Re.: In Havana, An Air of Possibility

Chris Brady cdbrady at
Sun Nov 16 21:39:24 MST 2003

The Washington Post's Blake Gopnik writes about art more as a critic of
socialist politics than as an art critic.  So typical.  He can’t comment
on any piece without dragging politics into the foreground.  Having gone
through a protracted period of intensive study and production of art, I
submit that the interpretation of a particular piece says as much or
more about the interpreter as it does about the artist’s intentions.

To me, the example Gopnik provided of art that pushes the envelope in
the Bienal indicates more of an all-inclusive artistic sensibility on
the part of the organizers, and its acceptance by the state, than it
displays the naked hand of repressive Stalinist dictatorship—as alluded
to by the writer.  Yes, to the contrary.

Gopnik applauds some art, casts off a slew of others that don’t make his
grade.  But the best art cannot be judged by traditional standards.  The
best art transcends traditional standards and thus fails to be
recognized for its originality until history puts it into context.  The
most sought-after salon painting or academic art of the late 19th
century is nowhere near as treasured for its genius as “The Potato
Eaters” today.  Further, what I appreciate may be different from what
you find most affecting, but who is to say whether one is “better” than
the other.  De Gustibus non est Disbutandem (“you can’t argue with

     My favourite sculpture
will always be a simple apple leaf
twist-tied to a low twig
branching off a larger bow
of the tree from which the leaf had fallen
before the winter snows.
And my favourite artist will always be
that eight-year-old boy
(now a handsome young man)
who by his simple act
trapped me in a transitory instant
of beauty, anguish and rebirth
that I call the aesthetic moment.

The ambiguity of a particular piece of art is in part what makes it
memorable art, whether it be poetry, music or a mixed media
installation.  At best you can only discuss it generally.  Try to put
the Moonlight Sonata into words, and nail it... but you can't.
Approximate the feelings generated by a beloved poem  And if it was
right for a moment it changes.  Because how art is percieved has as much
to do with the audience as the producer.  Maybe you can get close.  And
then we change.

Gopnik doesn’t approach the more profound questions about art, such as
the legitimacy of the artist as a particular person superior to others
in an exacting profession, or “Fine Art” as a commodity in a capitalist
economy, or the role of art in a socialist world.  Or a socialist world
as art.

Gopnik does insult and disparage the socialist government of Cuba.  That
seems to be more his purpose than to write inspired and inspirational
prose about art.  Ironically, the Cuban leadership is a quantum level
more artistically sensitive and intellectually inquisitive than those
hoods who run the USA.  Could you imagine W holding his own in a
free-ranging, all-night gab-fest with minds such as Nobel-winner Gabriel
Garcia Marquez?  Could you imagine George Bush and Dick Cheney hanging
out at John Lennon Park celebrating the hopes of world peace?  Wilfredo
Prieto’s grey flag installation probably has more to do with the ideals
behind Lennon’s Imagine than with any of Gopnik’s gropings.  Could
“Apolitical” be an ironic, humourous smirk at the history of Art for
Art’s Sake versus Art for Life’s Sake –perhaps?  In my art school
debates art could not be separated from society, and hence not from
economics, and naturally not from politics.  It would be absurd to
pretend otherwise.  Even though there is a heap of pretense and posing
in the art and near-art world –we won’t go there on this diatribe.

Even Gopnik’s translation of the biennial's official theme "El arte con
la vida" (Art with life) as “roughly ‘Art and life as one’” is only one
possibility, but he eclipses any others by his failure to mention them.
Maybe it would help if he had studied the Concept page of the Bienal

 Esto significa una Bienal en la que expondrán sus obras aquellos
artistas vinculados a las múltiples manifestaciones de la vida en
nuestros pueblos, desde una perspectiva crítica y reflexiva acerca de
nuestra realidad, hasta la apasionada exaltación de todas las formas de
lo bello, transitando también por la ironía o el humor.  Obras en las
que se manifiesten descarnadamente, o mediante sutilezas, el amplio
espectro de problemas que nos afectan día a día en el interior de
nuestras naciones y en su conexión con el resto del mundo.  Tales
propuestas ideoestéticas pueden circunscribirse al ámbito nacional o
internacional en una dialéctica enriquecedora entre diferentes contextos
y exhibirse luego en forma aislada en la ciudad o en orgánica relación
con específicos espacios institucionales o alternativos, de carácter
efímero o permanente, real o virtual.

Arte y vida resultan, pues, elementos componentes de un mismo sentido y
significado a nivel comunitario, con sus diferencias lógicas en
dependencia de la región en que éstas se manifiestan.  En unos casos se
inclina más la balanza hacia lo político, hacia lo religioso, o hacia la
rica complejidad de rituales y festividades populares, entre otros.

Gopnik’s own brief description of the integration of art with the
masses, that is art that transcends the privatized, possessive
preciousness and bourgeois elitism foisted on it and its producers, was
a goal yearned for by many artists during the Conceptual Period –and is
happening today in Cuba.  That is the revolution at work: life as art.

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