The Higher Institute of Arts (ISA by its Spanish acronym) granted during the Havana Biennial Honorary Degrees to two renowned masters of conceptual art: French Daniel Buren and American Joseph Kosuth, as well as Italian Michelangelo Pistoletto and Mexican Gabriel Orozco. The first three of them are in Cuba.
Their presence on the island suggests something in which we rarely think: the amount of top, recognized artists and worldwide patented as famous in their branches of creation visit the country during the Biennial, getting mixed with the public in a sort of going unnoticed.
They, who do are googled, are here, without red carpet, with the same overwhelming heat that bothers us, with the hassle of multiple setbacks that can be generated in this country. News put them both at Louvre, and the Reina Sofia, the Tate Modern or MoMA.
In that sense, we have made a selection of those who would be the key players attending this edition of the Havana Biennial. A subjective but reasoned approach. There are 116 artists, at least in the central exhibition, visiting Cuba as guests and were chosen because obviously their projects caught the attention of Cuban curators’ team.
In this twelfth edition, though not exclusively of it, we have wanted, according to Jorge Fernandez, its director, to give the Cuban viewers the opportunity -which they rarely have to interact with star artists of international level- to feel themselves close to “sacred cows “of universal contemporary art, besides the fact that the inclusive vocation, and not of elites, of the Biennale is still respected.
Thus we find the Albanian Anri Sala, in the middle of Trillo Park, sweaty, upset by millions of adversities, but in midst of Cayo Hueso neighbourhood. His cheeks are more red than usual, his accompanying musicians are overwhelmed by heat, they are all worried because few people have come to listen to them, but they are in Cuba with a live performance for saxophone, trombone and flute of about 35 minutes long and not in any neighborhood. To Each his Own in Bridges are the hundred notes that make up the legendary melody of Guantanamera.
But this artist is very young compared to Frenchman Daniel Buren who in 77 years has established an aesthetic pattern that depends on the relationship with the environment and architecture, and seeks contextualization at all times. He is identified by the use of the stripes (patented by measuring 8,7cm wide) most often white and black. On this occasion, Casablanca inspired him in blue, yellow, green and white and now the Hershey station of that municipality wears Buren´s stripes, colors and art.
This man is very well known because in 1986 he made Deux Plateaux, a three thousand square meters installation that he placed in the courtyard of the Palais-Royal in Paris. He invaded the building commissioned by Cardinal Richelieu with dozens of columns of various sizes covered with his characteristic stripes. That work is now a national monument of France.
In addition to Buren, Galleria Continua brought to Havana four other great artists. Michelangelo Pistoletto is one of them. On Saturday the Italian revolutionized the Cathedral Square with his Third Paradise, a part of his work that he has been working since 2004. His prizes are not few, he was awarded the Leone d’Oro alla Carriera in Venice Biennale, and the University of Turin has conferred him an honorary doctorate in political science. Mirrors are a recurring theme in his works as well as works with elements from everyday life favoring the action or staging.
Perhaps one of the most significant figures is the American Joseph Kosuth, one of the leaders of conceptual art, who in the gallery “El Reino de este mundo”, in the National Library, presents the series Grammatical Remark. These are methacrylate letters and punctuation marks manufactured with small neon tubes. With about 20 years of created, this series has an indisputable artistic quality. Kosuth advocates the use of words instead of pictures of any kind. Through his numerous site-specific installations, fascinated with the equivalence between the visual and linguistic, he has explored the relationships between words and their meanings, between how objects are named and described.
On the Latin American side, it has an added value that at 76 the Brazilian Regina Silveira to be in Cuba, an artist who uses technology for artistic purposes and manipulates optic and space perception in a spectacular way. With Phantasmata, her intervention in this Biennial, she transmits that: “everything that moves can be parked.” There will be parked with stencil in Old Havana from missiles, tanks, boats, helicopters, cars up to giant insects.
With animal tracks, shadows on the wall and diverse marks, she subverts the senses or alludes to royal figures that at one time were there and now appear absent. Regina constantly repeats many of the aesthetic standards of the aforementioned artists, she is in complete sync with the curatorial concept of the Biennial. It is to think the works conscientiously to specific locations; that is, it is first produced a relationship between the artist and the place and then comes the work.
Meanwhile, Juvenal Ravelo, National Prize of Culture of Venezuela, belonging to the trend of kinetic art, prepares in Casablanca a mural to build together with the inhabitants. It is an idea very consistent with what identifies his work, aimed at integrating art with communities and to develop aesthetic sensibility of citizens.
The works of German Gregor Schneider, Tino Sehgal, the Belgian Koen Vanmechelen, Indians Nikhil Chopra, with a performance of 60 uninterrupted hours, and Anish Kapoor, a video art, and Mexicans Carlos Amorales and the legendary Luis Camnitzer are also present in Cuba.
Although Jorge Fernández insists that the Biennial “downgrades to everyone” and to some extent it is true that under this sun we all look alike, there is no doubt that we have to take our hats off before these “sacred cows”.