To the memory of Rufo Caballero, the elf

Two years since its first cycle of life we’re now celebrating with the presentation of issue eight, the Arte por Excelencias magazine is fulfilling its natural goal: to make way for the art vanguards in the Americas and the Caribbean. It’s a long-reaching and irreversible stride that shows not only the good health of the diversity of forms, styles, trends, all of them attended to by reviews and critics, a research movement whose judgments of value must be impartially assessed.

Beyond all the advances in the field of plastic creation in this environment of ours –conceived today as something that embraces the tradition of rupture by leaping over alleged differences as it overlaps the accent of full-fledged digital images, old and new typographies, video and certain visual modalities– we certainly needed a magazine like this, put out not only as a visual stimulus for artists, dilettantes and spectators, but also for the rigorous frequency of art appraisal in its most modern conceptualization and, at the same time, most heart-wrenching in the face of the current times.

Cut out to spread that assortment of expressions, this magazine has given us the necessary reflexive glimpse into one of the richest movements within our art, that art that has its antecedents and was born circa 1925. The arch stretching from there reaches out to the youngest generations of Cuban and Latin American artists who are still submerged in the daily struggle against the fact of building –based on nothing or just upon existence itself-a set of objects, images, landscapes, splendid artifacts which are great in both their construction and the infinity of their visual perspective.

During this span of time, Arte por Excelencias has left indelible marks of a daily going frequented by highly expressive artists, sometimes armed with transgressing dynamism and always willing to step on the lawn. It’s funny to see the vanguards’ staunch march toward the encouragement the addition of other disciplines, other practices that make up and complement any creative act.

This publication is a forum that configures an art with a plural face next to its most legitimate expression, running away from the beaten track and opening up new horizons as it embraces that uninhibited spirit the vanguards have always been marked by. But in the same breath it’s also the presence of a network of collectors preferably interested in putting their smart money on the care for productions which are not see as simple goods, but rather in favor of an artistic fact as such and its natural identity that rises way beyond the luring chants of an anti-creative, anti-intellectual, dehumanized and predating market in the extremes of a globalized world that leans dangerously to the wrong side rather than to the good end. Its approach, for instance, to the inalienable function of the galleries is truly significant and important. A painter owns a studio and so does a sculptor; both create there with formal excellence and with their hearts. Their relation with the public, dilettantes or not, fanatics of their trades or not, was bound to go over former sponsors and later on over an unfathomable number of institutions that have not been able to wipe out the integrating factor of the galleries off the radar screen, seen as swarms of honey-making bees by a considerable chunk of all the artists. What would have happened to the 20th-century vanguards without the execution, the practice and the rallying role played by the galleries?

These topics have been among the priorities of our magazine and it’s important to iterate now that from the very beginning to date, it has provided us with a rich compilation that is rendered useful for the mastery of such a complex realm as the one broached in its quarterly issues.

Thus, before going into the heart of the matter, we want to define the vocational will of this periodical publication dealing with contemporary Cuba, basically dedicated to its fine and visual arts. Its inventor and editor-in-chief, David Mateo –a man who boasts a longstanding career amid several projects and who always goes in for the very best–, has intended to perpetuate those dialogues in the crux of the enjoyment of art from our times. No wonder each and every issue tends to foster a set of mirrors through which the writing made by poets encounter the visions that seep into the quest for a poetic time shared by a selected number of plastic artists. This is an old tradition that has never faded away and that it rather expands and goes stronger in the pages designed to make this much-anticipated and fruitful encounter come to pass.

The arch of this intangible bridge, like a roaming chrysalis, shows up or acts as a prelude to this eighth issue, “Nibbling Buddha’s Ear”, a suggestive text penned by author and art critic Orlando Hernandez on the great artist’s painter who runs by the exotic name of Carlos Quintana. Widely known in our neck of the woods as a figure who takes us into both well-known topics and characters –yet hinging on cultural values from other locations– Quintana installs his universe in the trappings of a hidden look, a fine and simple glance, sometimes revealing that awe that builds on a staunch belief in elements whose ethnic origin both conditions us for and drives a wedge between fantasy and that lyric that only Orlando Hernandez’s writing has managed to fulfill.

An entertaining illustration of that bridge linking together literature, publishing and the fine art is the way in which poets like Soleida Rios (“Nkame: A Black-and-White Altar for Belkis Ayon”, 2010, page 26); Norberto Codina (“Signs and Images of the City”, based on the catalog of the Cartografías disidentes exhibit, 2008, by several Hispanic American artists, page 29); Alex Fleites (“Black-and-White Portrait, but Full of Shades”, page 33), on the book Un autorretrato cubano, 2009, on the outstanding photography of Jose A. Figueroa, as well as Laura Ruiz Montes (“The Enjoyment of the Lost Innocence”, page 37), on the volume Les théories de l´art, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, Que Sais-Je? collection, 2010 by Anne Coquelin. These pieces, on a variety of different topics, spell out for the ordinary or specialized reader the importance of editions consecrated to fix the signal and the singleness of creators and movements that stand for a continent that’s set to work out some conflicts hailing from the well-known relation between the art and society.

