The Cuban abstract movement, which came into being with unusual force on the national art scene in the early 1950s, is comparable only to two other moments in the nation’s art history: the historical vanguardia, or avant-garde, in the orbit of the magazine Revista de Avance (1927 -1930) and Exposición de Arte Nuevo (Exhibition of New Art, 1927), and the New Cuban Art, clustered around the exhibition Volumen I, in 1980. The inrush of abstraction signified, for the first time in the history of Cuban art, a modernization with respect to international art tendencies at the forefront. In reacting to the dominance of narrative and the predominance of a sweetened, folkloric view of being Cuban, abstract artists, accompanied by a particular ethical intransigence, proposed an entirely new approach that in one fell swoop did away with the rigid figurative art tradition in Cuba.
By the late 1960s, Cuban abstraction had been silenced. Negotiating the commitment that the times demanded, art sought alternatives to the hardline of socialist realism, and found support in tendencies such as pop and photo realism. Abstract artists who continued working in soliloquy in and outside the country were joined by new artists from subsequent generations: Ernesto Briel, Carlos García, Elpidio Huerta, Eduardo Rubén, José Omar Torres, Raúl Santos Zerpa, Carlos Trillo, Julia Valdés, and many others. Nevertheless, the abstract tendency was not an object of interest, and after the symptomatic exhibition Expresionismo Abstracto (Abstract Expressionism) 2, held at Galería Habana in 1963, there were none that appealed to this pulsar of art in Cuba.
Pinturas del Silencio (Paintings of Silence, Galería Acacia, 1997), a curatorial project by two young painters who were interested in abstraction—Ramón Serrano and José Ángel Vincench—unearthed for the first time in more than three decades crucial works from the Cuban abstract tradition. Some were recovered from artists’ workshops, such as Sin título (Untitled), by Antonio Vidal, 1960; others, in an extremely poor state, were in the vaults of the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. The most symptomatic case was the work of Luis Martínez Pedro, from the series Aguas Territoriales (Territorial Waters); moldy and mildewed, it was exhibited as such. Its deterioration supported the curatorial thesis: the oblivion surrounding the abstract tradition in Cuba.
The silent shout. Voices in Cuban Abstract Art, 1950-2013. Excerpts from catalog essays for the exhibition with this title, by Janet Batet and Rafael DiazCasas.
- Expresionismo abstracto (Abstract expressionism, Jan. 11-Feb. 3). Galería de La Habana, Havana (1963).