This summer, Havana saw solo shows by two women artists from different generations, revealing distinctive visions. At Galería Habana in Línea Street, the desirous beings of painter Rocío García inhabited her canvases with the lightness of comic-book characters; at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (MBNA), a centennial homage showcased sculptor Rita Longa´s women of stone, plaster, and marble.
Rocío García: El Regreso de Jack el Castigador (The Return of Jack the Ripper). Named after one of 19th-century London’s most bloodthirsty characters, García’s masked bodybuilder is back, prompting the title of a new series of ten medium-format canvases. García’s work has been shown previously at the MNBA. She graduated in 1983 from the Repin Academy, St. Petersburg, in the former USSR, and her paintings have the sophisticated air usually associated with cosmopolitan New Yorkers. Since the late 1980s, she has created an international art that diametrically opposes the usual conventions of Cuban art: no tropical colors, no guajiros (peasants), no curvilinear landscapes with palm trees swaying in the breeze. Instead, García has absorbed references from the world of comic-book narratives as well as from great masters of Western painting, and her canvases depict linear figures that contrast with large areas of color in a style reminiscent of Matisse.
García’s characters—cops, sailors, languid geishas and women warriors, lesbians, leather-clad pairs—are seen interacting in a variety of settings: bars (whether sophisticated boites or waterfront dives), bathrooms, bedrooms, and game rooms, appropriate settings for a sadomasochistic and turbulent eroticism.
However, in El Regreso, García does not depict the explicit violence seen in several of her previous series. She adds a unique character: a cute white rabbit that is present, singly or in multitudes, to lend involuntary witness to the scene: a contemporary symbol of Eros that casts its distinctive air over every setting. The cuddly bunny usually accompanies figures depicted alone in bedrooms, with the exception of the work titled Kaipiroshka de Fresa—a lively bar scene, populated by attractive men and women, more glamorously dressed than in Sex and the City, a stark contrast to the spotlighted figure of a woman, gorgeous and bald, dressed only in high heels, who waits ceremoniously at the bar for her cocktail. It’s a pity García doesn’t take advantage of the expressive possibilities of the frame as a complement to the works, or further exploit the visual temperature of her textures.
Rocío García: El Regreso de Jack el Castigador was presented at Galería Habana August 3-September 7, 2012. For more images from the show, visit the Cuban Art News Facebook page.
Rita Longa: Centenario. The Museo Nacional de Bellas Arts is quite busy this year celebrating the centennials of several Vanguardia artists. One of the exhibitions that opened over the summer pays homage to Rita Longa (1912-2000), among the most visible Cuban sculptors in the island’s history. A disciple of sculptor Juan José Sicre at the San Alejandro Academy in 1928, Longa joined the pedagogical experiment of the Free Studio of Painting and Sculpture in 1938, along with artists like René Portocarrero, Eduardo Abela, Mariano Rodríguez, Alfredo Lozano, and Domingo Ravenet. Two years later, she started work on a sculptural relief with architect Eugenio Batista, a pioneer in modern residential architecture on the island. In 1962, Longa directed the development and siting of the Taíno Village in the Guamá tourist complex, built by the Revolution in the Zapata Swamp. In 1980, she was appointed chairman of the center for the Development of Monumental and Environmental Sculpture (CODEMA).
Longa received an award at the 1935 First National Salon of Painting and Sculpture. In 1938, critic Ramón Guirao wrote approvingly that “Rita has evolved from the simplistic to simplicity, from the vain stylization game to an accurate sense of forms.” In the MBNA show, the close to 30 sculptures, models, and defining works in plaster, terracotta, stone, marble, and bronze demonstrate Longa’s stylistic motifs as defined by Guirao. Emerging simultaneously with the Art Deco movement—seen in architectural works such as the Bacardi building in Old Havana or Lopez Serrano in Havana’s Vedado district—the sculptor´s figures seem to defy the heaviness of their materials, with a design that favors geometric shapes.
In architectural reliefs for private residential courtyards or in modern interpretations of traditional figuration, the female image has been present in Longa´s work from the beginning. They are sensual women even under religious habits (Santa Rita de Casia)–long-boned women, strong and protective (Virgen del Camino), naked as classical statues or covered by veils, with vaguely delineated faces and self-absorbed attitudes. Far from demonstrating physical seclusion, these women are open to the gaze of others, with no false modesty. They have been carved or sculpted to depict historical episodes or abstract metaphors of earthy character. They conceal an inner carnality. Comparing Longa´s vision of women with that of male Cuban sculptors would be an interesting exercise: two angles on a keen collective imagination.
The progression from Rita´s women in stone to Rocío´s females—languid as odalisques—encompasses half a century of Cuban art, a terrain in which scholars and academicians could detect more than one possible convergence. However, the catalogue published for Longa’s centenary does not seem to venture conceptually beyond what is expressed in The Magic of Volume, an exhibition with sculptor Agustín Cárdenas presented at the museum in 1996. Nor is its design a good fit for the occasion of her centennial. To highlight the work of our painters and artists, the Cuban cultural industry needs to produce and promote books about our collections internationally, with pithy and detailed studies as well as abundant images, which, beyond the mere event of a chronological birthday, become indispensable knowledge maps for artists, scholars and collectors.
Rita Longa: Centenario was on view at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes from July to September, 2012.