Pedro Pablo Oliva: “I don’t deliberately go in search of cubanía”

Published: January 23, 2014

The Pinar del Rio-born artist shows his work in Miami

Pedro Pablo Oliva, Juguetes (Toys), 2012

Courtesy Latin Art Core Gallery


The painter Pedro Pablo Oliva recently presented his colorful expressionist works in Miami’s Latin Art Core Gallery, his first U.S. show in ten years. Janet Batet spoke with Oliva about his career and philosophy.

From the beginning, your work has unfolded like a fable across the pictorial universe, in paintings permeated by a sense of anecdote, with imaginary characters that embody a history with a touch of humor, and with a marked moral character.

From the start of my career, I have tried, unintentionally, to record my life, my times, and the society that surrounds me—the world I live in, with its contradictions, its joys, its sorrows. All of my work is a big fable, or small fables that are intermingled in this grand fable which is the Cuban reality.

Your creativity is a breath that has enlivened Cuban art: the passion and sensitivity attuned to the everyday. How do you conceive the creative act?

Creating is a great mystery—even for the creator, who finds out; at the end, how the thread of a connection has been realized in the work. I make a lot of sketches, I process the work over and over, but I also give it leeway: I’m freer, more spontaneous. Eventually, these works will be part of a larger work.

For more serious works, which are always larger, I have a process of study, design, sketching the composition, researching the image. It’s a detailed process.

Pedro Pablo Oliva, Lidia y los grillos (Lydia and the creickets), 2012

Courtesy Latin Art Core Gallery


Which artists do you feel a kinship with?

I have to admit that I’m not inspired by one single artist. Behind me there are so many influential people. Among Cuban artists are certainly Antonia Eiriz (1929–1995), and Eduardo Abela (1889–1965). Also Marc Chagall, and most recently Gustav Klimt and all the Symbolists.

But it’s a spontaneous process. I don’t deliberately go in search of cubanía. It’s something in the artist´s body and blood. I belong to a generation graduated in the 1970s, along with Nelson Domínguez, Flora Fong, and Eduardo Roca (Choco), for whom it was a theoretical objective to maintain, within the artistic expression, a certain tradition of what we call cubanía.

Nelson Domínguez was heavily influenced by Wifredo Lam. Eduardo Abela was a strong influence on my work, and still is. And of course, all the Cuban humorists, and the inevitable presence of that marvelous woman, Antonia Eiríz.

Unlike Flora Fong or Zaída del Río, whose work reflects the pleasure they take in color, I was more focused on showing a critical perspective on society within cubanía. I moved toward a critical analysis of society within the experience of Cuban society.

The world of childhood is like a magnificent bridge that opens to imaginary worlds in your paintings, taking us back to a transfiguring look at Cuban reality with its enchantments and deliriums. It’s a world of daydreams that seems to be emphasized by the tendency of your characters to close their eyes.

You’re asking why I close the eyes of my characters. I wish I knew! I think they take on a sensation of tenderness. When we meet someone, we’re accustomed to looking into their eyes. I try to avoid spectators becoming trapped by the eyes of the characters, pushing them to navigate the context. The eyes are very distracting.

Pedro Pablo Oliva, Las extrañas apariciones de Estervina (The Strange Apparitions of Estervina), 2013

Courtesy Latin Art Core Gallery


In the end, I drag in a childhood that comes from I don’t know where. Or yes, perhaps it comes from my father´s death when I was six. Perhaps it’s my unconscious wish to remain there, trapped in that moment of childhood. Perhaps it’s an escape. Maybe I’m running away. I don’t know. I’ve never left childhood, which is lovely.

You mentioned Antonia Eiríz. Like her, you’ve devoted yourself to spreading culture through the community. Tell us a little about your casa-taller, your home workshop.

From the beginning I was conscious of the need for a different space culturally speaking. I know about the many limitations of students and visual artists, and their need for a much wider knowledge of the art world. So I decided to have, as they say, a house of independent culture.

There was no problem starting a home workshop. I tried to create a place where artists could think freely and have access to free information, with no limitation or censorship.

However, I realized artists don´t live only on visual information, but on philosophy, literature and other expressions of human beings that are not closely related to the visual image, and then a problem started. We had different kinds of literature, some of them censured by the government—for example, the work of Cabrera Infante or Zoe Valdes, as they had decided to live abroad, or Heberto Padilla´s.

I was interested in encouraging people in the province think in a different ways, to see multiple routes and not just one road. This idea was not accepted; so we were questioned, very much questioned.

The house had a very good cinema space. There was no cultural space in Pinar del Rio. I was not told to close it, but I was told that “the cultural space is no longer playing the role it was opened for,” and that implied its closure. I regret it very much, because it was a space of cultural dissemination for the province. I was very sorry.

There is an interesting duality in your work: the hero and the antihero. Often your characters are like the classic Greek hero, a victim of circumstances that overtake him, limited by his human condition.

The human being needs to see the ordinary man, the man who kisses, who walks with his children holding them by the hand. This human dimension also allows us to understand the error in so much of human nature.

There is another figure often present in my work: José Martí. Painting Martí was an obsession for me: a sort of inherited historical debt. [Oliva’s grandfather, who had been enlisted in the Spanish army, was directly involved in Martí’s death in Dos Ríos.] I felt I had a history of gratitude to this unique figure in the history of the country. A poet, a patriot, an impassioned human being.

