On our first day in Havana we had the opportunity to focus on the art and architecture of Havana, mostly in the Central District and Old Havana. Our first stop was at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana where we had an excellent English-speaking Museum employee give us a 90-minute overview of the collection. After a very good lunch featuring local cuisine at Paladar San Cristobal (pictured in earlier blog posts), we did a walking tour of old Havana (including the Ambos Mundos Hotel, home to Ernest Hemingway for seven years in the 1930s – see an upcoming blog post) and then visited the Lizt Alfonso Dance Academy for private performances by both young students and members of the professional dance troupe. The next day I wandered around Cathedral Square and discovered the printmaking academy, Taller Experimental de Gráfica. Our group that afternoon also visited several modern art galleries where we had the opportunity to discuss the contemporary art scene with some of the local artists.
“The National Museum of Fine Arts of Havana (Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana) in Havana, Cuba is a museum of Fine Arts that exhibits Cuban art collections from the colonial times up to contemporary generations. It was founded on February 23, 1913 due to the efforts of its first director, Emoilio Heredia, a well-known architect. After frequent moves it was finally placed on the block once occupied by the old Colon Market. In 1954, a new Palacio of Bellas Artes was opened, designed by the architect Rodriguez Pichardo. The original 1954 Palacio was recently reconstructed by the architect Jose Linares and a second building was taken over for the Museum… The Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts) is dedicated exclusively to housing Cuba Art collections. Spanning the 17th and 19th centuries has rooms devoted to landscape, religious subjects and the Costumbrismo narrative scenes of Cuban life. Gallery devoted to the 1970s is marked by a preponderance of Hyperrealism and the latest generation of Cuban artists whose works all reflect the strong symbolic imagery that has been prevalent in recent decades. The most notable works are those of René Portocarrero and Wilfredo Lam. A modernist sculpture by noted Cuban artist Rita Lonja stands outside the main entrance.” — Wikipedia
“It’s always a hot night in Havana wherever and whenever Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba performs. In her ‘Cuba Vibra!,’ Ms. Alfonso’s Havana-based company, in only 95 minutes, will celebrate the development of Cuban music and dance from the 1950s to the present with the aid of 18 dancers and an onstage big band. The troupe, founded by Ms. Alfonso in 1991 as an all-female group, now includes men. What hasn’t changed is Ms. Alfonso’s desire to present a kaleidoscopic fusion of ballet, flamenco, cha-cha, rumba, bolero and salsa dance in a theatrical manner that emphasizes ensemble unity: The feelings may be boisterous, but all steps interlock in perfect synchronization. This is dancing with precise abandon.” – Jack Anderson, New York Times, 4 November 2015
“Printmaking in Cuba dates back to the 18th century with the illustration of saints and shields, enriched in the 19th century with vignettes of sugar mills and local customs, travelers’ albums, and the dressings on cigars. In 1959, printmaking became a subject in the art education system, becoming an independent specialty. In July 1962, the experimental printmaking workshop [Taller Experimental de Gráfica] on Plaza de la Catedral was established by Cuban artist Orlando Suárez and Chilean painter José Venturelli using old printing stones and machinery that had been used for cigar decorations. Since its beginnings, the workshop focused purely on artistic projects and has been open to the most important Cuban printmakers, who have carried out an intensive work of creation and experimentation, a crucial factor in the boost experienced by the art of printmaking at present. The small Galería del Grabado upstairs sells excellent, non-touristy prints, including etchings, lithographs, woodcuts and collagraphs. The workshop also offers courses on traditional lithography (using stone), woodcuts, and etchings (using metal). Courses for foreigners come highly recommended and include one-on-one instruction by highly specialized professors and all supplies. Expect to pay around $250 for a month-long course and less for shorter periods.” – www.lahabana.com
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