Sunday June 17, 2018

Bookshelf: Tropicana Nights, Concrete Cuba, and at Least One Manifesto

New books on graphic art, Cuba in the 1950s, pintura cubana, and more

With the holidays rapidly approaching, here are our picks among recent books on Cuban art and culture—including new volumes on Luis Cruz Azaceta, Rocío García, and Félix González-Torres. Plus a new edition of Rosa Lowinger’s beloved nightclub saga, Tropicana Nights, with a cover by Alexandre Arrechea.

Tropicana Nights: The Life and Times of the Legendary Cuban Nightclub. By Rosa Lowinger and Ofelia Fox (Coralstone; Reprint edition, 2016). This reprint of the popular 2005 first edition traces the history of the famous nightclub and portrays the cultural richness and roiling social problems of pre-Revolutionary Cuba. “Tropicana is to Cuba what the Bolshoi is to Russia, the Moulin Rouge to Paris, or the Blue Note to New York—an enduring cultural mecca. This definitive biography of the place that was known as Paradise under the Stars, vividly describes the 1950s nightclub that was part casino, part cabaret, and was the only club owned and run by Cubans rather than the American mob. Nat “King” Cole, Liberace, Josephine Baker, and Carmen Miranda performed there before audiences that included Joan Crawford, Marlon Brando, and Ernest Hemingway.” Written by Havana-born Rosa Lowinger and Ofelia Fox (1924-2006), widow of Tropicana owner, Martin Fox, this new edition features a cover illustration by Alexandre Arrechea. In English.

Concrete Cuba: Cuban Geometric Abstraction from the 1950s. Text by Abigail McEwen, interview with Pedro de Oraá by Lucas Zwirner, illustrated chronology by Susanna Temkin (David Zwirner Books, 2016). Radical political shifts that raged throughout Cuba in the 1950s coincided with the development of Cuban geometric abstraction and, notably, the formation of Los Diez Pintores Concretos (Ten Concrete Painters). Concrete Cuba marks one of the first major presentations outside of Cuba to focus exclusively on the origins of concretism in the country. It includes important works from the late 1940s through the early 1960s by the 12 artists who were at different times associated with the short-lived group: Pedro Álvarez, Wifredo Arcay, Mario Carreño, Salvador Corratgé, Sandú Darié, Luis Martínez Pedro, Alberto Menocal, José M. Mijares, Pedro de Oraá, José Ángel Rosabal, Loló Soldevilla, and Rafael Soriano. Produced on the occasion of the major exhibition at David Zwirner, Concrete Cuba is the first in-depth catalogue on the subject to be published in English.

Revolutionary Horizons: Art and Polemics in 1950s Cuba. By Abigail McEwen (Yale University Press, 2016). Modernism in Havana reached its climax during the turbulent years of the 1950s as a generation of artists took up abstraction as a means to advance artistic and political goals in the name of Cuba Libre. During a decade of insurrection and, ultimately, revolution, abstract art signaled the country’s cultural worldliness and its purchase within the international avant-garde. McEwen’s book offers an in-depth examination of Cuban art during that time, following the intersecting trajectories of the artist groups Los Once and Los Diez Pintores Concretos against a dramatic backdrop of modernization and armed rebellion. The book features previously unpublished artworks, new archival research, and extensive primary sources. In English.

Manifestos and Polemics in Latin American Modern Art. Patrick Frank, editor (University of New Mexico Press, 2017). Patrick Frank shows how modern art developed in Latin America, by bringing together sixty-five primary documents vital to understanding the history of art in Latin America since 1900. Besides autobiographies, manifestos, interviews, and artists’ statements, the editor has assembled material from videos, blogs, handwritten notebooks, flyers, lectures, and even an after-dinner speech. As the title suggests, many of the texts have a polemical or argumentative cast. In these documents—many of which appear in English for the first time—the artists themselves describe what they hope to accomplish and what they see as obstacles. Designed to show how modern art developed in Latin America, the documents begin with early modern expressions in the early 20th century, then proceed through the avant-garde of the 1920s, the architectural boom of midcentury, and the Cold War years, and finally conclude with the postmodern artists in the new century. In English.