Pedro Pablo Oliva, El Extraño viejo del gato azul (The Strange Old Person with the Blue Cat), 2003

Courtesy Latin Art Core Gallery


The joke is this bittersweet Cuban trait of scoffing at the most adverse circumstances. One of the most typical traits of contemporary culture on a global level is the sense of dystopia: the lack of belief in achieving utopia. It’s a contemporary disenchantment that is very present in your work, blended, however, with a profound humanist sensibility.

Disenchantment seems to be a contemporary sign of the times. In my works I feel that even when there is crisis, there is a profound confidence and humanism. If that weren’t so, we’d have to kill ourselves. Remember that hope is the future. Human beings are always going to struggle to live better, both in spiritual and material terms.

After the conflicts in Pinar del Rio, a character named Utopito appeared in my work. The very incarnation of utopia, but at the same time disenchantment. Utopito lives a very great contradiction. It’s the contradiction in which the Cuban people have lived, with plans today that later fail. Then others are put forth and again fail.

Utopito is a dreamer, He’s a pinareño, a Cuban full of contradictions, who believes in the society one moment, in the social design, but other times doesn’t believe. He is filled with contradictions, he jokes, suffers, ridicules. He is a personage very similar to the Salomón of Chago [Santiago Armada] or Abela’s Bobo. He is the character that is today the center of my artistic universe.

I tend to separate things. Here, for example [pointing to works in the Latin Art Core´s exhibition], these works are part of a series I call pequeñas cosas (small things). They show faces of women I loved so much. But, the center of my work is Utopito, who is contradictory, hopeful at times, but dark—most of the works in the series are dark.

Now I’m finishing up the Utopito exhibition. The idea is to first present it in Pinar del Río, if I can. Later, I’d like to show it Havana, then here [in Miami]. We’ll see. Utopito is a little irreverent—thanks to Antonia. We’ll see what the future holds for Utopito. Let’s hope we can do it all, because, as you know, it depends on many things, including the visa.

Pedro Pablo has left a work in progress in order to give us this interview and now he rushes off to return to the studio. In the doorway of the gallery, he turns one last time and tells me: “One last thing, muchacha. Don’t lose tenderness.”

Janet Batet (b. Havana, Cuba) is an independent curator, art critic, and essayist currently living in Miami. She is a former researcher and curator at the Centro de Desarrollo de las Artes Visuales (Development Center of Visual Arts) and a former professor at the Instituto Superior de Arte (Higher Institute of Art), both in Havana. She is passionate about contemporary art, Latin American art, and new technology. Her articles on art practices are regularly published in Art Nexus, Art Pulse, Arte al Dia, Art Experience: NYC, and El Nuevo Herald, among others.

Laura González on Contemporary Cuban Art at Phillips

Auction Preview: Laura González on Contemporary Cuban Art at Phillips

Published: November 14, 2013

Spotlighting the historic stand-alone section in the Latin American sale

José Ángel Toirac, Eternity, 2000

Courtesy Phillips

Phillips’ head of Latin American art talks about the first stand-alone section of Cuban contemporary art in a major auction—why it’s historic, why it’s happening now, and the lots to watch.

The upcoming Latin American sale at Phillips includes a special section on Cuban contemporary art—the first of its kind. Phillips is known for doing cutting-edge presentations in its sales. Tell us: why Cuba, and why now? What is it that you’re seeing in the market at this moment?

Abel Barroso, The Rush for the Freedom Land, 1997

Courtesy Phillips

Cuba is going through an active metamorphosis at the moment, and the changes in government policy and international outlook have absolutely affected the arts. Cuba is an active participant in the global cultural dialogue—a great example of this is that they’ve participated in the last two Venice Biennales. It’s time to highlight the work of these accomplished artists who, in many cases, have not had a chance to be listened to on the international stage. It’s also great that there’s an increasing amount of interest in Cuba’s artistic contributions, not only on its political and social issues. It’s always been an incubator for innovative thought, and it’s important to emphasize that to the collecting public.

The works in this section range from the 1960s to the present. What are your favorite lots? Which ones do you see as hidden gems?

Belkis Ayón, Sin Título (Sikán, Nasakó y Espíritu Santo), 1993

Courtesy Phillips


The work by Belkis Ayón is definitely a gem, although I’m not sure about the hidden part. This edition—of which only 6 works were made—has been exhibited all over the world. Still, Belkis is not a household name and that should change. Her incorporation of spiritual iconography and deeply personal references is very powerful. I’m excited to have this work in the sale.

Carlos Estévez, El dictador, 2008

Courtesy Phillips


Carlos Estévez’s work El dictador presents a unique depiction of the collective psychology of dictatorships. It’s at once literal and full of subtle allusions, which I find very interesting.

Tania Bruguera, Uniformes, 1998

Courtesy Phillips


I also think the works by Tania Bruguera and Pedro Vizcaíno are worth highlighting. Bruguera is such an important artist, and the work we have in the sale really communicates the bravado of her performances. Pedro Vizcaíno’s piece is a great example of contemporary Cuban painting, and I love the Philip Guston vibe that permeates the work, at least for me.

A portion of the proceeds from this part of the sale will go toward the acquisition of contemporary Cuban art by El Museo del Barrio. Tell us about that.

This donation helps give El Museo the ability to execute a cohesive acquisitions strategy, incorporating artistic voices from all walks of the contemporary Latin American and Latino art world. Cuba is an integral part of that conversation, and we are thrilled to be able to support the development of such an important institutional collection.

