Conspiring in favor. Conversation with collector Luciano Mendez and visual artist Alejandra Glez.

La artista Alejandra Glez y el coleccionista español Luciano Méndez.
Artist Alejandra Glez and Spanish collector Luciano Mendez.

By: Dayneris Brito

A review of the past and present history of art in Cuba allows us to verify that the practice of Cuban art collecting has been presented in an isolated and circumstantial way. Whatever its variants -the public/state or the private/individual- collecting art on the island after 1959 has been a rara avis among the actions that complement and strengthen the field of national art. This is due to multiple factors that are based on a socialist economic system that rejects in advance any kind of individual empowerment and "hoarding" practice, such as the fact of collecting in itself. Add to that the nationalization of private property and patrimonial goods, and the real difficulty of acquiring original works of art of a certain aesthetic value due to the imbalance between the average local salary and the artistic specimen.

Even though the possibilities to promote an autochthonous collecting are dissipating nowadays -even for a social stripe of certain economic solvency-, in the last decades the Cuban cultural scene has seen the emergence of another type of private art collector, whose stance towards the contemporary dynamics of Cuban art has been of great importance for its recognition in international circles. I'm talking about foreigners residing on the island -mostly for commercial reasons-, as has been the case of Frenchman Jean Marc Ville or Spaniards Ximo Sanchez and Luciano Mendez.

Beyond the reasons that have given rise and origin to their collections, the individual praxis that have been concretized from the collections of these actors as collectors-treasurers-managers of the artistic work, and their management models have undoubtedly contributed to diversify the possibilities of positioning Cuban art in recent years. This has happened in spite of the institutional system's own difficulties and obstacles to cover the representation needs and the commercial support of the youngest and most disadvantaged esthetics of the environment.

In the face of such a complex panorama, what is the role played by the figure of the art collector as the raison d'être of the work itself, and even more so if he/she becomes a sort of producer, patron and tutor of the person he/she represents? Generally speaking, we assume that the private art collector acts as a sort of "patrimonial owner" who, in a certain sense, intervenes in the cultural discourse of his time and in the context in which he lives. In Cuba, where there is a divorce between the private and the institutional, the presence of this type of agent that offers commercial stability to artists, especially the younger ones, is even more lacking.

One example that has set the pace in this direction is the Luciano Mendez Collection, owned by Havana-based Spanish businessman Luciano Mendez Sanchez. As stated in the catalog book Luciano Mendez Sanchez Contemporary Cuban Art Collection. Domus Artium 2002-DA2 (Salamanca, Spain) 2019-2023: "When Luciano Méndez arrived in Cuba he did not suspect that he would create an art collection. His initial acquisitions had the sole purpose of decorating the house. Over time, a powerful desire arose to acquire works that far exceeded simple decorative needs" 1 .

Ten years old, this collection treasures more than 800 works of contemporary Cuban art, including consolidated names belonging to the 70's and 80's generations such as Roberto Fabelo, Manuel Mendive, Alfredo Sosabravo, Pedro Pablo Oliva, Nelson Domínguez, Flora Fong, Tomás Sánchez, Moisés Finalé, José Bedia, together with artists under 30 years of age such as Gabriela Pez, Alejandra Glez, Daniela Águila and Linet Sánchez. So far, the Luciano Méndez collection has held more than 5 exhibitions between group and personal exhibitions among which are: 18 Cuban artists of today (Havana, 2015); Between canvases and sculptures, (José Martí Memorial, Havana 2018) and one of the most recent A round trip, at the DA2 in Salamanca, Spain; in which a total of 218 pieces were exhibited.

One of the youngest acquisitions within the group of pieces that make up the collection is that of Cuban visual artist Alejandra Glez (Havana, 1996). We could say that the work of this creator is situated between the limits of the corporeal and the anthropological. In both cases, she is interested in addressing the female identity by putting into practice current theorizations of feminist currents, although her work undoubtedly goes beyond the boundaries of the merely "feminine".