As it usually happens in Arte por Excelencias, there’s a couple of introductory works into the magnificent works of Spain’s Santiago Sierra, and of a Cuban, also bearing an exotic insular name, one of the most representative pillars of our conceptual art, called Luis Gomez. The idea of locking the crosshairs onto the crosswise cut of a production or the registry of its retrospective, is something that is welcomed with open arms because, based on the pre-established guideline of promoting the arts, then the reader finds right before his very eyes the keys to an artist, his evolution, his technique and his place in the world of creation.

Liana Rio, an expert with the National Museum of Fine Arts, in her acute perception entitled “Luis Gomez: A Universe on the Palm of your Hand and the Testimony of Fatality” outlines the coordinates and the existential character of this artist’s work in these times, defining him as a restless fabler of the experimental that moves around the intimate lesson of Elso Padilla and the palpable model in style of Joseph Beuys.

In his text “When Attitudes Derive in Goods (The Art of Santiago Sierra)”, journalist and art critic Hector Anton Castillo shows us the unusual way taken by this author, self-transplanted to Mexico, like Belgian Francis Alÿs. For Anton Castillo, Sierra slithers through tutorial figures like Marcel Duchamp, the great harbinger, “a living mystery,” as Alejo Carpentier called him,1 the founding father of so many Latin American and Cuban creators of today; as well as Joseph Beuys and Andy Warhol, and his principle of “dismounting or transgressing the classic minimalism through the addition of a mental and physical dynamics in line with the circumstances of the times [...] All that much just to rub salt on the wound as far as contemporary ties between the power and the masses are concerned (page 19).

The figure of Chile’s Ivan Navarro stands out as one of the most sought-after winners of the plastic arts who, as a matter of fact, has made no concessions to the market. Since his big break during the 53rd Venice Biennial last year, Navarro keeps betting on the boldest and most innovative forms. His entire discourse on the neon and light poetics is contained in the interview “I don’t believe there are strategies for artistic success” he gave for this issue of the Arte por Excelencias magazine to Chilean journalist Carolina Lara.

The reader should set his eyes on two highly qualified and surprisingly revealing contributions not only of the validity of his objectives, but also of the fact that new discourses have been added to today’s Cuban graphic viewed –as read between the lines- with a genre consciousness that emerges in a subliminal fashion. They are Nahela Hechavarria, an expert of Casa de las Americas, with her research study entitled “Devising Realities: Cuba’s Video Art on the Alert” and Daymi Coll, from the Center for Visual Art Development who, from the concepts of tradition and rupture, sketches out the temperament and the expertise of three excellent poster makers: Laura Llopiz, Michelle Miyares Hollands and Giselle Monzon.

In his text “Theories and Inquiries in an Expanded Space”, Chilean art critic Alban Martinez Gueyraud lays bares the work features of three fellow Chilean contemporary artists like Ricardo Villarroel, Mario Ibarra (Paté) and Antonio Guzman, three men who, based on the principle of digging into the doubts as metaphors of their tensions with the social environment and pictorial discourse, reveal an unusual heart-wrenching fact because, according to Martinez Gueyraud, the trio’s work is construed as “a displacement that links esthetics and ethics” always seen through their combined voices, as it is shown in the Expanded Field exhibition under the auspices of the Migliorisi Foundation.

Two chronicles on transcendental world-class events round out the nitty-gritty body of this issue. The first, “Museums without Borders” penned by Hortensia Montero, a great curator and expert with the National Museum of Fine Arts, and “The Panama Biennial and its Influence on the Isthmus” by Chrislie Perez, a young expert with the Villa Manuela Gallery attached to UNEAC. Both texts compile information and bear out the fruitful cultural exchanges among allegedly distant places. The traditional caricature, this time around dedicated to the graphic work of Mexico’s Helio Flores, a master in that particular field and one of the greatest contemporary cartoonists, brings the issue to a grand close.

The Connect-Art / Art on the Web (by Nahela Hechavarria); The Archivist (by seasoned art critic Jose Veigas) are no longer anticipated approaches in search of fragmented identities or artists that have fallen into oblivion, but rather the salt of the land we need so badly as we embrace the dark side of an ancestral moon, viewed with no concessions and, above all, designed to establish the need for rigor and reflection the arts long for at any time and in any place.

Manglar, Jan. 24, 2011