Sandra Ceballos, Absolut Jawlensky, 1995

Courtesy Phillips


In general, how would you describe the position of contemporary Cuban art in the global art scene these days? And the art market specifically?

Cuba has a rightful place in the contemporary art market, and what we are trying to do in this sale is give it the emphasis and attention that it deserves, in line with what we have done for Brazilian art and contemporary Latin American art as a whole. It’s all part of the same contemporary market, we just contextualize it differently. We’ve found that collectors enjoy this type of approach, because it gives them the opportunity to engage with quality material that they haven’t otherwise had access to.

Los Carpinteros, Mueble gordo, 2003

Courtesy Phillips


Anything else you’d like us to know?

We’re delighted with the selection of works we’ve acquired for this auction. I’m very proud to continue the tradition that Phillips has set forth in terms of offering cutting-edge works, always ahead of the curve. Contemporary Cuban art is a perfect example of this vision and I’m really looking forward to seeing how contemporary collectors respond to it.

Buying Art Online Is Here to Stay

Buying Art Online Is Here to Stay

Posted: 09/11/2013 11:03 am
President & Co-Founder, UGallery


Lana Greben’s Urban Pattern Day 22. Still from UGallery.

In early August, Amazon launched its second entry into the art category with Amazon Art, promising fine art to the masses at reasonable prices. With the new marketplace, you don’t need to leave your bedroom to peruse or purchase. In fact, it’s downright convenient.

Amazon Art is the culmination of the digitization of art commerce. In just a few years, over 300 online art selling/buying platforms have launched, with the category trying to catch up with demand. And the demand is there. Fully, 71 percent of art collectors have now purchased art of some form online. Now, more than ever, art is becoming less physical, evolving into a more accepted digital-first experience.

This shift is largely representative of our culture’s habituation to shopping online. According to a recent UPS study, 70 percent of more than 3,000 online shoppers surveyed in February 2013 say they prefer to shop their favorite retailer online. Beyond shopping, look at online dating. 22 percent of heterosexual couples and 61 percent of same-sex couples report having met on the web. Doing things online is the norm.

Buying art — which some would argue can be as difficult as dating — has now been added to the list.

But there’s more to the picture here. Yes, selling and buying art online has benefited from an online shopping trend that has been ongoing for years (led by none other than Amazon). But, the migration of the art experience online has actually helped address longstanding issues that hindered artists from succeeding and art collectors from buying.

Here are some of the more noticeable advantages we’re seeing from the shift toward online art.


Gloria Blatt’s Fioridiprimavera. Still from UGallery.

For collectors — art demystified

Let’s be honest; prior to the digitalization of art buying, art culture was often seen as a private club, only accessible to deep-pocketed collectors with a rarefied pedigree. The traditional brick-and-mortar gallery is actually the physical manifestation of this ethos, as only an exclusive few artists are represented, with their art typically pricing them out of the everyday buyer’s budget. This is why you’ll often hear those outside of the traditional art community labeling galleries and art houses “intimidating.” They seem inaccessible to novices who are genuinely interested in art, yet unsure how to find quality work. The art community has built an elitist reputation that has hurt its ability to organically expand and sell artwork on a larger scale over the long term.

Today, however, online art platforms are disrupting and reversing the old order. Services like Amazon Art, UGallery and others are breaking down the traditional barriers to entry for buyers and demystifying the purchase process. Rather than visiting a physical gallery without insight into pricing or the artists they have on hand, you can visit a curated online gallery and browse thousands of pieces with all the information you need on the artist involved. It’s not a nerve-wracking experience by any means. You can take your time to learn, without expectations or pressure. There’s transparency enabled through online galleries that make buying a whole lot easier.

Online galleries also represent more artists, meaning larger inventories and a more varied collection, with different price points for any budget, making art more accessible than ever.

For artists — sell and be seen

Prior to the launch of the online art gallery, to be successful and carve out an actual career, artists needed to develop close relationships with physical, brick-and-mortar galleries and art houses to help market their work, drive sales and establish credibility. This is easier said than done, of course.

Galleries are notoriously sensitive about the artwork they take on and the artists they ultimately represent, with only a small percentage eventually breaking through. For those artists who don’t have physical gallery representation or just aren’t located in an area with any galleries — this happens quite a bit — an online gallery is the perfect partner. And while some online galleries curate their collection like a traditional gallery, from a sheer physical space standpoint, online galleries aren’t limited and are inherently designed to take on more inventory. Plus, in a world where over 70 percent prefer buying online, online galleries, unlike their physical counterparts, are masters of digital marketing to drive real sales.

Moving beyond the accessibility factor, online art galleries offer unparalleled, global scale for artists in a way that traditional galleries can’t. Now, an artist based in Michigan can sell a piece to a collector in China. In the past, reaching New York and international markets was a struggle for all artists. Thanks to platforms like Amazon Art, artists are selling worldwide, regardless of location.


Suren Nersisyan’s Street in Washington DC (Midday). Still from UGallery.

Online art & physical galleries coexisting

While I’m clearly a proponent of the digital art experience, both an online presence and an offline one are necessary for the art world to expand its’ base successfully. There will always be the affluent art patron who has cultivated valuable relationships with gallery experts and who prefers to see the work in-person before spending thousands or even millions on an original piece.

Online galleries, on the other hand, support the needs of a previously underserved market of artists and a new generation of art buyers. They’re opening up a previously closed channel and bringing “art to the people” in a more personal, accessible and convenient way. Market penetration for original artwork is still relatively small; most people start with prints, where they may naturally feel most comfortable. But the opportunity provided through online art to spark real growth for original work has never been greater.