Modern Cuban Art: Themes and Variations. By Adelaida de Juan (Ruth Casa Editorial, 2016). This is an updated version in English of Pintura cubana: temas y variaciones, encompassing the analysis from the social and artistic Cuban avant-garde of the 1920s and 1930s up to the 1990s, with a special emphasis on race and gender—factors present in Cuban painting and graphic production. This volume is mainly based on fragmentary studies and data only to be found in articles and catalogues. In English.

Luis Cruz Azaceta: No Exit. By Carlos A. Aguilera (Madrid: Turner, 2016). A revised edition of this work by the Cuban artist (b. 1942) includes a conversation with writer Carlos Aguilera. In that discussion, memories of the artist’s childhood in Cuba, where he lived until age 18, merge with his first professional experiences in New York, where he studied at the School of Visual Arts, and where he lived for three decades, as well as his professional maturity in New Orleans. Cruz Azaceta is “a painter of the extreme zones of modern life,” according to Iván de la Nuez. “His imagery, which ranges from figurative to abstract, is filled with anguish, sadness, shipwrecks, violence…. His painting reflects his environment, that of an exile in the U.S. who paints and gives expressions to contemporary themes.” This volume includes poems and images of the artist’s work. Bilingual.

Luis Cruz Azaceta. By Alejandro Anreus (University of Minnesota, 2014). Speaking of Cruz Azaceta, it’s also worth recalling the 2014 monograph by Anreus, who curated the artist’s solo show now at the American Museum of Cuban Diaspora in Miami. In English.

Confesiones de Rocío García / The Confessions of Rocío García. By Corina Matamoros (Madrid: Turner, 2017). There is no one better than the painter herself to help us understand her art. For several months, author/curator Corina Matamoros carried on a wide-ranging and animated conversation with García (b. 1955) about her work and events in her life. The singularity of this artist lies in her way of approaching social, erotic, and political themes by means of an exceptionally imaginative iconography and storytelling that links the serious and the comic. Bilingual.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres: Specific Objects Without Specific Form. By Elena Filipovic, et al. (Koenig Books , 2017). Between 2010 and 2011, curator Elena Filipovic along with artists Danh Vo, Carol Bove and Tino Sehgal, organized a visionary Félix González-Torres (1957–1996) exhibition across three institutions: WIELS Contemporary Art Centre, Brussels; Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel; and MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt. With the profound visual and conceptual potential of González-Torres’ work in mind, Filipovic devised an exhibition structure that entailed two autonomous-yet-adjacent exhibitions of his work at each of the three venues: one by her, and one by Vo, Bove, and Sehgal respectively. This volume follows the show’s structure. Each venue has a dedicated section which includes a preface by Filipovic, photographic documentation of each exhibition and a contribution by Vo, Bove and Sehgal reflecting upon their positions as curators of Gonzalez-Torres’ work. In English.

Hecho en Cuba: Cinema in the Cuban Graphics. Luigi Bardellotto, editor. (Silvana Editoriale, 2016). This is a compilation of Cuban film posters from the 1950s through the present, and an exploration of the designers who created them. The bold sensibility and visual inventiveness of post-revolutionary Cuban graphic design makes it instantly recognizable. But the designers contributing to this new style were still individual artists, bringing their different backgrounds to the task of creating a new visual identity for a post-revolutionary nation. With lavishly illustrated sections on Eladio Rivadulla, Raúl Martínez, Eduardo Muñoz Bachs, Antonio Reboiro, Antonio Pérez Gonzáles (Ñiko), René Azcuy, Alfredo Rostgaard, Rafael Morante, Raúl Oliva, Julio Eloy Mesa, and Jorge Dima, Hecho en Cuba brings out the individual design sensibilities that shaped an extraordinary graphic culture, where the poster became the populist art form par excellence. In English.