Carlos Garaicoa, La General Tristeza Negará Placeres (The General Gloom Will Negate Pleasures)
Courtesy Matadero Madrid

This week we round up exhibitions by José A. Figueroa, Carlos Estévez, Carlos Garaicoa and Abel Barroso, held respectively in Los Angeles, Madrid and Havana. Despite the global crisis, the Cuban art factory is going strong.

The Other Side of the 1960s: Joseph A. Figueroa at Couturier Gallery, Los Angeles
Through October 16, Couturier Gallery is presenting My 60s, a solo show of images by photographer José A. Figueroa, one of the artists that photo historian Grethel Morell has identified as part of the photo-documentalist trend that emerged in Cuba after 1969. Korda, Raul Corrales, Osvaldo and Roberto Salas, and Liborio Noval had photographed large rallies, soldiers, Che and Fidel—History with a capital H. Figueroa turned his gaze instead to the young people of Havana: their everyday lives, their holidays and romances, far from the battlefields and the endless sugar cane harvests. At Couturier, My 60s is being presented for the first time in the United States; the exhibition coincides with the publication of José A. Figueroa: A Cuban Self- Portrait, written by Cuban curator Cristina Vives and published by Turner Madrid.

Carlos Estévez: Itinerarium Mentis at Gallery Luz and Suárez del Villar, Madrid
Through November 20, Madrileños have an opportunity to discover the work of Carlos Estévez, one of the most unusual Cuban artists to have emerged since the 1990s. Curated by Andrés Isaac Santana, Itinerarium Mentis focuses on the artist’s key creative motifs, exploring the anthropological and existential dimensions of his art.

In the 1990s, Estévez’s work was included in several exhibitions of Cuban art presented in Spain. But this solo show offers a the possibility for viewers to immerse themselves in his work.

At the beginning of his creative career, Estévez followed in the footsteps of established Cuban artists such as Juan Francisco Elso and José Bedia, who revived long-overlooked visual aesthetics, materials, and non-Western artistic styles to express their dissatisfaction with modernist optimism. Reflecting his mature style, Estévez’s paintings are now delicate tattoos on canvas, melding nautical charts, astrological charts, old mechanical plans, and the symbols of Afro-Cuban religions to create a universe populated with human, plant, and animal life.

“All his work,” says exhibition curator Santana, “focuses on the spiritual universe of man, creating sophisticated metaphors about life and death, duality, opposites, relationships and juxtapositions—which are always troubled and hazardous—between men and architecture, body and machine, man and beast, good and evil, the earthly and the transcendental.”

Bringing the City Home: Fin de Silencio (End of Silence) by Carlos Garaicoa at Matadero Madrid
Through November 7, the Matadero Madrid Contemporary Art Center Madrid is showing new works by internationally acclaimed artist Carlos Garaicoa. In Fin de silencio (End of Silence), welcome signs—usually placed at the entrace of shops and storefronts in Havana—have been turned into seven tapestries, which rest on the floor of the building’s cold storage room. Woven into them are names of long-gone Havana shops: La Lucha (The Fight), El Pensamiento (The Thought), Sin rival (Without Rival), Reina (Queen). To these, Garaicoa has added his own texts, turning them into phrases with entirely different meanings: It’s Everyone’s Fight, for instance, or The Queen Destroys or Redeems. Memories of the city are transformed into portable objects of domestic use—in this case, carpets.

Garaicoa’s objects, models, installations and drawings emerge slowly, ideas that start sparking from their contact with the urban landscape, historical memory, or the delicate transfer of content from one physical object to another. Recent exhibitions of Garaicoa’s work include Overlapping, presented by the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Lands in Abeyance at the Museum of Modern Art, Medellin, Making Amends at the Graphics Studio in Tampa, and The Point, Line and Surface at the Central East Gallery in London.

Abel Barroso, Chronicler of Globalization, at Villa Manuela Gallery in Havana
Running through October, Real Walls, Virtual Walls is Abel Barroso’s current exhibition in Havana. Wood has long been the artist’s hallmark material, which he uses in his three-dimensional sculptures, intricately carved in the style of woodcuts.

For several years, Barroso’s works have explored the consequences of the economic globalization, which he presents, with large doses of humor, from a Third World perspective. The desire and need to migrate in order to have a better life, fear of the “other,” unfulfilled dreams, and unresolved contradictions are all captured in the artist’s maquettes and mock-ups, hand-carved but functional, which are operated with levers and handles like eighteenth-century mechanical toys.

Barroso also appropriates sport-themed amusements to imply the fortuitous, haphazard way that the poor occasionally triumph over those with greater advantages. On a football table, for instance, he created Back Home, a game between the inhabitants of an advanced metropolis and those of a faraway favela. Similarly, Double Nationality is an interactive work in which spectators attempt to throw hoops over the North and South and are given passports if they succeed. Barroso’s work exemplifies the opening of Cuban art to contemporary social phenomena on a broader scale, beyond the harsh realities of the island.