Cuban Art News publisher Howard Farber, center, and his wife Patricia Farber at the studio of Roberto Fabelo
Courtesy Roberto Fabelo

Late last month Cuban Art News publisher Howard Farber and his wife Patricia made a short trip to Havana. Here is his impression of the city, six weeks after the December 17 announcement.

What brought you to Havana on this trip? Had it been scheduled before the December 17 announcement of the talks to restore diplomatic relations?

Yes, the trip was on the calendar for a while. I was in Havana in October [to give a presentation for CDAV’s 6th Salon of Contemporary Art], with a very tight schedule. There were many artists that I didn’t have a chance to see then, and even though I was there for five days this time, I still didn’t have the opportunity to see everyone I wanted to. Time goes so quickly there, and when you visit an artist’s studio, the idea is not to run in and out, but to talk, linger, see what they’re doing—to savor the experience.

Did you feel that things had changed in Havana since your last visit?

Absolutely. There’s a lot of positive energy. You feel it as soon as the plane lands—a revived energy. For the first time, I saw a lot of young people in Havana from all over the world—American, but also more French, German, Italian, and Japanese. It’s as though the place has been given a spark, and things are moving. Certain areas in Old Havana were really crowded—many more tourists, and more diverse.

But also, people on the street, resident Cubans, seemed happier.

What about the art scene in Havana?

Again, I didn’t have time to see everybody, but I did visit some of the top artists, and it wasn’t “hit and run”—they were substantial, time-consuming visits. It seems to me that the great artists are working harder than I’ve seen before. They seemed very happy. And so many of the emerging artists that I met are planning for a different and better future.

For the artists, awareness is everything. That’s the thing I’ve always said: Cuban contemporary art needs international awareness. And when you read, in print or online, something every day about US-Cuba relations, even conflicting stories add to the awareness.

Overall, I think the artists have gotten a welcome shot of adrenalin. It was refreshing to see their attitudes on this trip. Artists see endless possibilities, and I agree with them. I feel that the great ones are going to be international stars.

New York Times article quoted artist Roberto Diago as voicing concern about the influx of new collectors causing the quality of the art to go down.

That’s a fear of every collector, any time a market starts to become popular. I witnessed that with Chinese contemporary art 15 years ago. More awareness brings a supply-and-demand situation. But from what I saw, that hasn’t happened. They’re still doing great work. It’s something I stress to the artists I’ve been seeing: Don’t let the art suffer. Continue being creative. Keep your quality up there.

Did you see much of an increase in prices for artwork on this trip?

I saw a slight increase in prices—very slight, which to me is only normal.

We assume that you made some art purchases on this trip. Are you aware of any changes in shipping procedures yet?

I always make purchases when I visit Havana, and you’ll see them soon on the Farber Collectionwebsite. There’s been a problem getting work out of the country, but that will change. People forget that it’s been only six weeks since Obama’s relaxing of the US laws. We’re dealing with 50 years of legal complications.

We understand that while you were there, you met with Jorge Fernández, the director of the upcoming Bienal. What can you tell us about the Bienal? What are you looking forward to?

From what I understand, this is probably going to be the best Bienal ever. There’s a fresh, new approach. It’s not going to be focused in one location—it’ll be decentralized, throughout Havana. This Bienal will be historic, with a massive amount of people coming, especially US collectors, critics, curators, and museum people. I like the fact that they’re using the whole city. It’s a very smart move, and I think the attendees will be surprised in a good way.

Anything else you’d like us to know?

Only that while we were down there, Patty had an interesting interview with Viengsay Valdés, the prima ballerina of the Cuban National Ballet. She is very charming. Look for it here on Cuban Art News in the next few weeks.