U.S.-Cuba thaw in full swing in arts world

Wed May 6, 2009 11:36pm EDT
 
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By Esteban Israel

HAVANA (Reuters) - The U.S. and Cuba governments have taken the first, tentative steps toward ending 50 years of hostilities, but the thawing of relations is already in full swing in the arts world.

After being largely absent in recent years, U.S. gallery owners, museum directors, curators and collectors are returning to the island to view and buy the work of Cuban artists.

Hundreds showed up for the just-ended Havana Biennial arts festival that was a regular stop for art buyers before a Bush administration travel crackdown earlier this decade. Their presence reflected both newly relaxed U.S. policy toward Cuba under President Barack Obama and a U.S. hunger for Cuban art.

Obama offered to "recast" Washington's relationship with its Cold War-era enemy last month and granted Cuban Americans the right to freely travel and send remittances to Cuba. The United States was prepared to move further toward normalized relations, he said, if Cuba extended its hand.

All of this has been music to the ears of Cuban artists glad to see the well-heeled gringos back in town.

"Cuba has been sort of the forbidden fruit for some years because it has been so hard to travel here," said Cuban-born Ben Rodriguez-Cubenas, chairman of the Cuban Artist Fund, which promotes Cuban art, and also collector and program director for the New York-based Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

"There has been this pent-up interest. Cuba is in the news. The interest is there," he said.

Art is exempted from the 47-year old U.S. trade embargo on Cuba, but sales dropped off when President George W. Bush toughened restrictions on U.S. travel to the Communist-run island and limited cultural exchanges in 2004.   Continued...

 
<p>Collages are seen inside the home of Cuban artist Damian Aquiles in Havana April 28, 2009. The U.S. and Cuba governments have taken the first, tentative steps toward ending 50 years of hostilities, but the thawing of relations is already in full swing in the arts world. Picture taken April 28, 2009. REUTERS/Enrique De La Osa</p>