Cuban Art Groups in the Eighties

Under the Shadow of Collective Protection

/ 1 March, 2016

(…) If there is a characteristic that distinguished the art of the decade we are dealing with it was the tendency to form artistic groups or collectives. This resulted a complex decade since, although the well-known quinquenio gris (grey quinquennium) had been left behind, many limitations subsisted in a wide sector of the institutional system to understand the ruptures the works of young artists put forward. So although the reasons and motivations of the groups turned out to be diverse, a common cause is undoubtedly the need to defend new forms of understanding and assimilating art, whose probabilities are greater from the collective discourse than from the individual idea.

As is well known, Volumen Uno was the exhibition that marked the point of departure of the new generation in January 1981.i According to Eduardo Morales, among its most outstanding traits “the insistence with which the installation worked and the three-dimensionality in general; the conceptualized rhetoric of the art object, (…) the unprejudiced assimilation of what is foreign and of those areas in the margins and <unimportantly> cultural of what is Cuban as popular art, religious syncretism, domesticity, routine character, and so on”.ii The conception process of the exhibition, the generational affinity and the convergence of points of view conferred to the members of the show an indisputable sense of group. The fundamental contribution of Volumen Uno consisted in opening a debate, clear the path to all the events about to arrive and openly declare the existence of a young generation with new artistic and, at the same time, political and social concerns. After Volumen Uno the initiatives of the groups did not stop. Among the most outstanding are: 4 x 4, Hexágono, Puré, Arte Calle, Grupo Provisional, the René Francisco and Ponjuán duet, ABTV, among others.iii However, many of them had an ephemeral life, but the sign they left in Cuban art transcended the physical time they had in active. In several cases, the union rather rested in an attitude before art and life (…)

Even so, in my opinion, the notion of group identity and generational discourse with which they generally assume these years transcends the existence of the groups to accentuate themselves with the multiple exhibitions and collective projects that talk of the coincidence of points of view, of the conjunction of ideas, of the sense of unity of a group of artists who, with poetics and different forms of doing, reveal common ethical, aesthetical, social, political and philosophical concerns. Exhibitions as Estrictamente personal (Strictly Personal, 1987) by Rubén Torres Llorca, No por mucho madrugar se amanece más temprano (The sun is not hurried by early risers, 1988), or the ones which were part of the Castillo de la Fuerza Project could be mentioned. It was precisely this attempt to make the debate between artist and audience, artist and institution viable what would practically mark the end of a decade in art, when the contradiction between power and artists became evident and when these last ones transgressed the areas of tolerance delimited by the institutions. All this coincided with the advent of the crisis, the so-called Periodo Especial (Special Period) in Cuba, in which numerous artists migrated and a new generation would mark the course of Cuban visual arts. Among other effects, groups disappeared and only some alliances, in lesser quantity and new type, are the ones that would see the light of the nineties.

i Certainly, important precedents were two exhibitions at the end of the seventies: Seis nuevos pictures (Six New Painters, 1978) and Pintura fresca (Fresh Painting, 1979), which announced the renovation that was approaching. In fact, some authors baptize the members of Volumen Uno as the group Pintura Fresca, because of the coincidence of most of the artists.

ii Morales Nieves, Eduardo: Plástica cubana de los 80: circunstancias y desacatos (Cuban Plastic Arts in the ‘80s: Circumstances and Disrespects), Ediciones Adagio, Havana, p.75.

iii These are not the only groups existing in the 1980s. Multiple duets, trios and artistic collectives, with unequal meaning and transcendence, emerged in various moments throughout the decade, even in other provinces in the country as, for example, Las Tunas, where the La Campana group was created.

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