This year, for the first time, selected works from the Ella Fontanals-Cisneros contemporary art collection left its home in Miami, and traveled out of the United States and into Cuba. For many, it is the most eagerly anticipated display of Havana’s 11th Biennial—opening Friday.
“I was traveling to Cuba to buy art. I met with people at the museum there and they asked if I would consider exhibiting my collection, or parts of it, in Havana. After a lot of discussion, about hurricanes and the general safety of the work, we came to the conclusion that this year’s Biennial would be the perfect time,” Cisneros says.
The collection being delivered to Cuba is a small example of the many works owned by the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation aka CIFO—a non-profit organization designed to provide grants and arrange commissions for Latin American artists, started by Cisneros with her family in 2002.
Furthering her cause of celebrating Latin artists’ work, in 2003, Cisneros opened the Miami Art Central (MAC). It’s a 20,000-square-foot space located on the campus of the University of Miami. Although lacking a permanent collection, it quickly became known for bringing impressive contemporary shows to the city – MAC was recently named Best Art Museum by the Miami New Times.
As reported in the Wall Street Journal, Osbel Suárez will curate the Biennial exposition in Havana, and it will be presented at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. It will feature such international artists as Ai Weiwei (Forever Bicycles, 2003), Olafu Eliasson (Blue Double Kaleidoscope, 2005), and Barbara Kruger (Untitled) and (We Are Objects of Your Suave Entrapments, 1984), Cuban-born performance artist Ana Mendieta (Rock Heart with Blood, 1975), and performance artist Marina Abramovic is slated to deliver a lecture at the museum as well.
The first Havana Biennial, which took place in 1984, was dedicated to artists from Latin America and the Caribbean. By the second in 1986, artists from Africa, Asia and the Middle East took part. This tradition has remained, turning Havana into an important venue for the gathering and exhibition of ‘non-Western’ art—exactly the kind of work Fonatanals-Cisneros has become known for.
For 50 years, since the start of the Biennial here in Cuba, nothing like this has been presented. Bringing this to the Cuban people is so exciting for me. The choices of which pieces to include wasn’t easy. Suarez (the curator) has assembled what we’re calling an “overview” of the whole collection and a perspective from different countries and their modern art from around the globe
Born in Cuba, but raised in Venezuela, she began collecting art in the 1970s.
“For 50 years, since the start of the Biennial here in Cuba, nothing like this has been presented. Bringing this to the Cuban people is so exciting for me. The choices of which pieces to include wasn’t easy. Suarez (the curator) has assembled what we’re calling an “overview” of the whole collection and a perspective from different countries and their modern art from around the globe,” Cisneros says.
Cisneros has reported that the Cuban government has been nothing but supportive—no works of art were censored.
“This is a chance to open a window into Cuba and for artists to reach out. We’re making history here. There’s a willingness from the government to allow art and culture to come from the outside the country and be seen by this community. I’m very hopeful for my homeland. If I didn’t believe in that, I wouldn’t be here.”
Rebekah Sager is a nationally published lifestyle and culture writer. She's a regular contributor to Fox News Latino. Follow Rebekah on Twitter @Rebekah_Sager.