Formal supports such as photography in the first place, photomontage, installation, performance and video art, allow Alejandra to subvert the codes that stigmatize femininity in a society that we recognize as patriarchal, in order to proceed with a playful and unprejudiced revelation of herself, and of the models that invade her attention. Despite her very young age, the versatility of Alejandra's work has led her to win the Enaire Foundation's Young Photography Award (2021) and at only 24 years old, her work can already be seen in an event of such magnitude as PhotoEspaña.

A couple of chats with Luciano and Alejandra are enough to understand that there is a blind complicity between them; a trust based on respect for each other's profession, which can only be achieved through years of friendship and experiences between a collector and his artist:

Dayneris Brito - What seduced you about Alejandra's work and how do you organically integrate her representational needs in the same space of dialogue where so many important masters converge?

Luciano Méndez - The first works that attracted my attention were those of "La cabeza es el nuevo desnudo" (The head is the new nude). It is a series that perfectly unites artistic quality with powerful conceptual messages of absolute social and individual actuality, so I decided to acquire them and integrate them into the collection. In short, I perceived in Alejandra imagination, creativity and conjunction of artistic quality and concepts.

Regarding the intentions, I think that each collector is a different world. There is no homogeneity in terms of objectives, artistic preferences and motivations between one collection and another. Nor in terms of the collector's interrelationship with artists, art critics and gallery owners.

My goal is for the collection to include works by established artists, mid-career artists and young talents with significant potential. Likewise, I intend to incorporate the best works of each artist, according to my own subjective criteria.

Dayneris Brito - What are the commercial and/or personal and spiritual gains that betting on Alejandra can offer you?

Luciano Méndez - Particularly, the bet on Alejandra is based on the conviction that her characteristics as an artist, mainly imagination, amazing creativity and courageous attitude, will turn her into a really important and transcendent artist of contemporary Cuban and Latin American art in the short term.

Already now Alejandra's achievements corroborate this. I am referring to her individual and collective exhibitions, as well as to the commercialization of her works by European art galleries; without forgetting that her works are already in an important number of collections.

Dayneris Brito - What satisfaction accompanies a collector and owner of a representative collection of contemporary Cuban art when he sees the work of one of his artists grow?

Luciano Méndez - In the recent exhibition "Un viaje de ida y vuelta" that opened last October 3 at the Domus Artium Museum in Salamanca (DA2), with works from the collection, Alejandra was present with the work "La repetición, la repetición, la repetición", along with artists such as Fabelo, Mendive, Pedro Pablo Oliva, Sosabravo, Tomáz Sánchez, among others. (The same piece, together with "The head is the new nude 2", is currently at the DA2 together with works from the permanent collection of the DA2 Museum, the Coca Cola Collection and my own collection).

This shows that Alejandra's work occupies an important place in the collection, and will certainly be present in other future exhibitions and corresponding catalogs.

Dayneris Brito - In your case Alejandra; how and in what sense do you recognize the support of Luciano Méndez in your personal and professional development as a Cuban visual artist? To what extent do you feel that his personality and work as a collector has given other meanings and values to your work?

Alejandra Glez - I met Luciano in April 2017, at an expo-sale held by El Oficio Gallery to which he belonged at the time. Later he contacted me through the gallery owners and from then on there was a communication that continues today.

The figure and work of Luciano, at least for me, has surpassed the figure of the collector per se. During the years that I have known him, he has been not only a promoter of my career, but also a friend, a psychologist and a guide. He is a particular type of collector who is concerned not only with the artist's commercial path and his ups and downs, but also with his spiritual, basic and economic needs.

Dayneris Brito - What does it mean to be a young artist in Cuba and to be part of this collection?

Alejandra Glez - I consider that being part of the Luciano Méndez Collection in Cuba undoubtedly positions you. My professional growth has been seen in the participation of exhibitions, the entrance to museums and important art events, at only 24 years of age. As a Cuban artist based in Havana -a space with certain and difficult conditions for the commercial development of art- these opportunities offer you a category within the art world that is difficult to reach. The art collector should not be satisfied with buying, but with exhibiting, making known and, above all, seeing the work of his or her artist grow.

Therefore, without Luciano's presence my career would have been much slower, since he is a collector who is committed not only to the work, but also to the artist.

Published 18/ 06/ 2021
Havana, June 2020- Paris, June 2021.

Taken from PAC (Contemporary Art Platform)