Barron's finds opportunities in contemporary Cuban art

Roberto Fabelo, «Volutas,» 2015. Cortesía de Christie’s.
Roberto Fabelo, «Volutas,» 2015. Cortesy by Christie’s.
As part of its coverage, the US weekly financial newspaper Barron's provides wealth management advice to high-calibre investors, including potential growth opportunities in non-financial fields.
Now, Barron's has discovered contemporary Cuban art.
In an article entitled "Cuban Art Has Its Moment in the Spotlight," writer Michael Magers draws a parallel between Cuba's contemporary art scene and contemporary Chinese art in the early 2000s.
"Auction houses in the United States and elsewhere are beginning to present Cubans, and prices are rising," he writes. "Established artists such as [Roberto] Fabelo, painter Carlos Alfonzo, and multidisciplinary Manuel Mendive now occupy auction catalogs alongside 20th-century Cuban luminaries such as Wifredo Lam.
Barron's article highlights Fabelo, whose 2015 Volutas painting sold for US$300,000 at Christie's Latin American sale last May, 50 percent above his high estimate of US$200,000 and a record auction price for the artist. (All prices shown include buyer's premium). Magers describes this sale as "a turning point for Cuban art.


But Fabelo's not the only one. The same Christie sale had a record sale for Water Seeds, a large 1988-89 canvas by Carlos Alfonzo. Estimated at $100,000-$150,000, the painting more than doubled its highest figure to reach $350,000.


In the last two years, other Cuban artists set records at auction, including Los Carpinteros (Dagoberto Rodríguez, Marco Castillo, Alexandre Arrechea), whose 1995 assembly, Catedral, raised more than $450,000 at the sale of Christie's in May 2018. In that sale, Mendive reached six figures, a record auction, with Occuni (2003).


And in 2017, Carmen Herrera, the Cuban-born abstract artist, broke the million-dollar mark with Untitled (Orange and Black) (1956), which reached US$1,179,000 at Phillips' contemporary international sale in November.
Herrera's auction results underscore the dynamic interaction of museums, galleries and auction houses in the international growth of Cuban art. The year before its record sale, Herrera had been the subject of a major exhibition at the Whitney Museum of Art in New York. More recently, a retrospective exhibition of master engraver Belkis Ayon has been touring U.S. museums since early 2017, including a stop at El Museo del Barrio in Manhattan that garnered excellent reviews in the New York Times.
That increased attention may have contributed to the almost tenfold increase in the selling price of the 1993 collogram of Ayon Sin Título (Sikán with white tips). Presented at Phillips' "New Now" auction in September 2018, the piece, estimated at a modest US$3,000-$5,000, sold for US$47,500.
"Contemporary Cuban art remains the best-kept secret in the art market," says collector Howard Farber, editor of Cuban Art News.
Before collecting Cuban art, Farber assembled an acclaimed collection of contemporary Chinese art in the late 1990s and 2000s. A 2008 sale of works from that collection at Phillips in London still holds the record of an auction of a single Chinese contemporary art collector.
"There are many similarities between the emerging art markets of China and Cuba in the late 1980s, after the opening of dialogue with the United States in 2015," Farber continues. "Although thirty years apart, both eras saw art and artists explode with new enthusiasm, extraordinary skills, and access to materials and markets.
"Collectors take note," Farber concluded. "This is an undervalued and well-deserved opportunity.


Other Cuban artists in the international museum circuit may be enjoying an improvement in the value of the art market. Covered in Time and History: The Films of Ana Mendieta, an exhibition that premiered in 2015, continued its tour until January of this year, closing at the Jeu de Paume in Paris after performances in Germany, Sweden and several US museums. Reference group exhibitions such as Adiós Utopia: Dreams and Deceptions in Cuban Art Since 1950 and the Artes de Cuba festival at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts have made Cuban artists better known in the United States and internationally.
The recently reopened Museum of Modern Art in New York reflects this growing awareness of Cuban art as part of the international contemporary art world. The main installation of the permanent collection galleries includes works by Mendieta, Herrera and Félix González-Torres. A work by Allora and Calzadilla is on display in Surrounds: 11 Installations on the museum's sixth floor, and a small sculpture by Sandú Darié, ca. 1950, is included in the "Artist's Choice" exhibition on the fifth floor.


At the same time, ambitious gallery exhibitions such as Concrete Cuba, presented in 2016 at David Zwirner, and Constructing Her Universe: Loló Soldevilla, which will close today at the Sean Kelly Gallery in New York, continue to educate the American public about the history of Cuban art.
"Of our Latin American art offerings, Cuban art in particular always attracts a lot of interest and we've built a solid base of clients or collectors looking for works by Cuban artists," says Valentina Garcia, a 20th-century specialist in contemporary and Latin American art at Phillips.
"I think some Cuban artists, as well as Latin American artists in general, are a little undervalued," continues García. "However, we have seen a growing interest in this area of the market by international museums and galleries, as more and more institutions seek to include artists from this region in their programs. This increased attention definitely assures collectors more confidence when buying a work.
Even performance art, a challenge for all collectors, is gaining international exposure. Last year, Tania Bruguera presented important performance projects at MoMA and Tate Modern in London. Younger artists such as Carlos Martiel and Susana Pilar Delahante are also gaining international attention, Martiel for her performance works as Prodigal Son (2010) and Under Occupation (2019), presented in the fourth Vancouver Beinnale, and Delahante for works as Intercontinental Drawing (2017), presented in Venice during the 2017 Biennial.
Barron's article points to New York gallery owner Bryant Toth as a figure who helps "create links between great talent and limited access to the market, which is the only challenge facing Cuba.
Earlier this year, the French art market website and database Artprice also pointed to a positive trend for contemporary Cuban art. With this in mind, Barron's article presents a strong view of contemporary Cuban art as an attractive investment for both modest patrimony collectors and multimillionaires.


Tomado de Cuban Art News