Kcho (Alexis Leyva Machado), Siempre fue verde, 1991–1992, remade 1996
Photo: Cuban Art News

Last Friday, Wild Noise/Ruido Salvaje opened at the Bronx Museum of the Arts. Originally planned as the second half of an exhibition exchange with the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Havana, the show ran into a series of setbacks.

Among the obstacles was a concern on the part of the Cubans that state-owned art sent to the United States would be subject to seizure, in response to legal claims by Cubans in the US whose property in Cuba had been taken after the Revolution.

The museum did obtain immunity from seizure for the exhibition, said Bronx Museum Director Holly Block, but the Cubans decided not to lend work from the Museo Nacional’s collection, “considering the change in administration [in Washington].”

“We really expected to bring the collection here [from Havana],” she added, leaving the curatorial team little more than a month to organize a new show. Bronx Museum curators collaborated on the show with Corina Matamoros and Aylet Ojeda Jequín, curators of contemporary Cuban art at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes.

A view of the exhibition with, from left: Two watercolors by Alexandre Arrechea; Cambio (Change), bronze sculpture by José Ángel Vincench; two watercolors by Los Carpinteros; Embajada rusa, 2003, by Los Carpinteros; and at right, Tracción animal, 1995, by Douglas Pérez.
Photo: Cuban Art News

The 60 or so works represent approximately 30 artists. Most works are from the Bronx Museum’s own collection, with others coming from private collections in New York and Florida, and from the artists themselves. An attempt was made to follow the selection of works from the Museo Nacional, said Block, but not all of the original artists could be represented.

Another gallery in the show. On wall at left, two works by José Bedia: Mi conuco al piede la loma (My garden at the front of the hill), 1996; and Nkumbe Makaró Ambuata, 1996. In the vitrine in the foreground, an art book by Glenda León, Cada sonido es una forma del tiempo (Every sound is a form of time), 2015; at the rear, four collages by Quisqueya Henríquez.
Photo: Cuban Art News

Even so, the exhibition presents a broad, multigenerational survey. The artists on view range from established figures like José Bedia, Carlos Garaicoa, and Los Carpinteros to younger artists like Wilfredo Prieto, José Ángel Vincench, and Humberto Díaz. Díaz recently returned to the Bronx for the second part of a three-month artist residency.

Works by Humberto Díaz, currently artist in residence at the museum: from left, Barber’s Beard, 2015; the photo series Libertad Condicional (Conditional Liberty) #1–6, 2011; and Escobita Nueva (New Little Sweeper), 2014.
Photo: Cuban Art News

Among the works making their public debut is Eighteen Reasons to Cease Making Art, a wry photographic series by Felipe Dulzaides. There is a puckish humor too in Sandra Ceballos’s que la patria os contemple orgullosa (For the homeland looks proudly to you), which expressively arranges souvenir t-shirts under glass domes.

Sandra Ceballos, Que la patria os contemple orgullosa (For the homeland looks proudly to you), 2012
Photo: Cuban Art News

Two works by Abel Barroso, lent by private collections, also strike a satirical note. Home encapsulates the migrant condition in a house-shaped, wooden backpack, while Alucinaciones de fin de siglo uses a hand-carved miniature dump truck to meditate on wealth and currency.

Abel Barroso, Alucinaciones de fin de siglo
Photo: Cuban Art News

The art market itself comes in for ironic treatment in René Francisco’s Dos coleccionistas (Two collectors), its right edge bordered by 35mm slides.

René Francisco, Dos coleccionistas (Two collectors), 2010
Photo: Cuban Art News

Other works are somberly meditative. A group of pieces by José Toirac, and by Toirac with Meira Marrero, collectively reflect on Cuban history and politics. The Twelve is a set of portraits that allude to the 12 apostles. Done in pencil, gold leaf, and red wine, they depict unidentified bodies left in the morgue after dictator Fulgencio Batista fled the country in 1959.

José Toirac and Meira Marrero, two works in the series The Twelve, 2012
Photo: Cuban Art News

This haunting series is positioned directly opposite a similar, earlier work by Toirac. Cara y Cruz (Heads and Tails) is a grid of 16 oil paintings that depict individuals who were executed by various groups just before and after the Revolution. “With this installation,” the curators wrote, “Toirac emphasizes the commonality of death, where the barriers between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ vanish.”

A view of the exhibition with, from left: partial view of Esterio Segura, El vuelo (The Flight), 1999; José Toirac, Cara y cruz (Heads and tails), 1996; in vitrine, Reynier Leyva Novo, Revolución: Una y mil veces (Revolution: One and a Thousand Times), 2011. On table in background, a partial view of Wilfredo Prieto’s series of untitled works, 2011 and 2013.
Photo: Cuban Art News

One artist who is notably absent is Tania Bruguera, who called a press conference last month to demand that her 1996 video performance, Cabeza Abajo/Head Down, be withdrawn from the show. According to the New York Times, Bruguera felt that the project “relied too closely on the Cuban government, which she opposes.”

Block expressed regret at Bruguera’s response, but the museum is honoring her wishes. The video, part of the museum’s collection since 2000, is “a work that we’ve shown many times,” Block said, “and we’re sad she’s not here.” But, she added, “we don’t embargo cultural institutions. We are about exchange and ideas.”

Photo: Cuban Art News

Wild Noise/Ruido Salvaje runs through July 3 at the Bronx Museum of the Arts.

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Susan Delson
Susan Delson has been the New York editor of Cuban Art News since 2009. A former member of the Metropolitan Museum of Art education department, as editor she has worked with the Museum of Modern Art, Asia Society, El Museo del Barrio, and other institutions. Her books include the film study/biography Dudley Murphy, Hollywood Wild Card and (as editor) Ai Weiwei: Circle of Animals. As a magazine editor, she has worked at Forbes, Louise Blouin Media, and other companies.