The United States and Cuba’s recent partial reconciliation with one another has opened borders for more than just politicians and diplomats.
The Bronx Museum and Cuba’s National Museum of Fine Arts announced in January 2015 that they have organized a major exchange of works from their respective collections over the next two years.
In December 2014 Obama reopened diplomatic relations with Cuba after 50 years of isolation from one another. In addition to a prisoner exchange and relaxed restrictions on money movements to and from the country, we’re now seeing some of the cultural benefits of diplomatic relations.
This exhibition is the first major organized cultural exchange between Cuba and the United States in over 50 years and represents a landmark moment in Western art history. Though small Cuban shows have been arranged in the States since the embargo started in 1960, an organized, large-scale exchange of this magnitude and ambition has never been possible.
Curatorial negotiations began long before the mainstream media heard about any thawing of the historically icy U.S.-Cuba relations. For the past 20 years, Holly Block, executive director of the Bronx Museum, has been traveling to Cuba, following the work of local artistes.
America hasn’t seen much Cuban artwork since the 1960s, and vice versa. The exchange could almost be said to act as a small-scale national retrospective for both countries for this reason. It won’t just be recent contemporary stuff on display; the works represent the last 50 years of Modern art.
More than 80 works from the Bronx Museum’s permanent collection dating from and depicting the past 50 years, from the swinging 1960s through to today, will be shown in Cuba from May 21 until Aug. 16, 2015. These dates also happen to coincide with the 12th Havana Biennial. The timing of the exchange is a boon for Havana-based art-lovers this year.
In fall 2016, more than 100 works from Cuba will travel to New York, though exhibition dates have not yet been given. The Bronx Museum has been a long-time champion and collector of Cuban and Cuban-American artists, as well as other Latin American, African, and Asian artists.
Of course, the rest of the world is no stranger to Cuban artwork, which travels fairly regularly. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts displayed a large Cuban exhibition in 2008, but American art followers have missed out. Though Cuba may be more familiar with the last 50 years of North American art, we know little of theirs. Corina Matamoros, a contemporary art curator at the National Museum in Havana told The New York Times, “Because we’ve been so isolated for the last 50 years, I really don’t think the United States knows much at all about Cuban art. I think this art, which spans from the ’60s until now, is all going to be a revelation.”
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