I’m pretty sure the folks at Amazon think so, too.                                  


A van Gogh’s Trip From the Attic to the Museum

Herman Wouters for The New York Times

Axel Rüger, left, and Louis van Tilborgh of the Van Gogh Museum unveiling “Sunset at Montmajour” on Monday

Published: September 9, 2013
  • AMSTERDAM — For roughly a century, the painting “Sunset at Montmajour” was considered a fake. It was stored in an attic and then held in a private collection, unknown to the public and dismissed by art historians. But on Monday, the Van Gogh Museum declared the work a genuine product of the master, calling it a major discovery.

“Sunset at Montmajour,” painted in Arles in 1888, “is a work from the most important period of his life, when he created his substantial masterpieces, like ‘Sunflowers,’ ‘The Yellow House’ and ‘The Bedroom,’ ” said the museum’s director, Axel Rüger, in an interview. The painting depicts dusk in the hilly, forested landscape of Montmajour, in Provence, with wheat fields and the ruins of a Benedictine abbey in the distance. The area around Montmajour was a subject that van Gogh revisited often during his time in Arles.

“One or two early van Goghs do sometimes come out of the woodwork now and again, but from the mature period, it’s very rare,” said James Roundell, an art dealer and the director of modern pictures for the Dickinson galleries in London and New York, which deals in Impressionist and modern art.

Mr. Roundell said it would be hard to predict precisely how much “Sunset at Montmajour” would fetch on the market, but expected it would be “in the tens of millions and quite a few of them.”

He added, “It’s not the iconic status of something like the ‘Sunflowers,’ or the ‘Portrait of Dr. Gachet,’ ” which sold at auction for $82.5 million in 1990.

Fred Leeman, a former chief curator of the museum and now an independent art historian and van Gogh scholar based here, said the work, which he called “100 percent genuine,” contributes to an alternative understanding of the artist. “We have the impression of van Gogh as a very modern painter, but here he’s working in the tradition of 19th-century landscape painting,” he said.

The painting has been in the collection of a family for several years, and Mr. Rüger said that because of privacy concerns, he couldn’t release any more information about the owners.

Until 1901, the painting was in the collection once owned by van Gogh’s brother, Theo, said Marije Vellekoop, the head of collections, research and presentation for the museum. His widow, Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, sold it to a Paris art dealer. In 1908, the art dealer sold it to a Norwegian collector, Ms. Vellekoop said. Shortly after that, she added, “it was declared a fake, or not an original,” and the Norwegian collector banished it to his attic, where it stayed until he died in 1970. The current owners purchased it thereafter.

They took it to the Van Gogh Museum in 1991, Mr. Rüger said, but at the time, experts there said they did not think it was authentic. Two years ago, the owners took it back to the museum, and researchers from the museum have been examining it ever since, Mr. Rüger said. Louis van Tilborgh, the museum’s senior researcher, said that since 1991, the museum has developed several new techniques for identifying and authenticating works of art. He said that all those methods were put to use when researchers had the chance to look at this painting again.

According to Mr. van Tilborgh, it was painted on the same type of canvas with the same type of underpainting van Gogh used for at least one other painting of the same area, “The Rocks.” The work was also listed as part of Theo van Gogh’s collection in 1890. It has “180” painted on the back, which corresponds to the number in the collection inventory. “That was the clincher,” he said.

Mr. Rüger added: “This time, we have topographical information, plus a number of other factors that have helped us to establish authenticity. Research is so much more advanced now, so we could come to a very different conclusion.” The last major van Gogh brought to light, the museum said, was the 1888 painting “Tarascon Stage Coach,” in the 1930s. The date of “Sunset at Montmajour” has been identified as July 4, 1888. In a letter van Gogh wrote to his brother the next day, he seemed to have described the scene:

“Yesterday, at sunset, I was on a stony heath, where very small, twisted oaks grow, in the background a ruin on the hill, and wheat fields in the valley. It was romantic, it couldn’t be more so, à la Monticelli, the sun was pouring its very yellow rays over the bushes and the ground, absolutely a shower of gold. And all the lines were beautiful; the whole scene had charming nobility.” (He was referring to the works of Adolphe Monticelli, one of the first painters van Gogh admired when he moved to Paris in 1886, and who played a role in van Gogh’s decision to move to Provence.)

“Sunset at Montmajour” is comparable in size to “Sunflowers,” which was painted the same year and sold for $39.9 million in 1987 at an auction at Christie’s in London.

Van Gogh moved to Arles in February 1888 and spent time exploring the landscapes in Provence, and doing work “en plein air,” or in nature. He was particularly fascinated by the flat landscape around the hill of Montmajour, with its rocky outcroppings and hay-colored fields.

In a letter dated July 1888, he said that he had been to Montmajour at least 50 times “to see the view over the plain.”

Mr. Leeman, the historian, said that “in hindsight, many pointers in his letters and entries in catalogs of the 1900s have been linked to other paintings or misidentified,” adding, “Here, we see a painting that fits those descriptions exactly.”

The painting will be on view at the museum for one year, starting on Sept. 24, as part of the current exhibition, “Van Gogh at Work,” which focuses on other new discoveries about the painter’s artistic development. Mr. Rüger said the current owners have not indicated what they intend to do with it after that.

