Nela Arias-Misson: The Cuban woman and the moment

/ 1 June, 2018

I’m going to tell a story here about a Cuban woman from San Antonio de los Baños who would get to insert herself into the world of New York visual arts during the second half of the 1950s. (…) Nela Arias-Misson (1915-2015) acquired a refined taste which accentuated her natural beauty (…) which since she was a young woman allowed her to have a dynamic and avant-garde social life which soon turned her into a very fashionable model, disputed by the capital’s magazine and newspaper covers: Orbe, Carteles, Diario de la Marina, etc. An image that reflected progressive and transgressing attitudes, capable of breaking away from many of the conventionalisms of the time.

(…) Concrete Space, directed by photographer Flor Mayoral and Marcelo Llobell, recently inaugurated a retrospective exposition dedicated to Nela, Hechizo de otro mundo, which had the solid museological work of Jorge Luis Gutiérrez, established in Philadelphia, who was the director of the National Art Museum of Caracas. (…) Concrete Space Art Projects is the embryo of the future Contemporary Art Museum of Doral, started up by Flor and Marcelo, together with Ingrid Rockefeller. In addition, this center is organizing, with Carole Bird, Nela’s archives—her mother’s —before transferring them to the American art registers of the Smithsonian.

(…) Nela emigrated to the United States in 1941, enrolling later on in the Big Apple’s Art Students League, where she met German artist Hans Hofmann (1880-1966), who had been giving lessons there since 1932, becoming the professor par excellence of the new promotions.

In 1955 Nela designed women’s clothes for a fashion house in Manhattan (…) This is the moment when very nearby, in Massachusetts, Provincetown, the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Art emerges with courses in the painter’s beach house (…). Nela became a full-time student (…) Nela would witness historical conversations, like when Robert Coates, a critic from the New Yorker who coined the term Abstract Expressionism (…).

“Nela dared to do things in her life,” says her daughter, “which were forbidden to the women of that time. Behind artists of her stature, her memory was buried partly due to machismo, covering yesteryear’s social prejudices.” (…) A strong and strict woman—although passionate and of many loves—, Nela compensated for that tendency with idealism and mystic sensitivity in her works from that period (…). In the late 1960s she leaves for Europe (…).

The universe of the art market never hides too much to support the increase in value of some creators, in need of nourishing consumption. Perhaps certain “grandmothers” will be rescued or not by today’s market, but there exists something of greater importance and permanent character, studying any coherent legacy, like that of Nela—beyond limited spaces like this one—, which will allow us to place in her just place a Cuban woman from another time, operating extraterritorially within a different cultural context.

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