Wednesday September 17, 2014

Collector Spotlight: Ella Fontanals-Cisneros, Part 2

Continuing the conversation about Cuban contemporary art

Ella Fontanals-Cisneros

Photo: Heidi Goldstein ©2013

Following Part 1 of our conversation last week, we continue the interview with Ella Fontanals-Cisneros, with questions from fellow collector and Cuban Art News publisher Howard Farber. Here, the talk turns to her goals for her collection, the fate of Archivo Veigas, and what she sees ahead for Cuban contemporary art.

As you mentioned, the Ella Fontanals-Cisneros Collection has a strong international component beyond Latin America. Do you plan to continue collecting internationally? Do you have a particular approach in mind for this area of the collection?

I still buy for different aspects of the collection—I’m always looking for that piece that means something within the collection. In general, right now I’m interested in American and European art, very young and very contemporary art, more than anything. Over the past two years I’ve been very focused on Cuban art—very focused. I want to really finish what I have envisioned for that part of the collection.

What is your wish and ultimate goal for the collection? It sounds as though you’re interested in presenting it to the public.

Yes. Around three-quarters of the collection will stay in the [CIFO] Foundation for public exposure. I do think that most of the collection will stay public.

Lázaro Saavedra, frame from the video El Síndrome de la Sospecha (The Syndrome of Suspicion), 2004

Courtesy Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation


In 2012, the exhibition CIFO: Una mirada multiple. Selections from the Ella Fontanals-Cisneros Collection was presented at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes as part of the 11th Havana Biennial, through CIFO Europa, your foundation’s European affiliate. Last fall, Memories of Obsolescence. Selection of videos in the Ella Fontanals-Cisneros Collection was shown at the Wifredo Lam Center. Do you think about opening a space in Havana?

Yes, probably. Right now, the exhibitions are all managed by our affiliate foundation in Spain, because with all the problems of the embargo, it’s much easier to manage from Europe. I am working right now to try to open an art library for the Cuban people. I think the art book has not been in too many hands, because these books are very expensive. So that’s one idea. Up to now, the government has really been open to giving me the space to do that. And also probably an exhibition space, more than anything. A contemporary space, in which I can bring something from the outside—art from around the world, because sometimes they don’t have the capacity to bring things like that. And the connections, to bring international exhibitions to Cuba.

What’s the time frame for these spaces?

Cuban time is a different time from our time. I’ve been working on it already a year and a half. I think it’s going to happen. I see that there’s an effort, a willingness to let me do that there. I hope it will happen.

I understand that you recently acquired Archivo Veigas, which many consider the most important archive of materials pertaining to Cuban contemporary art. What are your plans for the archive? Will it remain in Havana?

Archivo Veigas will stay in Havana. The idea is to leave the archive in Cuba, and to put some order into what José Veigas has done for so many years. That will be available to the Cuban people directly. But not only that—we have a project with the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, with a curator there, Mari Carmen Ramírez. The idea is to have this big archive, this database of all Latin American art and artists [Documents of 20th-Century Latin American and Latino Art], and my idea is to select all [the material from Archivo Veigas] that can go publicly on that database. That would be available for everybody.

Is the Latin American database already functioning at the MFA Houston?

It is already functioning, and it has a lot of users. It’s for people who work in the field of Latin American art, who need the information to write or do projects. It’s a very professional, very well done database.

So the material in the archive will stay in Havana, but it will be digitized and uploaded onto the Houston database?

Correct. It will stay in Havana for the use of everybody in Cuba, and then digitized so it’s online for whoever needs it.

That’s terrific news on both counts, and should do a lot to encourage international scholars to include Cuban art in their analyses of global contemporary art. Looking back over the past five years, how would you describe the changes you’ve seen in Cuban contemporary art—both in artistic practice and in how the art is perceived in the world? 

I think that the moment that all Cubans were able to leave the country as they please, this has had an impact on the artists. Many artists have been travelling and going to places where they are able work with other people, and do many other things. This has really had an impact. It’s like looking out the window, outside, and bringing what they see there back into their art.

Of course we have to think about Cuba. It’s difficult to get the materials, even for a photographer to print, or for someone who’s working in video to have the right camera. But they do a fantastic job with whatever they have—incredible works of art, incredible.

Inti Hernández, Disección de realidad (versión segunda) [Reality Dissected (second version)], 2010

Courtesy Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation


Cuban art is starting to have more interest from museums, from other parts of the world, and the artists are more out there in that world, that global world, participating in a more interactive way than before. That makes the art different, and that is important for Cuban artists and Cuban art. The artists are working with the mediums and the technology, working in different formats than they were before.

Also, in a way, this world we’re having—economic crises, and troubles, and all of that—have made the artists look at their environment with different eyes. Myself, I look at art, and I say, Gosh, even in Cuban art, when they take the worst that’s happening in our society, and they bring it back into art . . . My heart breaks, because I would like to see beauty in everything that they make. But I understand that that is the reflection of what the artists are making and what’s happening in their lives. That’s valid too, very valid. Even though it’s not beautiful, it’s art—all the way.

We don’t see the changes as time is going by. Years have to pass, and then we look very coldly into the past, and we can see what the changes were. While it’s happening, it’s difficult for art to release it. It’s a harsh way, into which the people try to convey what their art is in their own way.

In addition to making your collection available to the public through exhibitions, the CIFO Foundation actively supports emerging Latin American artists, commissions work by mid-career Latin American artists, and presents public programs at CIFO Art Space in Miami. In general terms, how would you describe the goal of these activities?

We want the world to see what we produce in Latin America. There was not too much activity a few years ago, ten years ago. Now, the world is looking at Latin American art as part of global art. And that is important for us, and for me.

Any closing thoughts?

We covered a lot! I think what you’re doing on the internet with Cuban Art News is fantastic, bringing a view of what’s happening in Cuba to the outside world. I applaud what you are doing, and I hope that we can meet soon and get to see the Farber Collection.

Howard Farber is the publisher of Cuban Art News. He is co-founder and director of the Farber Foundation, the sponsoring organization for the website. With his wife Patricia, he has been actively involved in international culture for the past forty years as both art collector and patron. They began collecting contemporary Cuban art in 2001.