On September 23rd 2016, the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Habana will be presenting Las Cosas Como Son, an exhibition by Glexis Novoa. The artist will be exhibiting 11 paintings and 11 sculptures, executed in Havana over the last 2 years. Having lived in Miami for over 20 years, in 2013 Novoa joined the wave of artists and intellectuals returning to Cuba after long periods away from the island. Novoa, now lives and works in both Havana and Miami.
In a short interview with Cubartours, Novoa explained the primary reason of his return as being a need to be near his family; this, coupled with recent governmental changes, created a suitable context for the artist’s return. Novoa also elucidates that the opportunity to work on important shows, such as the Detrás del muro exhibit, on during the 12th Havana Biennial, and his solo show at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, encouraged his move to re-immerse himself in the Cuban art scene.
Novoa explains the concept of the show as being the narrative of a journey; in this case a circular journey, the moment where the present encounters the past. Las Cosas Como Son displays a panoramic view of this moment, paying close attention to details of the path described. He delineates, “The exhibit depicts how the mutation of social affairs influences the process and the resulting statements in my work”.
In his most recent painted, typography-focused pieces, Glexis Novoa harks back to his works from the 80s and 90s. The painted works presented in Las Cosas Como Son form an extension of Novoa’s age-old series La etapa práctica, which, whilst working as a socio-political commentary, seeks to explore the linguistic heart of Cuban society. Returning to Havana in 2013 and reconnecting with his artistic and familial roots, Novoa’s work, although continuously evolving, reintegrates large parts of his early oeuvre. This could, however, also be the artist reflecting upon the stagnated state of the island. Cuba, famous for being ‘stuck in a 50s time-warp’, whilst pleasing for tourists searching for an increasingly lucid nostalgia, leaves many of the islands inhabitants with a feeling of entrapment and frustration. Novoa through using his renowned Soviet-esque typography, seen in pieces such as Untitled (Practical Stage), 1990, coupled with the use of the newest and most commonly used terms thrown around on Havana’s streets, shows the simultaneous evolution and stagnation of the island. Whilst works found in his earlier oeuvre attempted to manifest the emptiness of political messages propagated by Cuba’s institutional powers, his newer pieces emphasise the unadulterated vibrant nature of Cuban contemporary culture, captured through frequently heard words and phrases.
The artist expands upon this by explaining, “Sadly, the city is much more destroyed than when I first left, but I am still consistently surprised by the enterprising capability of the people who live here, their inventiveness and intelligence in being able to work out any type of problem and their ability to maintain the hope that they can be happy. I think Cuba’s greatest fortune is its talented people”.
2014 acrylic on canvas, 100 x 100 cm (39 1/2 x 39 1/2 inches). Courtesy of David Castillo Gallery, Miami Beach.
Almendrón is one such piece that captures the heart of the Cuban people. The Almendrón, is a 1950s/60s car, used as a collective taxi in contemporary Cuba. The Almendrón, over the last 50 years, has been pulled apart, put back together, enlarged, upgraded and installed with large music systems—although a 50s car on the outside, it very rarely contains any original parts on the inside. The Almendrón encompasses what Novoa believes is the most important characteristic of the Cuban people—innovation– without that innovation the cars, like Cuba, would have stopped working some 35 years ago. Playing a central role in most Habaneros life, the almendrónes follow pre-arranged routes along main roads in Havana. Novoa seeks to shows the significance of this word, this object, unknown to people outside of Cuba, through the immortalisation of it in his painting. The background could possibly be an allusion to the colour schemes of the almendrónes: bright, mismatched and dripping. Some could even say the colour scheme references a Richert-esque style, encapsulated in the clashing flecks of red upon the foundational Caribbean green and yellow.
The 11 new works reflect the contemporary state of affairs in Cuba through stark semantical descriptions. In an interview with Cuban Art News Novoa explains, “The new paintings highlight a number of elements that exemplify the new values which appear as words, as examples of new paradigms. I heard words repeated among the people on the street, among hawkers and in my conversations with fellow intellectuals. Words such as: almendrón, dengue, Hemingway, Garaicoa, latas de carne (canned meat), Peter Kilchman, Revolico ... references that draw a new panorama.”
2015-16 graphite on wall fragment, steel and cement base, 156 x 70 x 50cm (61 x 27 x 19 inches ). Courtesy of David Castillo Gallery, Miami Beach.
Novoa’s sculptures maintain the focus on contemporary Cuban society, however they are presented as a more personal and isolated take on the city; instead of being large, bright and eye catching, his drawings on fragments of wall are small, detailed and sombre. The works have been taken from the series Emptiness executed for the 2015 Detrás del muro exhibit. During the 2015 show, Novoa drew upon the walls of a set of ruins facing the Malécon. For Las Cosas Como Son, Novoa cut out the fragments of wall he had drawn upon and designed a base that was measured to match the walls from which the drawings were removed from. Discussing the 2015 pieces in an interview with Art On Cuba, Novoa explains “The drawings are very detailed, I work with a small magnifying glass, standing in front of the work for many hours; this results in an implicit meditation, a reflection on the space of occupation. Every place I stop to draw in is naturally recognised in my work, for it is the whole reason for the drawing itself. This allows me to acknowledge and enter the space for the purpose of creation, conducting viewers around that space as I choose, however simultaneously this is impossible as every viewer creates their own journey around the space, I simply try to incite the journey through the act of creating curiosity”. Through the inclusion of the sculptures in Las Cosas Como Son, Novoa allows the viewer a physical experience of his encounter with his home city. Viewers are encouraged to explore the spaces around and in-between the works and are pushed to intimately experience the works through a close analysis of the miniature drawings. The sculptures present an entirely unique experience of Havana and show Novoa’s view of las cosas como son.
The artist ends his interview with Cubartours explaining the transitions his work has been through since the 80s. He writes, “My work has always been conditioned by my social context. In Havana I lived through a very privileged moment—during the 80s—also known as the “renaissance” of Cuban art, where I experimented with collective collaborations, performance, etc., in very strange circumstances within an institutional space. We did not have access to the art market, nor information about contemporary art during this period. The possibility to develop my work outside this institution gave me the opportunity to work like other artists from all over the world and gave me an understanding of how a system of art functions from an independent perspective. In Havana, nowadays, I have encountered a very generic scene that depends and revolves around the main-stream, however it is still a very vibrant platform, which is very important for the promotion of Cuban artists. The scene is now enriched by artists who come to Havana to work and exhibit, like they do across the world. For me Havana is perfectly combined with Miami, another throbbing epicentre of international art, through a short 45-minute flight”.
Images and information are courtesy of Glexis Novoa and David Castillo Gallery, Miami Beach.
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On September 23rd 2016, the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Habana will be presenting Las Cosas Como Son, an exhibition by Glexis Novoa. The artist will be exhibiting 11 paintings and 11 sculptures, executed in Havana over the last 2 years.
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