Juan Carlos Quintana in his West Oakland studio
Photos: Amy Osborne, The Chronicle
U.S. opens artistic relations with Cuba
By Sam Whiting
April 22, 2015 Updated: April 23, 2015 11:38am
In December, Oakland artist Juan Carlos Quintana was invited to submit a proposal for the Havana Biennial. He expected that to be the end of it, but he was shocked to be accepted and will board a flight to Havana in May.
Quintana had never been invited to apply before, and though he cannot see a direct link between his invitation and the easing of diplomatic relations, it has be more than a coincidence.
“It’s a moment between the countries that is monumental,” says Quintana, co-owner of Random Parts gallery on the east side of Lake Merritt. “After 55 years of being in a Cold War atmosphere, there is an opening, and as an artist I feel like an ambassador for cultural exchange.”
He is qualified for diplomatic duty, because 12 years ago Quintana became one of the first American visual artists to get a solo show in Cuba. Called “Choque Cultural,” (“Culture Clash”), the exhibition involved 30 paintings and works on paper at Centro de Desarrollo de las Artes Visuales, a state-owned venue.
“I was part of the Havana art scene for a month,” says Quintana, who was invited by a visiting Cuban curator he met in San Francisco. Now he plans to be that curator. While in Havana for 10 days, he will be looking for young artists whose work he can show later this year at Random Parts.
“My goal is to show underrepresented artists,” he says.
Cuba is a good place to find those. When Quintana was there in 2003, he says, there were maybe two or three commercial galleries in Havana. There are more now, though the term “commercial” does not mean the same there as it does here. But American ATM and credit cards are coming, which means the art trade imbalance will widen.
“There is no art market in Cuba for Cuban Americans or anyone else,” says Achy Obejas, a Cuban-born writer living in Oakland, where she is the Distinguished Visiting Writer at Mills College. “No one in Cuba has that kind of money.”
Quintana’s artwork was not for sale when he exhibited in Havana. After the show, he rolled it up and stashed it with relatives. When he finally went back to claim it in 2013, it was right where he had left it.
“I wouldn’t say there is a huge collector base in Cuba,” he says, “but there is a huge market for Cuban artists outside of the country.”
Random Parts will be doing its part to improve that. The full diplomatic detail to Havana will include four other artists associated with the gallery. Nelson Enriquez, who arrived from Havana two years ago and was the main contact between Random Parts and the Biennial, will also show there, as part of a collaboration called Brigada Roja with Rebekah Olstad. Also going are sound artist Bernardo Palau and dancer Sriba Kwadjovie. And if funds can be raised at an art auction Sunday, April 26, Random Parts co-founders Carlo Ricafort, Colleen Flaherty and Matteo Bittanti.
They represent Italy, Mexico, the Philippines, Cuba and Louisiana, where Quintana, 51, was born and raised. He shows at Jack Fischer Gallery on Potrero Hill in San Francisco and has a day job as a social worker in the Oakland Unified School District. His art is political satire and his outlook is skeptical, including the effect a lifted embargo would have.
“You could have more of an interchange between artists from Cuba and the U.S.,” he says. “But it has been happening for the last 25 years. People just don’t notice it.”
Sam Whiting is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.orgTwitter:@samwhitingsf
Benefit Auction: Random Parts will host an art auction from 4 to 8 p.m. Sunday, April 26, to help send artists to the Havana Biennial. 1206 13th Ave., Oakland. www.random parts.org. (510) 415-8791.