<img src=””/>          

A version of this article appears in print on September 10, 2013, on page C1 of the New York edition with the headline: A van Gogh’s Trip From Attic to Museum.

More than a thousand archaeological pieces stolen at Egypt’s Mallawi museum


A picture taken on August 26, 2013, shows the vandalized and looted exhibition hall at the Mallawi Museum

in the southern Egyptian town of Mallawi. The museum was the scene of an armed robery on August 14,
during which more than a thousand archaeological pieces were stolen.
By: Mohamad Ali Harissi                    

MALLAWI (AFP).- Magdy Tahami looks in disbelief at what remains of Egypt’s tiny Mallawi museum.
The ground is littered with glass from the display cabinets, which once housed its precious collection,
after a mob attacked and looted the building, during a nationwide crackdown on Islamist protesters.
Before, hundreds of antiquities, statuettes, gold and jewels told the history of Egypt, from pharaonic
times to the Muslim caliphs, from the Omayyad dynasty in the 7th century to the Fatimids in the 12th,
and touching on Greek and Roman antiquities.
For 20 years, these historic treasures were assistant-director Tahami’s whole life.
“I like this museum more than my own house, I have spent more time there than at home.
It is as if it were my house that has been destroyed, burgled and pillaged,” he says.
For him and his colleagues, the Mallawi museum, 70 kilometres (43 miles) from Minya, the town in
Upper Egypt south of Cairo, has paid a steep price for the bloody crackdown on protests by supporters
of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, toppled by the army on July 3.
On August 14, shortly after the police and army launched an operation on pro-Morsi protest camps in
Cairo that killed hundreds in few hours, several hundred armed men attacked the museum.
While nobody is certain who the attackers and looters were, the walls of the museum are still daubed
with pro-Morsi slogans.
“Yes to Islam, yes to the Muslim Brotherhood,” says one slogan, in a nod to the group from which
Morsi hails. Another warns: “Sisi, we are coming,” referring to army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the
strongman who announced Morsi’s overthrow on July 3 after massive rallies against the Islamist former
head of state. And the museum, with its antiquities and statues, which a minority of radical Islamists had
called to be destroyed, was not the only building to be targeted.
In the region, which is home to a sizeable Christian minority, several churches and Coptic institutions have
been also attacked. Warned in advance of the bloody events in the capital, the employees closed the
museum and barricaded themselves inside with a dozen policemen, but they could not stop the damage,
Tahami says. He describes the scene as a “battlefield,” with automatic fire echoing from all sides so that
“we did not know where they were coming from or who was firing”.
After several hours, nearly all of the 1,089 museum pieces had been stolen or destroyed, says Tahami.
UNESCO said the attack had caused “irreversible damage to the history and identity of the Egyptian people”
in a country full of archaeological wonders. “They took everything. The few pieces they left, because they
couldn’t carry them away, they vandalized,” Tahami recalls. “Here, they burned a mummy,” he says, pointing
to a black stain on the ground. Every day, the police says it has recovered more of the stolen antiquities but so
far they have only found 221 items. Fearing some of these treasures may turn up on the black market,
UNESCO said the looted objects had been recorded and that selling the items is illegal both inside and outside of
Egypt. The floor of the museum’s main display room is still covered with broken glass and wrecked display cases,
and a similar scene of devastation can be seen in two adjoining rooms and the one upstairs.
In front of the entrance to the museum, still pocked with bullet holes and surrounded by burned-out cars,
Khalil Hussein, the head of security, looks on in silence.
“The day after the attack, an official delegation came to see the damage. When they came, a sniper shot our
colleague Sameh Ahmed Abdel Hafiz, who worked at the ticket desk, as he was standing in the courtyard,”
he says. During the 2011 uprising that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak, several museums were
pillaged, including the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities near Cairo’s Tahrir square, epicentre of the demonstrations.
Mallawi Museum -  Picture of damaged mummy coffin in Mallawi Museum in Egypt after looting

Flash of Gold

Photograph from Rouge/Demotix

A wooden sarcophagus with a gilded face, likely from the Ptolemaic period

(305 to 30 B.C.),was toppled in the melee but seems to have suffered little damage.

Mallawi Museum -  Picture of destroyed gallery in Mallawi Museum in Egypt after looting

Utter Ruin

Photograph from Rouge/Demotix

This ravaged gallery once held statues and mummies of baboons.

In the ancient Egyptian pantheon, those creatures represented Thoth, the god of writing and knowledge.

Ears Wide Open: MoMA’s Soundings

by Brian Boucher 08/09/13

Just outside a third-floor gallery at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, where sleek padded seating customarily attracts weary visitors, sits a worn wooden subway bench. This is Motor-Matter Bench (2013), by Sergei Tcherepnin, and when you take a seat, you feel intermittent vibrations. While the sensation recalls that produced by an oncoming train, it’s actually a physical rendering of ambient noise from the surrounding space, conveyed through the sitter’s very bones via electronic components on the bench’s underside.


