Recently was developed in Havana, as an initiative of the Department of Art History of the University of Havana, the III Colloquium of Art History (from June 28 to 30, 2016). The subject that gathered this time researchers, professors and students was Management, promotion and market of art, of course, with a special interest in Cuba. From the roads of the market in Havana to the presence of insular art in the most important auction houses of New York, this event tackled all of these topics during its long hours of debate. It would be worth questioning now if the reach of research of the phenomenon was extensive enough, if it touched every side of the subject.
In a not orthodox attempt of defining what the market of art means in Cuba, we could elude the most sensible opinion, that one that assures the existence of a group of actions and mechanisms related to valuation-promotion, placement and sale of the product; which finds in the art collector, the art critic, the curator and the art dealer –or, closer to current times–, the producer, its elemental mainstays; which fluctuates between the symbolic value and the exchange value in a burble of inflation of completely fortuitous and abstract rates; and so we could understand the market of art in Cuba as an underground net of purchase and sale to the highest bidder, where the artistic product goes from hand to hand, which involves in a fair valuation –both in quality and quantity–, common dealers, usurers, tourist guides and even divers. In such an unstructured system, the price of an artwork is determined by the total sum of wads of money that the net of hands that holds the artwork considers fair to their ambitions. Let us not fear to declare it: most part of Cuban art goes in and out the Island in this way, for the state initiative to solve the sociocultural need of a market is not tasty, credit and save enough to satisfy the real expectations of sellers and buyers. Besides, it works as an extremely reduced, selective and therefore, discriminatory platform.
In the last two decades an unsteady group of mechanisms is emerging, alternatively, to solve the complicated distribution of our patrimonial or symbolic goods. It is worth mentioning among them the easier opening of the artists’ studios in the last two editions of the Havana Biennale. This space of sales works as part of the circuit promoted by the state, and at the same time, is part of the underground net of traffic of artistic objects in which a great part of the insular cultural heritage flows. According to one or another circuit, we will be able to identify as an operative way or a policy of those studios the direct sale in very variable prices. Among bargaining, ignorance, and pressures, gradually the creators give in to a fierce buyer, protected by the unrestricted right they have over their oeuvre.
Another mechanism is the existence of a net of commerce created by the tourist guides who belong to the national agencies whose objective is to satisfy the demanding preferences of their foreign clients. This system, unlike the studios, is based at the beginning, on the devaluation of the artistic object to succumb later to inflation, which takes the artists away from the possibility of getting the minimal profits from their work. Unfortunately, this system affects mostly the youngest students of art schools (mainly San Alejandro’s Academy, and the Superior Institute for the Arts), who have incipient careers and liberating longings in the field of personal economy, as well as it benefits the workers of tourism related to this area, who don’t have precise knowledge about art or marketing, who don’t belong to the artistic field and who have no intentions of contributing with their profits to the economic development of the country.
On the other hand, there is another mechanism of sales, which is the myth of commissions: any person may know accidentally a client interested on a specific artist and have the privilege of making possible the meeting between the two parts, always on condition that they will receive a low percent. The problem of this deal is that after the promise of payment before the possibility of a purchase, usually these mediators are left waiting for the responsibility of one of the parts, or their salary becomes a fine added to the value of the artwork for sale. Thus a figure emerges, one we could call –due to its poor systematic work, at least regarding its modus operandi–, a sales agent, if we want to give a professional look to something that obviously does not have it.
As it has been showed, we face a bleak prospect. The Cuban market of art is actually, –as almost every net of supplies, trade, and even flow of information in this country–, an underground network of non-qualified staff in which the mechanisms used generate money in pursuit of profits and not of the financial value that must have any artistic good behind the symbolic capital. This means that Cuban art does not have substantial basis, system or strategy that sustains its value.
In such a panorama, the presence of art collecting is greatly needed. Of course, that is a concept that the ancestral logic of work of the Cuban state has destroyed on the pretext of social property of all goods. Even so, there are still some art collectors that, as discreet and careful experts, have offered a space and confidence to young artist of the Island, inside the Island. It is reality the existence in Cuba of figures related to this way of life out of the circles of power protected by the United States; and it is extraordinary. They, along with the art critics and the curators are the only voices authorized to value and approve an artistic object concerning its cultural and symbolic relevance, since only they have the means it takes.
One of the personalities who have practiced the promotion, art collection and production in Cuba with a clear intention of protecting, promoting and validating the Cuban artistic production, and with a professional profile is José Busto. He has used for it the technological means to create a sort of virtual platform– it is very well known that in Cuba it is not recognized the existence of private art galleries, so many ruses are used–, which works both as medium of information and route of purchase. Avistamientos Gallery has accompanied the professional development of some of the most relevant figures of the art in the Island, and it counts on a list of names of excellence. Likewise, it has made possible the production of macro-projects that have become milestones in the history of Cuban art. On the other hand, it has built up an extensive and reliable opinion around the artists and artworks it promotes. The collection gathered due to the cleverness, knowledge and support of José Busto is a microcosm of relationships from which may emerge a certain image of the possibilities of the insular art.
Now well, this kind of solutions only could favor the condition of the art and culture in the Island. Is it preferable to put on the hands of strangers what must be treated with absolute consciousness? Is it plausible that our art, –that one that according to our constitution is property and concern of ours– is being offered as a piece of flesh? It is at least desirable some respect both to the clients and to the artists that sell their artworks. The base for it is the real knowledge of the work, no more.
Some could understand these words back up the market and monetary production through inflation amid a society of disparities, paradoxes and no few conflicts. Actually, there is an art history that tells more than just the succession of movements, styles, and tastes. It is precisely that one that tells how while the images came up, they acquired relevance within the commercial global system, from which it is impossible to get rid of, according to the experience. It is worth adding a functional commercial system to the machinery of our culture. It is not about calling for speculation. Actually, that is something that has being working in the Island for a long time. On the contrary, this is about drawing the attention to the need of doing it in a responsible way. These reflections are summed to those ones our intellectuals share these days. All of them together carry the weight of haste: let us call a spade a spade, let us settle frankness as the source of dialogue, let us preserve what is ours.
–Luis Enrique Padrón