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Self-management within the Cuban art market: a crucial good?

Beyond coping with material needs, any Cuban visual artist who begins his profession needs to beat a complete series of logistical and organizational issues typical of the art market, difficulties which can be multiplied in our context.

We’re talking about management of social networks and promoting, seek for sponsorships or funds for exhibitions, management of sales in galleries or directly with art dealers, along with other matters related to economic, legal and organizational facets. All of the above are normal processes for any artist searching for to position himself adequately in a comparatively competitive and efficient art market.

In Cuba, the artist often resorts to self-management of several of those operations and almost all the time the economic issue is the justification that is apparent in any debate on the matter, although the issue goes beyond a mere saving of resources or of a private interest of the artist in monopolizing all of the work related to his profession.

Two conversations took place in Havana recently, related to the Cuban art market and the self-management of the artist as a resource throughout the visual arts environment within the country. Artists, specialists, curators, amongst other people linked to the work of this artistic manifestation on the island participated in them.

 The visit of French Jean Minguet, economist and specialist in contemporary art, a part of the team of the Artprice.com platform, specialized within the evaluation of the art market worldwide, gave us an summary of how the international art market moves, without dwelling much on national specificities, as expected. The meeting led to other visits by specialists to gallery spaces within the Cuban capital.

Artprice is a non-public company that manages invaluable information regarding the value, market, econometrics and trends of latest art, facets which can be practically unknown to those that attempt to carry forward the just about non-existent Cuban art market.

Delving into the twists and turns of the trendy art market is a task for specialists on the topic, a somewhat complicated matter for individuals who dedicate themselves exclusively to those issues, let alone for an artist whose predominant function is creation, with all of the preparations and vicissitudes that the method itself entails.

Hence, self-management, beyond being an achievement or a subsistence mechanism for the Cuban creator, often becomes an issue (yet one more one) with which many Cuban artists should deal, accustomed to the additional workload.

Minguet’s lecture served in a certain technique to make us realize once more the necessity to structure a national market and, more importantly, the training of specialists able to carrying out a solid structure that supports the name of Cuban art outside of Cuba, without ruling out the economic issue, which remains to be present.

Shortly after, this meeting of the French specialist prompted one other panel in regards to the artist as a self-manager within the visual arts scene within the country, this time with the participation of Cuban creators as guests, who presented their experiences and addressed significant issues regarding the artist-manager subject.

The Galería Máxima space welcomed Rafael Villares, Duvier del Dago, Douglas Pérez Castro and Luis Enrique Camejo, who, beyond reflecting an anecdote of non-public experiences on work and the vicissitudes experienced of their careers, addressed other details, perhaps pending, from the previous meeting with Minguet within the theater of the National Museum of Wonderful Arts (MNBA).

From left to right: Douglas Pérez, Luis Enrique Camejo, Duvier del Dago and Rafael Villares in a panel on self-management within the Cuban art market. Photo: courtesy of Galería Máxima.

The space, moderated by the young specialist Karla Ochoa, graduate and professor in Art History, served to bring up the controversy in regards to the convenience or not of the logistical work assumed by the artists, other than their creative process and the way these related tasks influence on-site creation.

Although the identical economic situation has led increasingly artists to assume different organizational roles of their careers, in the long term it becomes an inconvenience for the complete development of the creator, who must distance himself somewhat from his creative work by assuming different tasks.

It needs to be noted that the creative process around a piece or exhibition can be sometimes enriched when the artist decides to tackle a part of the curatorship or the assembly of the pieces, the moderator identified on the meeting, a process that helps the formation of young individuals who start their profession in art, along with having the ability to study other processes parallel to and subsequent to the creation of the murals.

On this regard, Duvier del Dago, who also works as a professor on the Higher Institute of Art (ISA), addressed the necessity for the artist to also know a bit about more mental processes or those related to criticism and the writing of texts, other than the theoretical training received within the academy, for which a greater interaction between the colleges of Arts and Letters and ISA is crucial, as a part of the enrichment of future professionals, each theorists and artists in training.

Regarding the varied paths to self-manage sponsorship, the panelists said that there will not be in itself a single path or “little book” to follow. The anecdotes and private references mentioned during greater than an hour of meeting demonstrated that artists must undergo an arduous path when searching for financing for creation, for the creation of a painting, sculptures, a performance, installations, amongst other creative paths.

Alternatively, Adrián Socorro, one in every of the artists present within the audience, identified that greater management and support from the country’s institutions is crucial, especially for artists who live within the provinces, more so within the case of self-taught artists, who even have twice the drawback than the creators who’ve passed through the corresponding educational pyramid.

Within the case of the island’s plastic arts institutions, they need to higher assume their logistical work — often expensive —, where the artist finally ends up assuming costs related to the preparation of an exhibition, which makes proper management by this sort of institution even harder.

Alternatively, a greater possibility of sales or efficient sales management would make it possible to cover costs and foster the infrastructure of the Cuban art market, which currently depends almost entirely on foreign capital, although the country’s visual arts authorities should take more care to keep up that artistic heritage that has gone to other countries over the a long time.

Cuban art after thawing

On this regard, Douglas commented on his experience in Holland, where he explained that, beyond a monetary issue, the European nation was fascinated with preserving its own heritage, with the acquisition and conservation of works by local artists, an initiative from which Cuba could learn.

Aside from the gathering treasured by the MNBA and the governing role of the National Council of Plastic Arts and the Cuban Fund of Cultural Assets, the country’s galleries must have a greater dissemination of the catalog of their works, in addition to provide greater opportunities for the general public to know the present collections within the country, particularly, what’s treasured in terms of latest Cuban art, where the creation of a museum that safeguards probably the most recent Cuban creation of recent times is greater than crucial.

At the identical time, a greater preparation of specialists in art market matters is urgent if one desires to perform a reliable market project today, since again and again History of Art graduates exit into the “real” world once they finish their studies with many questions, in a context where the figure of the art dealer or curator is sort of a taboo within the country, where private gallery spaces still lack legal power.

Although the legal recognition of open studios has allowed artists a certain economic independence and self-management of their projects, these are small spaces for the dissemination of their work and mustn’t proliferate greater than gallery spaces, where there’s — or needs to be — a complete work team to support creators of their intention to enter the market, connecting them with other avenues for future exhibitions and projects. This was highlighted by Camejo Vento in his presentation, by which he added that not many artists are lucky enough to return to an area like Máxima, which helps the artist in matters which can be somewhat unrelated to his work.

Art galleries in Cuba: business, sin, privilege, necessity?

Spaces like this panel are crucial to query where the longer term of the national market should go, after several years of attempting to finally take off, identified Villares, one in every of the Cuban artists who recently participated within the 2022 Venice Biennale, who referred to the indisputable fact that there’s more work to be done in order that the art made in Cuba reaches more homes, in a desire that many share and that they hope won’t take long to be fulfilled.

Yoel Rodriguez Tejeda

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