View Slideshow Camille Norment: Triplight, 2008, microphone cage, stand, light, electronics. Dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist.  ;  Richard Garet: Before Me, 2012, sound installation, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist and Julian Navarro Projects, New York.  ;


It’s part of “Soundings: A Contemporary Score” (Aug. 10-Nov. 3), MoMA’s first full-scale exhibition of sound art. Organized by associate curator Barbara London, the show includes 16 artists, all under 50.
Another of the first works one encounters is Camille Norment’s Triplight (2008), a sculpture that consists of an antique microphone on a stand. Silenced by the removal of the interior works, the device now houses an intermittently flashing light whose illumination casts a ribcage-like shadow on a nearby wall. Among the show’s other surprises are drawings on the theme of sound by Christine Sun Kim, who was born deaf.
Thankfully, the show is far from an enfilade of dark, padded “listening rooms”—though there are some of those, for the first time in a show organized by MoMA, London said at a preview last week. The show mixes auditory and silent works in various mediums to offer a survey of ways in which artists deal with sound. (The works without an audio component also provide space between works with sound, preventing noise bleed.)
The press preview provided a bit of a reunion for some of the artists, who, due to shared concerns, have considerable overlap in their exhibition histories.
“The first proper sound art show I was in was at the gallery The Project, in Harlem, in 2000,” Norment told A.i.A., “and it was the first time I exhibited with Stephen Vitiello.” Vitiello’s A Bell for Every Minute (2010) is installed in the museum’s courtyard. It reproduces, every 60 seconds, the sound of a bell recorded somewhere in New York.
“Some of these artists are also composers or musicians,” New York-based Tristan Perich told A.i.A. “Sergei Tcherepnin is a composer, and he and I have been on the same program together. Jakob Kierkegaard and I have played on the same stage together.” Perich’s 2011 Microtonal Wall consists of 1,500 tiny speakers, each containing a one-bit microprocessor and playing a different note; at a distance, they blend into a drone, but as you press your ear to the speaker, distinct pitches emerge.
Kierkegaard, for his AION (2006), created field recordings in abandoned rooms at the site of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. In the mode of Alvin Lucier’s I Am Sitting in a Room (1969), which takes advantage of a room’s resonant frequencies, Kierkegaard recorded the ambient noise of the seemingly silent rooms and then layered the sounds until they create a droning hum. “There is always sound in a room,” Kierkegaard said. Kierkegaard, besides having appeared on the same stage with Perich, is in a group called Freq Out with Jana Winderen, whose field recordings are also included, in one of the show’s few listening rooms.
“When I started recording seriously in 1995,” Kierkegaard said, “I never dreamed I’d show at the Museum of Modern Art. But I feel so welcome in the visual art field.”

Reflecting on Jay Z and the “Picasso Baby” Shoot at Pace Gallery

Featured by Artsy

Posted 9 days ago

Art historian; Director of The Art Genome Project at Artsy; @crosstemporal on Twitter; and author of Kill for Peace: American Artists Against the Vietnam War

Yes, there are probably better rap songs that have been written about art.

Yes, the scene and the song are/were more about bling, blowing money as spectacle, and art as a status symbol than the subject of art appreciation or the insightful understanding of art, artists and the art world.

Yes, Jay Z is replacing cars with canvases.

Yes, people were totally starstruck and falling over themselves.

Yes, Marina Abramovic capitalized on her moment in the spotlight.

Yes, Jay Z did not do an endurance performance piece (as was promised).


Shouldn’t we embrace the fact that a major rap star performed in a Chelsea gallery and focused his attention on the art world?

Isn’t it better that Jay Z is rapping about artists and artworks than guns, dealing drugs or mistreating women?

Can’t we appreciate someone who can work a crowd like that for six hours and come off to so many people as so charming and endearing?

Also, are there different rules for Jay Z boasting about his art than for other collectors?

Shouldn’t there be more events like these, i.e., provocative performances that prompt strong reactions from the art-going public, and which make people speak out and “come clean” regarding their thoughts about the boundary between high and low—or the subtle line(s) between “keeping it real” and “selling out.”

And how great is it that many people around the world with little exposure to art might hear about Francis Bacon or Jeff Koons via this song. The song might even prompt people to look these artists up on the Internet to see what they’re all about. (Via the videos and tweets and instagrams online right now, people might learn about Lawrence Weiner, Lorna Simpson, RoseLee Goldberg and Mickalene Thomas too.) In so doing, they could be challenged by what they might see; something like this might open up their world. This is not something rap has really done before. (For one, as a kid who only listened to rap from ages 10-16, the things I heard about and looked up were types of guns, intersections in Brooklyn and South Central, and names of drugs—not artists. I’d say this is a positive/interesting turn of events.)

As testament to the eye-opening ability of Jay Z’s song, one respondent to Jerry Saltz’s article on the event explained that, while last week, they “literally couldn’t bribe a single friend to go check out” a free art museum, one of my friends just asked me who Picasso is. Because of this specific song.” They continued, “This ‘circus’ may be below your rarefied taste, but it just opened a whole new world to more than one of my real life, living, breathing…friends.”

And in the same vein, another commenter explained…

“Much as you despise it, Jay dropping these references will inspire some of our less advantaged youth to aspire to collect art, as opposed to gaudy jewelry. Or a Maybach.”

The exposure someone like Jay Z provides is pretty awe-inspiring in today’s ever-connected world. If you’re interested in spreading access to all of the amazing and great and odd aspects of art, then yesterday’s event can be seen as a positive mass-market moment.


