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The 12th Havana Biennial

The 12th Havana Biennial

The theme of the 12th Biennial, “Between the idea and experience,” is reminiscent of Spanish poet Luis Cernuda’s famous book La realidad y el deseo, which brings all his poetry together under one title. In turn, the Biennial will bring together 119 artists from 44 countries, who will be interacting with the city and its people, gauging satisfactions, shortages and aspirations in relation to their surroundings, and the role of art in everyday life and in the micro-spaces of socialization. Jorge Fernández, who chairs the event, has said, “We shouldn’t think that people don’t understand modern art; rather, what is interesting is the reaction of each of these people. For us it is very important to have the work engage in dialogue wherever it needs to. This has been a job that has required a lot of discussion but the most important thing is how to create a dialogue between the “in here” and the “out there.”

Even though it is difficult to recommend anything due to the many options and the wide-flung distribution of the sites, I personally would not miss the second edition of Behind the Wall, whose chief curator, Juan Delgado Calzadilla (Juanito) announced the inclusion of 50 different projects by artists—not only visual, but musicians, writers and actors as well—from various countries, who will be occupying a part of the Malecón and areas across the avenue. The exhibition area will be open from 5pm, May 24 until June 22, when the Biennial will officially be closed. Apart from the always attractive presence of artists like Manuel Mendive and Roberto Fabelo, I’m sure that the ice rink that New York artist Duke Riley plans to set up on the corner of Malecón and Belascoaín Street will get the prize for popularity. The 200 pairs of skates that Riley will be bringing to Havana will be precious few given the number of children and adults eager to make their debut in a winter sport under the scorching Cuban sun.

Another must see site will be the MOR Group Project (Romerillo Organic Museum), whose impressive lineup was announced by the indefatigable Kcho: Joel Jover, Rafael Villares (a young artist who deserves close attention), Marta Maria Perez Bravo, René Francisco, Ever Fonseca, dancer Irene Rodríguez, Ernesto Rancaño, Carlos Quintana, Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, Llobet and Pons, Roberto Diago, Kcho himself, D Morón Theatre, among others, alongside works by classics such as Agustín Cárdenas, Amelia Peláez, Antonia Eiriz, Raúl Martínez, Rita Longa, Wifredo Lam, Servando Cabrera Moreno, Belkis Ayón, Andy Warhol and Roberto Matta…

Other actions not to miss include the nondiscriminatory, inclusive project Entre, dentro, fuera / Between, Inside, Outside, at the Pabellón Cuba; the performances at El Ciervo Encantado; and the presence of one of the main representatives of Arte Povera, the Italian painter, action and object artist Michelangelo Pistoletto. He will be offering a lecture at the University of the Arts (ISA) on May 21 at 11:30 am, as well as two performances: Tercer Paraíso (Plaza de la Catedral, May 23, 4pm) and Thirteen Less Two, with the Ars Longa Early Music Ensemble (Iglesia de Paula, May 24, 11 am).

A conceptualist “invasion” has been predicted by the Uruguayan Luis Camnitzer: the exhibition Ejercicios, opening at 6pm, May 20 at the Casa de las Américas, The French artist Daniel Buren, who is best known for his “stripes,” will take part in the art actions in Casablanca, will make interventions on doors on San Lázaro Street and will deliver a lecture at ISA at 2 pm, May 21. Meanwhile, Joseph Kosuth will also lecture at ISA on the same day at 9:30 am and will be exhibiting at the National Library at 4:30 pm, May 24. Starting at 10 am, May 22, an interesting group of Cuban and international artists will be livening up the peaceful streets of Casablanca to dream and create art along with its inhabitants.

As in previous years, Old Havana promises to be a truly privileged place for art. In addition to the many actions that will be taking place at the Wifredo Lam Contemporary Art Center, Factoría Habana or the Center for the Development of Visual Arts, numerous and diverse projects will be taking over the streets and buildings. Joining in its hectic pace, sharing the boisterous extroversion of its inhabitants and letting yourself be taken by surprise by performances, itinerant projects, projections on walls, can all be an attractive and even mind-blowing experience.

On the other side of the bay, the Morro-Cabaña complex will host Zona franca, the collateral exhibition space showcasing Cuban contemporary art of the past five years. Painting, sculpture, drawing, photography, installation, design or video art in around 100 solo and group shows by acclaimed artists, as well as young artists who will be bringing their aesthetics and new ways of doing and interacting with the viewers, will occupy the vast area of the colonial fortress to attest to the complexity and richness of current art creation on the island.

So I recommend you start getting ready for the Biennale with comfortable walking shoes, a broad-brimmed hat, plenty of drinking water, and, above all, eyes wide open.
May 2015 This article formed part of the May 2015 issue of What’s On Havana The definitive monthly travel & culture guide to Havana Download our current issue of What’s On Havana, your definitive travel, culture and entertainment guide for all things happening in Havana, Cuba’s bustling and enigmatic capital city. We include features from around Cuba written by the best international travel writers covering Cuba. Our monthly online digital magazine is also available in Spanish and French.

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