Layers: Collecting Cuban-American Art

Acosta, Missing Link 2005, Acrylic on Canvas, 3' x 14".

Acosta, Missing Link 2005, Acrylic on Canvas, 3' x 14"

This exhibition took place at the main gallery of the University at Buffalo. It included work from many living Cuban artists who reside in the United States. Work from three collections were exhibited: the collection of art historian Lynette Bosch, the institutional collection of Lehigh University, and the collection of philosopher Jorge Gracia. From Buffalo, the collection traveled to the College of the Holy Cross. The exhibition explored the ways different collectors collect art that is focused on questions of ethnic identity.  

On this page

Photographs at the UB Art Gallery Exhibition

This exhibition brings attention to the practice of collecting art as a means to discovering identity. The paintings, sculptures, photographs, prints, and videos included in the exhibition indicate some of the range of style and visual presentation found in Cuban-American art. In particular, the exhibition highlights the process and methods employed by three collectors, Lynette M.F. Bosch, Jorge J.E. Gracia, and Ricardo Viera, who have assembled three distinct collections of Cuban-American art. Representative works from each of the collections are here displayed and the three parts of this essay describe the varied selection criteria used by each collector. As Cuban-Americans, Bosch, Gracia, and Viera represent collectors who have linked their professional activities and their personal lives to their interest in art. “Layers” demonstrates that collecting art can be a scholarly endeavor, a search for self-knowledge, and an affirmation of identity. The three collections involve the acquisition of desired objects and the discovery of shared experience through a process of ownership and self-discovery. Such a process creates a link between objects and lives that is personal, intimate, and expressive of the collector's need to connect with a communal past.

            The collection assembled by this essay's author includes a discussion of the artistic intentions of the chosen artists. This group formed part of a larger research project, culminating in the book, Cuban-American Art in Miami: Exile Identity and the Neo-Baroque (Ashgate Press, 2005). Jorge Gracia collects for personal pleasure and as an adjunct to his philosophical and scholarly interests. Some artists included in Gracia's collection correspond to those in Bosch’s collection, thus these shared artists are discussed in the first part of this essay, with discussion of other artists following in the part involving Gracia.

            Ricardo Viera, the Director of Galleries at Lehigh University, independently curated the extensive photography component of this exhibition. A significant discussion of all the artists selected by Viera is not possible within the modest parameters of this catalogue, but those reproduced in this catalogue are briefly discussed. The third part of this essay focuses on Viera as an institutional collector bound by the regulations to which he is subject.

            This exhibition also brings together the work of representative members of different waves of exiled and immigrant Cuban-born artists who have settled in the United States, since 1959, following Fidel Castro’s Revolution. The first arrivals came after 1959 and before the October Cuban missile crisis of 1962. Additional arrivals included the 14,000 children who formed part the Peter Pan Operation, sponsored by the Miami Catholic Archdiocese. In 1962, the Cuban government stopped emigration, until 1965, when the “Freedom Flights” began to bring new waves of exiles and artists. In 1980, the exiles from the Mariel boatlift brought another wave of Cubans and artists to Miami. Since the early 1990s, the collapse of the Soviet Union precipitated another exodus and raft people (balseros) that continues.

            Some Cuban-American artists came to the United States as adults. Others came as children or adolescents, and others have been born in this country. The relationships and interactions between these groups are complex and diverse. All are joined by their divided identity, split between their Cuban and American sides and by their experience of exile, which for many has been the defining element in their lives. According to the year 2000 Census, there were 1,241,685, Cuban-born and 544,000, US born, Cuban-Americans in the United States. This constitutes a significant population, which provides a context and an audience for Cuban-American art.