At the opening of the first MAM exhibition, Mentes peligrosas (Dangerous Minds), at Espacio Aglutinador on July 23, 2013
Courtesy Sandra Ceballos

The contemporary art scene in Cuba today has been characterized by a wide-angle turn toward the market. It is well known that some artists are commanding extraordinarily high prices internationally, often with an almost total absence from the island art circuit—notwithstanding appearances at the Havana Biennials, which are attended by curators, collectors, and other visitors from around the world. On the island, prices are often based on the fixed demand of a steady influx of art tourism, which floods artists’ studios with tour buses managed by foreign and local promoters and dealers.

Most of these cultural tourists are trying to discover and capitalize on the remainders of an art produced by a social system that is “about to change.” Some of these artists are still producing a type of “dissident art” with an innocuous, obvious political content that no longer merits any real attention; others build on past aesthetic concerns. This reality is not far from the type of art produced primarily for sale at international airports; the only difference is that here, it’s for sale at the studios. The spirited discussions and the vitality that inflamed the scene in the late 1980s and early 1990s are long gone. Socially oriented projects and associations are scarce, and the flames of the most vital proposals are coming from independent spaces and home-based galleries like Espacio Aglutinador and Cristo Salvador.

Installation view of Mentes peligrosas at Espacio Aglutinador
Courtesy Sandra Ceballos

Since its creation by Sandra Ceballos and Ezequiel Suárez in 1994, Espacio Aglutinador has led the scene, catalyzing many of the most innovative ideas and exhibitions, and opening doors to all artists who have maintained their integrity regardless of aesthetic viewpoint or educational background. On July 21, 2013, Ceballos announced her latest project, the creation of the Museo de Arte Maníaco (Museum of Manic Art, or MAM for its Spanish spelling). This is an especially significant development in that it represents the founding of the first private museum on the island since 1959.

MAM’s manifesto reflects an extension of the original goals of Espacio Aglutinador, which is the longest-running private independent visual art organization in Cuba, thanks to initial support from the Dutch Humanist Institute for Cooperation (HIVOS) and the Prince Claus Foundation. Currently MAM is looking for private and institutional donations in the form of financial assistance, physical space for traveling exhibitions, working materials, and documentation and information to support its research.

Installation view of Mentes peligrosas at Espacio Aglutinador
Courtesy Sandra Ceballos

“It will be a museum for research: active, fresh, living, empirical, real and itinerant,” Ceballos declares. “The aim, among others, is to display and disseminate works of art brut that have been accumulated over the last several years . . . and to show private collections from Cuba and abroad.” The museum’s site at Espacio Aglutinador is provisional, and Ceballos is open to moving it to another non-official institutional location on the island.

Ceballos calls upon those artists who have been marginalized from the Cuban mainstream system, identifying them as art brut, outsider art, or what she defines as Arte Maníaco, irrespective of their country of residence. Although the intent is to encompass those artists who address and deal with specific emotional issues in their personal histories and work, regardless of their artistic education, more than anything Arte Maníaco speaks to the compulsion of honest creation without taking market considerations into account.

Installation view of Mentes peligrosas at Espacio Aglutinador
Courtesy Sandra Ceballos

It is relevant that in MAM’s presentation, Ceballos has involved some of the island’s most significant art historians, including José Seoane, Samuel Feijoo, and Orlando Hernández, who throughout their careers have worked with and shown interest in outsider art. In the ideals of its founding MAM suggests a negation of elitist art and, by extension, an avant-garde. Paradoxically, however, this is a position that, given the current social situation, places the museum squarely within avant-garde territory. Ultimately, and irrespective of labeling, MAM wants to be associated with life and its dynamic—“a dynamic that is not always coherent or cerebral,” says Ceballos, “because standards of coherency would imply fatigue and boredom.”

There is no doubt that art is a reflection of life, and that dynamic is well represented today in the visual art of Cuba. The socioeconomic changes that have been slowly unfolding on the island and within the exile community are building on that reality, and the results are beneficial to artists and others active in this exchange. The creation of MAM is undoubtedly a step forward in the return of a more robust visual art scene in Cuba—one that encompasses artists, the public, and collectors and, in the process, creates a dynamic environment of exchange for all.

Installation view of Félix Ronda’s Mis órganos represivos and an installation work by Sandra Ceballos
Courtesy Sandra Ceballos

The inaugural exhibition for the Museo de Arte Maníaco, Mentes Peligrosas (Dangerous Minds), closed this past Sunday, August 17, at Espacio Aglutinador. Curated by Ceballos, the show’s artists included: Ítalo Expósito (artist and professor at the San Alejandro Academy of Fine Arts); Gustavo César Echevarria (artist and art collector); Colette Rodríguez (self-taught artist); Eduardo Ponjuán (artist and graduate of the Instituto de Artes Superior); Chago Armada (artist and designer); Otari Oliva (artist  and curator); Samuel Riera, (artist and curator); Sandra Ceballos (artist and curator); René Quintana (artist and designer); Andy Rodríguez (artist and ISA graduate); Fernando Ruíz (artist and San Alejandro graduate); Belarmino Tazé (artist and San Alejandro graduate); Carlitos García (El profe, self-taught artist); Bernardo Sarría (self-taught artist); Nicolás Lara (self-taught artist);

Installation view of a painting by Bernardo Sarría and an installation by Giselle Victoria
Courtesy Sandra Ceballos

Manuel Vidal (artist, art critic, and writer); Carlos Rodríguez Cárdenas (graduate artist); Hilda Vidal (artist and designer); Glexis Novoa (graduate artist); Alexander Gonzáles (graduate of the Trinidad Art School); Giselle Victoria (artist and curator); Enrique Lanza (architect and self-taught artist); Luís Manuel Otero (self-taught sculptor); Ángel Delgado (artist and ISA graduate); Ángel Bárzaga (artist and San Alejandro graduate); Vargas (self-taught artist); Félix Ronda (doctor and self-taught artist); Horensia Gotario (self-taught artist); Boris Santa María (self-taught artist); Ezequiel Suárez (artist and curator); Mita (self-taught artist); Luís Casalí (self-taught artist); María Cristina Padura (artist and curator); and, at the last minute, Ñica – Antonia Eiríz (artist).

Close-up detail of the installation by Giselle Victoria
Courtesy Sandra Ceballos

For more images from the MAM opening and works in the show, see the photo album on the Cuban Art News Facebook page.

A work by René Quintana
Courtesy Sandra Ceballos

The first relocation of MAM will take place in the Havana workshop and gallery of photographer Alfredo Ramos, which will host the museum’s second exhibition, Mente I Fase, featuring MAM artists Vladimir Llaguno and Fernando Ruíz. The dates for this show will be announced shortly.

Rafael DíazCasas is an art historian and independent curator based in New York. Interested in modern and contemporary art, with a focus on Latin American art. He writes about art and culture for several publications, and is co-author of Hard Light: The Work of Emilio Sanchez. (Prestel London – New York, 2011). He is currently working on a monograph and a documentary about the history of abstraction in Cuba in the second half of the 20th century.