This Saturday, November 11, 2017, Adiós Utopia: Dreams and Deceptions in Cuban Art Since 1950 opens at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. According to Cuban Art News, the exhibition debuted earlier this year at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. [Also see previous post Adios Utopia.] As the exhibition opens at the Walker Art Center, Cuban Art News had a conversation with curator Olga Viso about Cuban and Latin American art, U.S.-Cuba relations, and the changing role of museums:
As a curator and museum director, Olga Viso’s career has spanned three decades, including positions as director of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC, and, since 2008, executive director of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Born in Florida to Cuban émigré parents, Viso is known for her scholarship in contemporary Latin American art, especially the work of Ana Mendieta. [. . .] We took the opportunity to speak with Viso about the show, as well as the wave of Latin American and Cuban art exhibitions in US museums, and the changing role of museums in this fraught cultural moment.
When did you first become involved with Adiós Utopia? What drew you to the show?
It was sometime around 2014. I was excited at prospect of bringing a major exhibition like this to the US. There’ve been a lot of exhibitions that have focused on [Cuban] art since the 1980s and 1990s, but what was distinctive about this show was its foundation in the years leading up to the Revolution, focusing on less understood and less recognized artists from the 1950s and 1960s. That historical sweep was really appealing.
The collaboration with CIFO was meaningful and important from the beginning—[their] being able to facilitate the research and the work with the artists, the conservation work that needed to be done on artworks, and being a go-between with Cuban collections. It is still very difficult for US museums to have those direct relationships.
How would you describe the exhibition?
It is a show that covers a 65-plus-year period. It’s not meant to be a comprehensive or exhaustive survey. It’s focused on looking at artistic production through the lens of Utopia, and illuminating both the dreams and deceptions around the idea of Utopia.
Gerardo Mosquera [one of the show’s three curators] has said it really well: Many exhibitions start with history, and the art illustrates that history, but with this show, the intent was to start with the art. What were the singular pieces of art over this 65-year period, that really influenced artists—the real watershed works? And how do you understand Cuba’s history through the lens, the experience, of its artists? [. . .]
The past two years have been quite something for Latin American and Cuban art in US museums. There was the Carmen Herrera show at the Whitney, Adiós Utopia opening at the MFAH, Lygia Pape at the Met Breuer, and “Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA,” to name only a few. What do you make of this wave of shows?
There’s always been an interest in and support for Cuban art and Latin American art in the US, but it’s happening now in mainstream institutions. That’s what feels different. A lot of it had been happening in more university contexts or culturally specific institutions. But now you’re seeing the depth of that knowledge in mainstream institutions. I think that’s a huge sign of progress. [. . .]
[Photo above: Olga Viso, executive director of the Walker Art Center.]