In the complex process of transformation from academic to avant-garde in the case of national art, the precursor quality of drawing and graphics is well managed by the historiography of Cuban art. However, for those of us who have been trained under such assumptions, the visual evidence of these affirmations always lacked genuine and broad foundations, which were not valid. After the presentation of a show like La mirada inédita (The unpublished view) exposed in the Cuban Art building of the National Museum of Fine Arts, we can say that such debts are paid. With the curatorship of Roberto Cobas, specialist of this institution, the ensemble tries to deepen with insight into the relevance of the so-called “minor arts” in the development of the vast path of the Cuban plastic vanguard.
The illustration, in any of its variants (caricature, drawing, commercial advertisement), and graphics, find their point of coalition in periodical publications of the time as a support for the introduction and reproduction of said manifestations. Hence, one of the most accurate assessments of the curatorship is to draw parallels between those covers of the magazines of the moment (which, although intended for a bourgeois public, were prudently inserted into the socio-cultural context of the time) and drawing as a renovating product of the predominant academic visuality. In this way, it is not unusual to find many of the collaborators of these publications in the established curatorial subtopics, which makes us think of an artistic sector worthy of the category of precursors of the most diverse avant-garde languages incorporated.
Rafael Blanco, artist who starts the journey, finds in the curatorial discourse the most worthy of approaches. As Jorge Rigol points out: “Blanco constitutes, more than a precursor, the starting point of Cuban contemporary art.”1 The artist, who excelled in the cultural field of the time with his collaborations in the magazine El Fígaro (1888-1933), along with other greats such as Massaguer and Valls, partakes since then in a process of synthesis that announced the spirit of renewal that would characterize him completely.
But beyond the analysis of each of the artists shown, there are elements that support the qualification of unpublished to the production of these creators and give a significant value to the most orthodox readings of the history of Cuban art. La mirada inédita reveals with immeasurable autonomy the thematic and formal authenticity of this sector of our artistic production of the moment.
In her text “Antecedentes de la vanguardia plástica,”2 Dr. Luz Merino Acosta makes reference to the subject through the critic Bernardo Barros when she states that “the ‘minor arts’ (in their hierarchy of artistic manifestations), and by that we refer to drawing, caricature and poster, have an ancillary function, in this case educational, due to their ability to influence society. While painting has a hedonistic function, a sublime character, an ideal of representation. It did not affect the social process, but it was the result of high spirits, (…) the innovations in the painting had a moderate sign.”3 Evading the limitations, since we know well the examples of social commitment in the pictorial field of this first stage of the avant-garde, it should be noted that there was, as never before, such a strong stance towards the conditioning factors of the historical context of the 1920s and 30s in Cuba. An affirmation that the exhibit allows us to corroborate in the satires of the own Rafael Blanco, in the staunch political caricature of Eduardo Abela, the congregations of Arístides Fernández, the crayons of Carlos Enríquez, the “Machadato” of Jorge Rigol, the Labor discourse of Marcelo Pogolotti.
Taking into account the restricted topics in the painting of the period for its subordination to the commissioning, the drawing and graphics supplanted with significant frankness the picturesque tendency and the idealization of the identity patented in the bohío, the guajiros, palm trees and other branded symbols. And, although Merino Acosta herself says: “What articulation can be establishing between all these phenomena and the artistic work? In order to establish the links between all these phenomena, we must start from the fact that the creators of art, stuck in this historical moment, feel the effects of the crisis, and pose, like writers and other intellectuals, a critical and renovating,”4 the socio-political characterization apprehended in this sector should not be ignored.
In this same line of the critical and renovating objective indicated, the novelty and freshness of the formal components of the expressions that make up the exhibition stand out. Far from carnivalizing pictorial trends in vogue, both the drawing and the graphic of the period knew how to maintain a distinguishable authenticity. Furthermore, when the creations included in this sample are carefully analyzed, in contrast to the pictorial production of the same authors, one can glimpse their need to legitimize the medium through new and heterogeneous technical elements. This is how the predominance of the line over color can be appreciated, always evading localisms and outdated folklorists features reiterated by painting. This prevalence of drawing, in a sea of habits seeks to heighten an unprecedented expressionism to get away from the fauvist codes, and other European variants of that movement. The intention of the curatorship to make visible the keen look of our publications at the beginning of the century around modern movements in vogue should be noted. Social, a pioneering journal in the diffusion of Art Decó’s visuality in our country, stands out in the exhibition as the epitome for the introduction in the national field of those renovating visual codes worldwide. From the hand of Massaguer, José Manuel Acosta, Lily del Barrio, and others we are presented, not only with the advent of an entire aesthetic revolution, but the spirit of an entire developing society.
There is no doubt that La mirada inédita constitutes an imperative show for the historiography of national art. Because revisit the history always leads us to new formulations that oxygenate and broaden the gaze not only on artistic and cultural processes, but also sociopolitical ones. Also, because you can always return to the thing itself and find more reasons not to dilute us over time.
–Modesto D. Serpa
1. Jorge Rigol, “Sobre la exposición de Rafael Blanco.” Signos, January-August, 1976, 44.
2. Past history of the fine arts avant-garde.
3. Luz Merino Acosta, “Antecedentes de la vanguardia plástica,” Digital document, 1987.