Jay Z, “Picasso Baby” shoot at Pace Gallery, Vimeo

“Sex Machine” by The-Merger

New Inventory on display

  The-Merger, Sex Machine

TITLE: Sex Machine
ARTIST:   The-Merger (Cuban)
CATEGORY: Sculptures
MATERIALS: Aluminum with powder coating
SIZE: h: 84 x w: 24 in / h: 213.4 x w: 61 cm
STYLE: Contemporary
PRICE*: Contact Gallery for Price
GALLERY: +1-305-827-4804   or email us at

Celebrating the 161st Birthday of Antoní Gaudí

Antoní Gaudí Google Doodle: 6 Craziest Gaudí Buildings

antoní, gaudí, google, doodle:, 6, craziest, gaudí, buildings,

If you have ever been to Barcelona, you would have noticed that the Catalan capital is a city spellbound by modernism. One of the most influential architects of this art nouveau movement was Antoní Gaudí.

Born in 1852 in Tarragona, Gaudí was most prolific in Barcelona, where he transformed the bustling city into a modernist capital of the world. Toward the last years of his life, Gaudí escaped from the public eye and lived a life of solitude.

But he was, nevertheless, an architectural genius. He met a tragic death at the age of 71 when he was struck by a tram in Barcelona in 1926, but the modernist’s legacy and the beauty he envisioned and created live on.

1. Sagrada Familia                      
antoní, gaudí, google, doodle:, 6, craziest, gaudí, buildings,

Gaudí’s Basílica de la Sagrada Familia (Church of the Sacred Family) is perhaps his best known work and the most recognizable feature of Barcelona’s city landscape. Gaudí began his work on the masterpiece in 1882, and over 130 years later the Church is still unfinished. Sagrada Familia is expected to be completed within 30-80 years, but in the meantime visitors from all over the world flock to see the work-in-progress. From the exterior stone facade inhabited by religious symbols to the interior whose crevices are flooded by light and stained glass, la Sagrada Familia is a wonder.

2. Park Güell                      
antoní, gaudí, google, doodle:, 6, craziest, gaudí, buildings,

Park Güell is a park and garden complex that offers arguably the best, panoramic view of Barcelona. Located on a hill just North of the center of the city, the park features Gaudí’s renowned mosaics — the iconic “el drac” — twisted rock pillars that form pathways, and serpentine, ceramic benches. The park is one of Gaudís UNESCO World Heritage Sites. At the top of the Park visitors can also visit one of Gaudí’s previous homes, which now serves as a museum.

3. Casa Milá                      
antoní, gaudí, google, doodle:, 6, craziest, gaudí, buildings,

Casa Milá, commonly known as “La Pedrera” is one of the most distinguishable buildings in the city of Barcelona, a hallmark of the modernist movement and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Construction of the building began in 1906 and took six years. Located on Passeig de Gracia, the posh and extravagant “5th Avenue” of the city, La Pedrera is one of the city’s major tourist attractions. Its jutting stone facade, wrought iron decor, lavish windows and unique rooftop area make La Pedrera a feast for the eyes.

4. Casa Batlló                      
antoní, gaudí, google, doodle:, 6, craziest, gaudí, buildings,

Just across the street from “La Pedrera” rests Casa Batlló, one of Gaudí’s masterpieces and most visually striking works of architecture in the city. Gaudí began to work of art in 1904 for the Batlló’s private family home, but the building has since been transformed into a museum. The building highlights Gaudí’s playful style and his reliance on nature for architectural inspiration. The blue tiles, serpentine stairways and white undulating pillars are meant to replicate the movement of the ocean. The original name of the building, “House of Bones” describes the exterior facade that resembles a skeleton.

5. Palau Güell                      
antoní, gaudí, google, doodle:, 6, craziest, gaudí, buildings,

Designed and built for the wealthy commissioner, Count Güell, Gaudí began his construction of the medieval-themed palace, the Palau Güell, in 1885. But the Palau was not simply a private home — Count Güell shared it with the city by using his palace to host exhibitions concerts and celebratory events. The parabolic arch, brightly colored honeycomb turrets and the combination of marble, ceramic and stained glass featured on the building’s interior and rooftop have become cornerstones of Gaudí’s architectural works.

6. Casa Vicens                      
antoní, gaudí, google, doodle:, 6, craziest, gaudí, buildings,

Casa Vicens is one of Gaudí’s earliest and lesser known works to grace Barcelona’s city streets. Designed for the wealthy Manuel Vicens, the house has become a world heritage site as Gaudi’s first important work. From its asymmetrical frame, jutting buttresses and rooftop towers, the building reveals a moorish influence — that is less characteristic of Barcelona but extremely popular in Southern Spain.

Cuban art opens up to the world

Many blame the Castro government for squeezing free expression. But today Cuba’s art scene is vibrant and global.

“Si te olvido tu te inventas” (If I forget you, you invent yourself), 2012, by Ernesto Rancano, on display at Galeria Villa Manuela in Havana, Cuba.
PHOTO BY: Carolyn Bick

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series by Boston University journalism students.

HAVANA, Cuba — In a tree-shaded neighborhood that was once home to wealthy Cubans, a stately sea-green mansion with tall Roman columns hides a trove of artistic surprises.

The Villa Manuela Gallery reveals the stunning vibrancy of Cuba’s contemporary art scene. In a country where people have struggled for decades with governmental restrictions on free expression, artists here exhibit a broader desire for a more open society.

Cuba has always maintained a venerable reputation in the international world of fine arts. For the best Cuban artists, the occupation is more than just a form of personal expression. Especially recently, as Cubans push to expand beyond their island’s shores, it can pave a path to what, by the country’s current standards, is considerable wealth.

While contemporary painters and sculptors sell to foreign tourists who pack the streets of Old Havana, they also show their work at chic galleries throughout Europe, South America and, more recently, the United States.

