Juan A. Martínez: A Life in Cuban Art, and an Award to Honor It

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In the aftermath of his CINTAS award, Janet Batet spoke with art historian Juan A. Martínez about art on and beyond the island, the migratory experience, and Cuban art collecting in South Florida. See Cuban Art News for the full article and interview.

With the aim of recognizing creative achievements and encouraging excellence in different branches of the arts, the CINTAS Foundation has done significant work in the recognition and preservation of Cuban cultural heritage. The foundation opened its doors in 1962, with annual fellowship awards in the visual arts, architecture, musical composition and literature. In addition to the recognition and monetary award that accompanies the scholarship, winners are invited to become part of the CINTAS Fellows Collection, considered the largest collection of work by Cuban artists living outside the island.

Since the foundation’s launch, fellowships had been restricted to artists living outside the island, including Cuban-born artists and those of Cuban descent. In May 2017, prompted by the recent thaw in Cuba-US diplomatic relations, the CINTAS Foundation expanded its criteria to include Cuban artists on the island. [. . .]

In this year’s 56th edition, the CINTAS Foundation recognized the career of professor and art historian Juan A. Martínez (Havana, 1951), whose more than four decades of ceaseless work in education and research has marked generations of artists, art historians, and critics.

Specializing in European and modern Cuban art, Martínez is the author of numerous books and essays on Cuban art, based on his work in systematizing significant periods of Cuban art. His works include the well known book Cuban Art and National Identity: The Vanguardia Painters, 1927–1950 (University of Florida Press, 1994), and incisive studies of key figures in Cuban art, including Carlos Enríquez, Fidelio Ponce, María Brito, and the Miami Generation. [. . .]

You’ve not only been an insatiable researcher in Cuban art history, you’ve also been very close to the art done by Cuban Americans in South Florida, especially the Miami Generation. What role has Cuban art played in the development of the local art scene?

In Miami, we have different groups. There is the group of Cuban Americans who emerged in the 1970s and 1980s in the city. There is the Miami Generation and also the generation of the 1980s—both groups came to live here in Miami and still do their work here. Then, we have the post-2000 generation—some just passing through, but doing commercial work here.

In the specific case of the Miami Generation, regarding the Cuban element present in their art—it’s more about personal experiences growing up in Miami. Sometimes they might work with some memory, some nostalgia, some image or phrase, a historical event, and in other cases, not even that.

These artists range from Humberto Calzada, who makes many references to Cuba, to Pablo Cano, who makes them more subtly, to Fernando García, who made some pieces referring to historical cases, up to María Brito, Arturo Rodríguez and Mario Bencomo, for whom Cuban references are quite rare. The artists of that generation were trained in this country, and that’s reflected in their art. [. . .]

[Image above: Oscar García Rivera, “Comparsa” (Carnival Parade), c. 1940, one of the signature images in the exhibition “Cuban Art and Identity 1900–1950,” curated by Juan A. Martínez and presented at the Vero Beach Museum of Art in 2014.]

For full review, see https://www.cubanartnews.org/2018/10/31/a-life-in-cuban-art-and-an-award-to-honor-it/

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