Tuesday, December 27, 2011

National Heritage: Who Gives More? / Iván García

ational Heritage: Who Gives More? / Iván García
Iván García, Translator: Unstated

Between the 2nd and 3rd of November in the Taganana salon of the ancient
Hotel Nacional, within walking distance of Havana's waterfront, works
from the giants of Cuban art were auctioned off.

The sale, which took in some $600,000, was a part of the tenth edition
of the Havana Auction, an annual art auction on the island, this time
consisting of 110 lots with a total starting value of $1.2 million.

They included pictures from notable artists such as Wilfredo Lam,
Wilfredo Lam, Mario Carreno, Rene Portocarrero, Amelia Pelaez, Servando
Cabrera Moreno and Tomás Sánchez.

The Havana Auction leaves many unanswered questions. Its director, Luis
Miret, curator and gallery owner, in an interview with the digital
edition of the journal Arteamérica, made known that the initial idea
started a decade ago with the National Arts Council.

In expert language with a feeling of business, capitalism style, this
gentleman, or comrade(?), in various segments of the conversation
justified the decision of State institutions to undertake these sales,
with the assertion that the works of Cuban artists are severely
under-valued in the prestigious international auction houses, New York's
Christie's and London's Sotheby's, commercial centers for art worldwide.

Cuban art is not the only one sold at low prices. If we look at Latin
American painting, we see that it is also undervalued. The sale of 61
works by the most sought-after Latin American painters — a list that is
led by the Mexicans Rufina Tamayo and Frida Kahlo, and on which figure
the Cubans Mario Carrreño and Wifredo Lam — brought in just over $122
million. A minimal figure, if we take into account that on May 4, 2010,
a single painting, Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, painted in 1932 by the
Malagan Pablo Picasso, brought $110.2 million at auction.

Mr. Miret's other excuse is how they embrace him for his kindness. In
the interview, the curator notes that these auctions are a good way to
get a fair price for the works of the "poor little" painters of the
patio, who usually sell to independent patrons at bargain prices.

And, he alleges — imagine it after drying your tears — that he has
created a fund of two million pesos (I don't know how many valuable
pieces you can buy for such little money), for the acquisition of key
works of today's artists, paying 50% of their value.

The "goodagent" Miret also looks as if he is acting for different
auction houses in the world. It's a question of business. Nothing more.
What the official media hides, as does, of course, its fervent promotor,
is that part of the money coming in is credited to the "artists of the

Nor are we informed what the Ministry of Culture does with the dough
obtained in the ten editions of the Havana Auction.

Do they repair the theaters closed dozens of years ago? Do they put some
paint on and seal the leaks of the Houses of Culture? Maybe they think
about rehabilitating municipal museums. But I'm afraid not. There are no
good intentions hidden behind this artistic looting.

Almost all the works auctioned are from key painters on the cultural map
of the green caiman. They are not run-of-the-mill paintings. The
majority are from already deceased artists and their legacy forms a part
of the national patrimony.

Just over $600,000, according to the announced sales figures, is chump
change for any government, no matter how poor it is, as is the case with
Cuba. Even hundreds of millions of dollars would not justify raffling
off the creative treasure of a nation.

It's nothing new that the Castro brothers' regime uses artwork and
jewelry to obtain hard currency. Since the late 1980s, in the so-called
"gold houses," valuable paintings, porcelain and top quality gold and
silver jewelry were exchanged for color televisions, audio equipment and
Russian cars.

Cuban intellectuals should oppose these depredations of local and
national heritage.

And the charitable Luis Miret, who wants us to see that beneath his
brand-name shirt is hidden a noble heart, incapable of harming anyone,
banged the gavel after the conclusion of the sale of a work of Cuban
art. Indeed, his name sounds familiar.

Photo: Guitarist, by Mario Carreño, was picture most quoted the Havana
Auction 2011. Its starting price was set at $200,000, but we don't know
how much they finally paid for it.

November 14 2011


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