Some sell their works for tens of thousands of dollars.

The success that artists in Cuba enjoy reflects a striking difference between their place in society and the place artists occupy in other countries. Rather than suffer in garrets and work odd jobs, some are among the country’s highest earners, and enjoy privileges far beyond the means of most other Cubans.

These days, despite any previous governmental restriction that Cuba is infamous for, art experts say artists here are also able to paint, draw, and sculpt almost whatever they wish.

“There is more freedom in art than one would expect in Cuba,” said Michelle Wojcik, who runs a gallery in Boston’s trendy South End that showcases new art from Cuba. “That’s not to say that Cubans have total freedom, but the artists I have represented say they don’t feel restricted.”

The state-sponsored Villa Manuela Gallery in Havana, which opened in 2004, is on the cutting edge of contemporary Cuban art.

In March, it showed works interpreting the tensions felt by Cubans who live near the US military base at Guantanamo Bay. In April, its main gallery was painted black and dimly lit for a retrospective of delicate wooden sculptures by Inti Hernandez, who lives and works in both Havana and Amsterdam.

The contrast between the sleek minimalism of Hernandez’s show and the classical building in which it is housed reflects the desire of contemporary Cuban artists to combine their country’s rich artistic heritage with more modern tastes.

For much of the 19th century, Cuban art was strongly influenced by European classicism. Beginning in the 1920s, Cuban artists were drawn to more avant-garde forms. They joined restless artists in other parts of the world in what became known as the “Vanguard” movement, which rejected European-based academic conventions.

Perhaps the best-known of Cuba’s “Vanguard” artists, Wifredo Lam, worked in Paris with Picasso, Matisse, and Miro, and made a point of infusing his work with a distinctly Cuban spirit.

After Fidel Castro and his guerrilla comrades toppled US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959, he laid out a utopian vision for the country that promoted and expanded access to education, science and culture.

Yet despite steps toward that vision, some scholars and self-exiled artists say artistic freedom was curtailed.

Critics of Castro say the island’s art became too political, closely monitored by the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba, which was founded in 1961. The result was a great exodus of artists and intellectuals.

As the Soviet Union gained influence in the country throughout the 1960s and ’70s, it tried to implement its own form of Soviet realism. Some native Cuban artists worked to reject this. In the 80s, they began to push harder for their freedom of expression, causing previous restrictions to loosen.

A decade later, artists were allowed to travel or emigrate, and the country lost a considerable amount of promising, up-and-coming talent.

Today, perhaps learning from its propagandistic mistakes, the Cuban government no longer imposes political or stylistic conformity, art experts say.

Some artists, like Nelson Dominguez and Choco, are still promoted by the government, but they have been freed from pressure to use their talent to serve the state.

Contemporary Cuban art illustrates the country’s complexity. It is a rich mix of European, Caribbean and African heritage, Christianity and other religious customs, and a steadily increasing fascination with global culture.

“Cuba has always had a very rich tradition in art,” said Edel Bordon, whose vividly colored paintings convey a modern sensibility with distinctly Cuban accents. “Cuba’s art scene today is thriving and diverse, rooted in tradition but alive with innovation.”

Bordon is a prominent artist in Havana, and has shown his work in Brazil, Germany, Mexico, Switzerland and the United States. He also teaches in one of several important art academies that flourish here — and is himself an alum of those academies, with 13 years of academic training.

The revolution may have curtailed artistic freedom, but it also increased the opportunity for people to become artists by making extensive, subsidized art universities part of an unparalleled approach to the education of its citizens.

With Castro, arts education became accessible and reputable. The state has made arts education a priority, even in high school and primary school — something the government and its followers like to boast.

“Without artistic instruction, education is not truly integral,” a recent article in state newspaper Granma said.

Cuba’s most prestigious arts university, the Instituto Superior de Arte, was founded in 1961.

The fact that art education is free in Cuba “makes studying art attractive, and is therefore responsible for Havana’s strong community of artists,” Bordon said.

Yet he lamented that nearly all of his customers are foreigners.

“There is no tradition of buying art in Cuba,” he said. Most Cubans lack access to hard currency, and monthly salaries rarely exceed $30. As a result, most Cuban artists seek the international market.

Not until recently did that market include the United States, a country whose market particularly values free political expression and individuality in work.

The US government legalized importing Cuban art from Cuba in 1991. Nine years later, President Barack Obama’s administration began granting visas to Cuban artists to come and showcase their work.

“Art is a part of Cuban culture,” Wojcik, the Boston gallery’s director “Education in the arts is highly respected, and there is great regard for artists.”

Cuban art is hardly confined to sleek spaces like the Villa Manuela Gallery. Many painters make the streets of Havana their studio, delighting visitors who stop, watch, and sometimes buy. They add a bright flash of color to a city that — except for some restoration projects — has been slowly crumbling for half a century.

On a rainy afternoon recently, a self-taught painter named Favier Mesa worked on a still life inside a restaurant that caters to tourists.

“There are a lot of artists and galleries here, a strong community, so it’s not too hard to become an artist here,” he said. “I paint what I want. I paint because I like it.”

This spring, Boston University journalism and photography students made a weeklong trip to Cuba. By special arrangement, GlobalPost is presenting six stories that emerged from their trip. The introductory piece is by Stephen Kinzer, the former New York Times foreign correspondent who was the students’ journalism professor. The five that follow were written by his students. Photos were taken by students working under the guidance of prize-winning photographer Essdras Suarez.