Cuban Forever at the Pizzuti Collection
2014 is quickly establishing itself as a banner year for multicultural perspectives within our central Ohio museums and galleries. The Wexner Center’s mammoth Via Brasil initiative is scheduled to culminate this year with an upcoming series of films, performances, and the exhibition Cruzamentos: Contemporary Art in Brazil. Meanwhile, the Ohio Craft Museum is preparing for its next exhibition Touched by the Spirit, a show featuring works by seven contemporary African-American artists displayed alongside pieces of traditional African crafts. At the Columbus Museum of Art, plans are afoot for a spring exhibition entitled The Art of Matrimony: Splendid Wedding Contracts from the Jewish Theological Seminary Library. The show will feature thirty different ketubbot (Jewish marriage contracts) dating from the twelfth through the twenty-first centuries. Finally, (and in the present tense) the OSU Urban Arts Space is currently exhibiting work by Fergus Fellow recipient Andres Felipe Castelblanco Olaya, a Columbian multidisciplinary artist.
To the degree that art (by its nature) is designed to broaden perspectives, and Columbus (in its way) is a forward thinking city, none of this should be too surprising. Reputation and geography notwithstanding, Columbus is a city that has come to embrace diversity. But before we get too far into the diversity that 2014 offers, there’s a bit of unfinished diversity from 2013 that I need to address. That’s the exhibition Cuban Forever currently on view at the Pizzuti Collection.
The back-story here (for those who haven’t heard it) goes something like this: Ron Pizzuti began collecting art over thirty years ago. His passion for art has since resulted in a highly-regarded collection of contemporary works that includes not only some of art’s biggest names, but also many, many up-and-coming artists. In an effort to make the work in his collection accessible (and promote the sort of cultural dialogue that art inspires), Mr. Pizzuti established the Pizzuti Collection. The Pizzuti Collection opened in September of 2013 and featured (among other things) the exhibition Cuban Forever.
Cuban Forever brings together works by over twenty Cuban artists represented in Mr. Pizzuti’s collection. Taken together, these works bring to the fore the rich cultural and visual vocabulary of a country that’s been shrouded in mystery (at least to American eyes) for the last fifty years. It’s an exhibition that offers a unique and intimate “peek behind the curtain”. The resultant view is a compelling one; and one that we could not achieve if our understanding of Cuba were limited to news stories, press reports, and video feeds.
What’s perhaps most striking is the diversity on display within this body of work. It’s easy to understand on an intellectual level that Cuban culture is not a single, monolithic entity. Given the wide range of intersecting cultures and experiences, how could it be? But it’s another thing altogether to see this diversity played out first-hand through a series of works that are by turns serious, humorous, hopeful, and haunting. Nowhere are these dichotomies more apparent than the work of Cuban American photographer Tony Mendoza, whose photographs illustrates both the challenges and the spirit of optimism inherent in contemporary Cuba.
Beyond illustrating Cuba’s rich diversity, Cuban Forever also reminds us that this island nation is not as isolated as we in the United States perceive it to be. The artwork herein was not created in a vacuum. Those hoping for the quaint, the naive, the unadulterated or the insular are advised to look elsewhere. This is art that is very much in touch with the global community. It is both part of and informed by contemporary art and art history. Whether it’s the Pop Art stylings of Raul Martinez, the Brancusi reference in Yoan Capote’s Touch (Brancusi Finger) or the Walker Evans photographs reproduced in the works of Jose Toria and Ricardo Elias, these are works that insinuate themselves into a rich, international conversation.
From that perspective, it’s worth reminding ourselves of one final point regarding Cuban Forever. It’s greatest strength lies in the fact that it makes us, the people of central Ohio, part of that conversation. In Cuban Forever we have the opportunity to react to and reflect on that ongoing global conversation. We’re part of it now; part of it in a way we couldn’t be without exhibitions like this. Given the scope of Ron Pizzuti’s collection, it would have been easy to open this new space with “Contemporary Art’s Greatest Hits”. I’ve no doubt they could have stocked the place with every well-known artist around. And while visitors will find some of that (see the works in the concurrent Inaugural Exhibition) Cuban Forever represents the greater potential of the Pizzuti Collection. It represents the chance to learn about art that’s not so familiar. It’s an opportunity to broaden our perspective. After all, isn’t that what art’s supposed to do?
Cuban Forever is on view now through June 30th at the Pizzuti Collection.
More information can be found online at www.pizzuticollection.com.
Cars in Havana
12″ x 18″
Toned silver gelatin print
La Maldita Circumstacia del Agua por Todas Partes (The Damned Circumstance of Being Surrounded by Water)
19″ x 35″
Jose Toirac and Ricardo Elias
20″ x 29″
Photograph, gold leaf on wood