art,  in Cuba and in other places. But I am not focusing right now on a direction. We have a lot of changes in the Foundation, so there are going to be a lot of changes in the collection.

I’m giving myself three months to do that. Then I will make a decision on where to go with it.

With the schedule you’ve outlined for CIFO, will you be spending less time in Miami yourself?

In the last month, I’ve been traveling a lot. I’m staying, for example now, two months in Madrid. And although I’m spending a little less time in Cuba than before, I still go there a lot—because I have all these projects going on there, I’m still involved.

But because of these thoughts I was telling you about, reviewing everything, and putting more emphasis on organizing the collection in general, I think I will be more outside Miami in next six months or more.

Raúl Martínez, Rosas y Estrellas (Roses and Stars), 1972
Courtesy Walker Art Center & The Farber Collection

Adiós Utopia is an important exhibition, and there’s a feeling that it should have gone to more museums. Why do you think that didn’t happen? And what are your plans for the show?

Right now we’re talking to countries outside the United States to take Adiós Utopia, and we are thinking that the exhibition will probably go to Europe. The problem is that it’s difficult to maintain a show for more than a year and a half—for lenders to continue letting you use the works. But we’re working on it, and even if the exhibition is a little smaller, we’re trying to see if it can travel.

Aside from that, I wish we could have done it in other parts of the United States. Because it would reach a public that has not been very much aware of what’s happening in Cuba in the arts.

I think the reasons are a bit political. For example, the exhibition was supposed to go to PAMM in Miami, and at last moment they all got afraid. It was going to Washington too, to the Smithsonian, and at the last minute they changed their mind.

In Cuba, they think that this is an exhibition that betrays the Revolution and so forth. And in the United States, or in Miami, they think the opposite. So where do we stand?

But I wish, I really wish. I can only say in Houston and at Walker it was wonderfully received, and people were very interested in understanding what happened. There was a lot of knowledge there for people who really haven’t had access to Cuban art.

Even for me, in the process of doing this exhibition, I learned a lot.

Any further thoughts?

I really wanted part of what I had collected in Cuban art to go back to Cuba. Because there were certain things that don’t exist in the museums there. When I was collecting all of these things from the 1980s and different periods, I was really planning for that work to come back to Cuba.

I tried my best to see if Cuba would let me do something about contemporary art, and about bringing more things to the public there. There was no reaction. There wasn’t any interest. Even though I offered to create or build a museum there.

It is frustrating for me. If I go to Cuba they think I am the enemy, almost. And then I come away from Cuba, and the other side thinks the same. People think that because I am in Cuba I have something to do with the political arena, which I haven’t at all. My intentions and my focus have always been on the art. The art and the artists, and how I can help in the organization, or in the needs of these artists in Cuba.