Michael Bergeron
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“Adiós Utopia” at MFAH

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At a media preview of the exhibit Adiós Utopia: Dreams and Deceptions in Cuban Art Since 1950 museum curators note that with over 100 art works on display this is the largest US showing of Cuban art under one roof since 1944 when “the Museum of Modern Art presented Modern Cuban Painters.”

Cuban fine art from the last six decades illustrates the influence of societal upheaval both good and bad on artists. Bright happy colors and warm facial iconography give way to darker shades and tints with a sense of sexual and religious trauma. The collection includes paintings, photographs, video, audio and sculpture. One wall sized version of the Cuban flag, Tania Bruguera’s Estadistica (one of four versions she made) is composed almost entirely from knotted braids of human hair.

As the viewer walks up the stairs to the second floor Upper Brown Pavilion galleries of the MFAH’s Law Building they cannot help but notice the entire railing is covered with the world’s flags like some kind of United Nations of art. Only these flags are stripped of color and presented in a gray chromatic scale (Wilfredo Prieto’s Apolítico). The outside walls of Adiós Utopia are covered with popular movie and entertainment posters.

On the floor in the middle of the exhibit dozens of cement cinder blocks are molded together to form the shape of Cuba. Against one wall an audio/video loop plays an edited version of all the times Castro used numerical quotations in his speeches. Castro used numbers and statistics with the same frequency that Trump uses the word “sad.” There’s a small boat made from books printed in Cuba. One life size statue, by Juan Francisco Elso, depicts 19th century Cuban revolutionary hero José Martí and according to the inscription contains unseen (presumably inside the statue) a rock from the Andes as well as blood from Elso and his wife. Yoan Capote’s Stress while small contains wood concrete and 1000 human teeth.

Perhaps the single piece that most captured my imagination was Iván Capote’s Dislexia. A bit of machinery that wouldn’t be out of place in a Coen Brothers film uses metal, oil, felt and an electric motor. The weird contraption has a spinning arm that moves an attached appendage over a pan of oil in a back and forth motion. Each time the arm moves the oil is spread like the Red Sea to reveal the words “Life is a text that we learn to read too late.” The oil quickly returns to cover up the message and the “machine restarts the process.”

This is the way art was meant to evolve. Freedom bent and molded by the repressive tentacles of politics and society.

“Adiós Utopia: Dreams and Deceptions in Cuban Art Since 1950” will be on display at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston until May 21, 2024.