Cuba's Carlos Garaicoa Exhibits at USF

Internationally acclaimed artist brings beauty, social commentary to USF’s Contemporary Art Museum.


By Mary Beth Erskine News Writer


TAMPA, Fla. (Aug. 23, 2010) – A third-generation Tampa native with family roots that trace back to pre-revolutionary Cuba, Noel Smith, curator of Latin American and Caribbean Art for USF’s Contemporary Art Museum, says she has always had a natural affinity for the country’s culture, its history, its people and, most significantly, its art.

That passion has energized Smith to cultivate a unique relationship between USF and Cuba’s National Museum of Fine Arts in Havana despite the myriad political challenges associated with conducting business with the communist-run nation and its painstakingly slow bureaucracy. The USF community and general public will benefit from those efforts as the museum presents an exhibition by the Cuban-born and internationally acclaimed Carlos Garaicoa titled, Carlos Garaicoa: La enmienda que hay en mí (Making Amends). The exhibition began Monday, Aug. 23 and runs through Dec. 11.

Smith started at USF’s Graphicstudio in 1994. She took her first trip to Cuba in 1999. “I was immediately drawn to its physical surroundings, to the people who are so funny and amazing and have a wonderful attitude towards life and what’s important. They have done so much with relatively so little.”

The carefully nurtured relationship has produced several successes over the years, including the premiere of work by Los Carpinteros at the USF Contemporary Art Museum in 2005, and now the show by Garaico – one of the country’s most famous contemporary artists and the most political to exhibit at USF.

Known for his study of the contemporary city, Garaicoa uses a wide array of media – from sculpture and painting to video and architectural models – to investigate issues of history, politics, architecture urbanism and culture. “His work is particular to Cuba, but he addresses universal issues related to social change and human rights,” said Smith.

Smith says that USF has been eager to work with Garaicoa, who is based in Havana, for a long time. “His installations are visually arresting and demonstrate his belief that artists have a moral obligation towards the society in which they live. For example, in several of the works included in the exhibition, viewers will see his frustration with the failure of 20th century modernism.”

Garaicoa has exhibited extensively at venues around the world and his works can be found in some of the world’s most prestigious museums including the Museum of Modern Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City, the Tate Modern in London, and El Museo Nacional de Arte Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid. The USF exhibition will include one of his most recognized works, The Crown Jewels, a series of eight cast silver models he says depict international places of military authority, surveillance and repression including Cuba’s Villa Marista, the East German Stasi, Guantanamo Naval Base, the Pentagon and the KGB.

Not only will some of Garaicoa’s most celebrated artworks be shown on the USF campus, but the artist also will create new prints at USF’s renowned Graphicstudio. Additionally, he will participate in a colloquium that will take place on Aug. 27 from 10 a.m. to noon in the Marshall Student Center. Joining Garaicoa will be the co-curators of the exhibition, Smith and Corina Matamoros, curator of contemporary Cuban art at the National Museum of Fine Arts in Havana and Mark Weston, assistant professor architecture at USF.

Smith said that USF’s relationship with members of Cuba’s art world including Garaicoa and Matamoros has been built on mutual trust, respect and admiration and added that USF’s Graphicstudio has been asked to present an exhibition at the National Museum of Fine Arts next year. That relationship – and a great deal of patience – is what sustained Smith and members of Graphicstudio and the Contemporary Art Museum as they navigated “the political and logistical nightmare” of bringing both the artist and his work to Tampa.

For example, while a few of the pieces in the USF exhibition were easily shipped from museums and private collectors in Spain and in Washington, D.C., the majority of Garaicoa’s works were in Cuba, and arranging for those to be sent was much more complicated, said Smith. “Even though artwork is considered a legal import, any time I have had to ship pieces of art to the United States from Cuba, it has had to go through a third country,” said Smith.

After a circuitous journey from Havana to Toronto to Tampa, the ten crates of precious cargo destined for the USF Contemporary Art Museum finally arrived on the museum’s loading docks two months after the museum in Havana had carefully packed them – and to the collective sighs of relief of Smith and her museum colleagues.

Arranging for Garaicoa and Matamoros to follow was no less easy – a process of obtaining permission from the Cuban government for them to leave the country and securing visas from the United States that started more than six months ago.

Yet, those efforts also have resulted in yet more sighs of relief and warm words of welcome, as artist and curator circled through the museum’s revolving door.

For Smith, it’s a decade-old dream come true.

For more information about the exhibit, Carlos Garaicoa: La enmienda que hay en mí (Making Amends), click here.

Mary Beth Erskine can be reached at 813-974-6993.