Marco Castillo Explores Cuban Architecture and Design in “The Decorator’s Home”


In “After Los Carpinteros: Marco Castillo Explores Cuban Architecture & Design in ‘The Decorator’s Home,’” Cuban Art News focuses on Marco Castillo’s first solo exhibition in the United States, now on view at UTA Artist Space in Los Angeles, California, until July 13, 2019. Here are excerpts of the article and interview:

Late last month, Marco Castillo—formerly of the group Los Carpinteros—opened The Decorator’s Home at UTA Artist Space in Los Angeles. Established by the entertainment industry powerhouse United Talent Agency as part of its fine arts division, the 4,000-square-foot gallery—largely designed by Ai Weiwei—opened last July.

In The Decorator’s Home, Castillo investigates Cuban architecture and design of the 1960s and 1970s, spotlighting and reinterpreting the work of key figures from those decades. In an email interview with Cuban Art News, he talks about recovering this largely forgotten history and reconnecting it with contemporary Cuban art and design.

What aspects of Cuban history and culture are you examining in the show? What attracted you to these themes?

Modernist design and interior design are topics that always interested me a lot. I dedicated myself to researching and collecting works by great masters of international design like Sergio Rodrigues, Lina Bo Bardi, Arne Jacobsen, etc. This passion made me want to understand what happened in Cuba, with all the aesthetics and good taste that characterized our society and were maintained until the beginning of the revolutionary process (the 1960s and 1970s). I knew of some isolated names, especially of architects like Mario Girona, Ricardo Porro, Roberto Gottardi, Vittorio Garatti, etc. They did a wonderful job during the 1960s. In 2017, we invited curator Abel González Fernández to the [Los Carpinteros] studio in Havana, to create an exhibition that would work with the full heritage of Cuban interior design at the beginning of the revolutionary period.

This is where El museo de las máquinas: arquitectura de espacios cerrados en las décadas del 60 y 70 de la Revolución cubana (The Museum of the Machines: Architecture of Closed Spaces of the Cuban Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s) came from. [The exhibition was presented in spring 2017 at Los Carpinteros’ studio.]

It was a difficult investigation, because there was no organized written body of literature to support the development of the project. From testimonies and interviews with some of the leading figures in this movement, we were able to piece together part of that unwritten, untold history.

The Decorator’s Home was inspired by this utopian movement of designers, interior designers, and architects trained in the Modern Movement of the 1950s. Led by Celia Sánchez and Iván Espín, in the early years of the Revolution this movement developed a project that could be considered an aesthetic revolution. This group would be responsible for projecting and producing the new spaces that would modulate the life of the supposed new man—more austere furniture and objects with more practical sense, but with an avant-garde design that occasionally recalls Scandinavian furniture and early Ikea designs.

For these new productions, local woods such as mahogany and cedrela were used, in combination with Soviet marine plywood; the cream marble “Bayamo”; and elements of Cuba’s colonial and traditional past, such as woven rattan and lattices in wood, ceramics, and cement. At the end of the 1970s this process was abandoned, mainly due to the lack of understanding on the part of institutions that stigmatized “bourgeois taste.” [. . .]

Lets talk about the works made from wood and rattan.

The design of this period also rescued different materials from our Indo-Cuban and colonial past. These designers looked back, revisited the history of Cuban furniture, and rescued, for example, rattan—using it, sometimes, in a way that recalls the colonial period.

In addition, designers like Córdoba designed and named some of their works to reflect the inspiration of Indo-Cuban elements, as with his Guamá series. They also make some lovely references to tropicalism—all those parabanes (portable room dividers) that let the air pass from one side to the other, the woven rattan that doesn’t make your back sweat, the combination of the color white with mahogany wood that reminds you of tropical fruits like the coconut, in a very subtle and conceptual way. A series of language lines, intertwined to form a single piece of furniture, with roots that begin in our aboriginal past, pass through Nordic and African influences, and result in our own Cuban design. [. . .]

[Image above: Marco A. Castillo, “María,” 2018. Courtesy UTA Artist Space for Cuban Art News]

For full article and interview, go to

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