In America, the art world, like every other cultural sphere, goes through a series of trends to determine what’s hot and popular for the time being. Currently, Cuban Art of all mediums is seeing a rise in relevance and desire from art patrons everywhere. Experts are comparing it to the rise in popularity of Chinese art, ancient and modern, in the early 2000’s in America. In order to understand and know what types of art are gaining the most traction, one must turn to the extravagant art auction houses throughout the country to determine what’s “trending” in the art world, which can normally be determined based off purchase price vs. auction estimate price.
The news of Cuban Art getting its moment in the spotlight stems from the Cuban painter and sculpture Roberto Fabelo’s recent record breaking work at an auction in which one of his pieces titled Volutas sold for $300,000, which was 50% above its highest auction estimate price, according to Barron’s “Penta” Business Magazine online. From this point forward auction houses throughout the country have been trying to acquire pieces from Cuba’s growing contemporary art scene. The more pieces brought in, the more money is brought in, and prices are only increasing. Penta reported on established artists Fabelo, Carlos Alfonzo, and Manuel Mendive taking over auction catalogs everywhere alongside older Cuban art from the 20th century.
Art work during the Havana Biennial
Another major influence in the growing Cuban contemporary art scene in America stems from the 13th biennial Havana Art Exhibition that took place earlier this year after being postponed due to Hurricane Irma. The event’s purpose is to shine a light on Cuba’s local contemporary art scene and give opportunities to lesser known Latin American and Caribbean artists. The event blew up on social media with pictures of art installations all throughout famous parts of Havana, including the famous Malecon seawall which was decorated by famous french street artist JR. Through these trending posts even more local up-and-coming artists were given major exposure here in the states.
However, as the demand for this underground Cuban art increases, the supply is seeming to decrease, and part of the blame is on the Trump Administration’s stance towards Cuba; increasing the tension between importers for the art. It’s becoming increasingly harder for foreign art buyers to actually go to the island and become familiar with the local artists who deserve the opportunity to have their work seen.
Cuban culture has always been thriving and maintained a high level of creative expression. Sanctions and restrictions brought on by the US government, along with horrid political and economic conditions in Cuba, have prevented our two worlds from mending in the past. Under the Obama administration, tensions were seeming to loosen, and tourism rates from the US to Cuba were beginning to increase again, leading to a greater merger of culture and art. However, today under our current political administration the sanctions of travel and importing art and other goods from Cuba are much stricter, making physical access to the art market very challenging. Due to these tensions, transactions amongst the local artists and Americans are being done outside of the traditional gallery purchase model, which is causing a lot of illegitimate exchange of goods to occur, according to Penta.
Buyers, “particularly those interested in collecting modern Cuban art works, should always confirm the provenance of a work and also make sure that the recognized expert on the artist has confirmed the authenticity,” says Diana Bramham, Specialist, Latin American Art Christie’s New York to Penta.
This restrictive access, however, is only helping the Cuban Art scene in America, as art auctioneers and lovers alike all have adopted a “we want what we can’t have” sort of attitude. Not only has Cuban contemporary art in general risen in popularity here, but additionally the style is so unique to Cuban culture, and unlike a lot of other artists’ work that it becomes even more special. There is still a decent amount of Cuban art hitting America’s many art auctions this year, and established art curators who have previously made strong connections to Cuban artists are able to work with these auction houses to hopefully acquire more of a supply as there’s more of a demand.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.