On Friday, November 27, Galleria Continua opens its first show in Havana. With preparations underway, Cuban Art News publisher Howard Farber interviewed Lorenzo Fiaschi, one of the gallery’s three partners and directors, about Cuban art, artists, and what comes next.
Galleria Continua Havana is the fourth Galleria Continua space to open, after San Gimignano in 1999, Beijing in 2005, and Les Moulins in 2007. How did you come to select Havana as your next location?
Cuba has attracted us for many years. All three of us have visited the country on various occasions, the first time more than 20 years ago, and for over 15 years we have also worked with the Cuban artist Carlos Garaicoa.
Cuba has a unique political and geographic situation: lying between North and South America, the island is a laboratory displaying another possible way of attempting a different kind of social change. It is an example of resistance directed towards the defence of identity. We mustn’t forget that Cuba is a culturally refined country, the nation that created the third biennial in history after Venice and São Paulo.
And why now?
Chance had it that it was an Italian artist, Michelangelo Pistoletto, who brought us to Cuba by way of the Marrakech Biennale in Morocco. He had done an installation there, using multi-colored rugs to outline the sign of the Third Paradise (a symbol intended to show the way to producing a synergy between differences and to bring opposites closer, by creating new possibilities for dialogue).
This installation made a big impression on Cuban curator Laura Salas Redondo, who immediately expressed the wish to realize the project in Cuba. And so it was: on September 16, 2014, thanks to the synergy between Galleria Continua and Michelangelo Pistoletto, and to the collaboration between Laura Salas Redondo and the artist Kcho, dozens of boats skippered by fishermen delineated the sign of the Third Paradise in the sea off Havana.
The next day, on December 17, 2014, Raoul Castro and Obama spoke on the phone!
Incredible, unimaginable, you can understand our joy and that of the fishermen, can’t you?
And so, together with Mario and Maurizio [Mario Cristiani and Maurizio Rigillo, the other directors and partners in Galleria Continua], the desire to open a space to continue our adventure just came spontaneously and naturally. That desire grew even more following the invitation from the director of the Havana Biennale, Jorge Fernández, to take part in the 12th edition, inviting Daniel Buren, Anish Kapoor, Shilpa Gupta, Nikhil Chopra, José Yaque, and Michelangelo Pistoletto. There was just too much wonderful energy not to see that it was the moment.
With Galleria Continua Havana, are you looking to reach a Cuban audience? An international audience visiting Havana?
Just like when we opened our first international gallery in Beijing, in China, in 2004, we didn’t consider the issue of who we were addressing, the Chinese or an international audience. Our desire was to create a bridge by way of the artists, to bring international art to China from various continents—Africa, India, the Americas, Europe—and to show Chinese artists around the world. That’s what we will do in Cuba.
Among the three directors, how do you generally divide the duties of overseeing four galleries? Will one of you oversee the Havana gallery directly?
We don’t split up our duties geographically. We each have a group of artists to follow, with whom we work, and this happens spontaneously as a result of natural affinity. So all three of us will oversee the space in Cuba, in that many artists will be invited to work there in this new adventure.
Galleries in Havana are often located in Vedado or Miramar. But for your location, you chose an old movie theater, the Águila de Oro, in the city’s Chinatown. How did you come to site the gallery in this district, and in this building? What do you see as the advantages of this location?
We have always made decentralized choices, opting for rather particular venues: an old cinema theater in Italy at San Gimignano; in an industrial area in Beijing where they used to make weapon components; in the countryside in France, in a mill an hour away from Paris. This time it seems to be a synthesis of San Gimignano and Beijing, given that we will once again be in a cinema, and in the Chinese quarter. Miramar or Vedado probably weren’t for us, and the allure of Chinatown in central Havana won us over.
Galleria Continua has represented Carlos Garaicoa for many years, and recently added José Yaque to its roster with a show in San Gimignano this past February. Are you planning to add more Cuban artists to the gallery roster?
We have never systematically planned to work with one artist rather than another. For us it has always been a question of an encounter, like in love. After his first show in Italy, we presented José Yaque in France in May. In our recent and frequent trips to Cuba we have also met other fantastic young artists, and we have already begun to organize shows for them outside Cuba: Alejandro Campins in France, which just opened, and Reynier Leyva Novo in Italy next February.
In Havana as well, we will begin with a group show of Cuban artists, in that only they can properly tackle the theme of the memory of the Aquila de Oro cinema in Barrio Chino. There will be Susana Pilar Delahante, Elizabet Cerviño, Alejandro Campins, Reynier Leyva Novo, José Yaque, and Carlos Garaicoa.
What are your thoughts about contemporary Cuban art in general? The art scene in Havana?
The fact that we will do five exhibitions with Cuban artists between February 2015 and February 2016 says a lot about our view of the quality of Cuban art. I just hope that Cuban art retains its power and its extraordinary identity at the dawn of the great change in relations with the United States.
Are you planning to show primarily Cuban artists in the gallery, or an international selection?
I’ve already answered that in part by saying that the first show will feature Cuban artists, also in order to give ourselves the chance to understand where we are and to understand more, and more in depth, about the essence of the Cuban scene. It seemed the most natural thing to do.
As for subsequent shows, we don’t intend to bring in works from far away, and arrange them coldly in the space. Instead, we intend to bring in artists, so they can engage with the country, meet people and breathe in the atmosphere that enables them to find inspiration and create new works, works that are the fruit of their journey and encounters.
Where do you see the art scene in Havana in five years?
I think the Havana Biennials played an important role, allowing us to get to know Cuban art. Our first encounters, the ones that gave us a first taste of Cuban art, were not outside Cuba: Kcho and Carlos Garaicoa, 20 years ago now. Having said that, I think the art scene in Havana will grow more and more.
What part do you see Galleria Continuo playing in that scenario?
We don’t know, but Galleria Continua has been going for 25 years now, having adventures with artists around the world and in all five continents. We have always tried to fulfil their dreams, and therefore ours as well. Hopefully, we’ll be capable of doing it in Cuba as well.
Any final thoughts you’d like to add?
Yes, I’d like to invite everyone to come and see what we do at San Gimignano in Italy, at Les Moulins in France, and in Beijing, to get an idea of who we are and where we come from, and above all to better understand what we intend to do with art in Cuba.
Galleria Continua opens its group show of Cuban artists on Friday, November 27 at its gallery space in the Águila de Oro cinema in Barrio Chino. On Saturday, November 28, an exhibition commemorating Galleria Continua’s 25th year opens at the Wifredo Lam Center, featuring 15 international artists.