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Contemporary Latin American Art Unfolds in Portugal

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The Quinta de Santiago Museum, a romantic 19th century palace on the banks of the Leça River, in the district of Porto, Portugal, is the idyllic setting chosen by the Boti Llanes family to exhibit their creative contemporary art collection of fans, for the 20th Anniversary of its first exhibition in Havana, Cuba.

It can certainly be said that the Boti Llanes family possesses an extensive knowledge of contemporary Latin American art, since their life has been linked to it since the mid-1950s. The matriarch of the family, Llilian Llanes, has not only been vice-rector of Investigations of the Art of Cuba High Institution but also director of the Wilfredo Lam Contemporary Art Center and director of the Biennial of Havana, from 1986 to 1999. Therefore, her children and grandchildren have grown up alongside the contemporary Latin American art world and close to innumerable art professionals, who also contributed in enhancing their sensitivity and inclination for the arts. Actually, it is mainly due to friendship bonds created over the years with many artists that this family has compiled a creative collection of Latin American art, whose main objective is to bring contemporary art to all audiences.

From this art collection, we feel especially seduced by a creative anthology of fans made from a wide diversity of materials and techniques, which currently unfolds its color and beauty in the Quinta de Santiago Museum in Matosinhos, district of Porto, Portugal. The group, consisting of 144 art pieces mostly created by Latin American artists but also another ones from around the world, like Yoko Ono, is brilliantly showcased over the three floors of this romantic museum placed in the countryside, which, additionally, debuts in an international exhibition beneath the delicate baton of its director, Cláudia Almeida.

Below, we have the opportunity to talk with Liliam, the youngest daughter of the Boti Llanes family and co-curator of this exhibition, about the earliest biennials of Havana; the meaningful narrative of this fan art collection and to know her experienced opinions and tastes on contemporary art.

Which memories would you keep from the earliest Biennials of Havana, considering that you have grown up alongside it?

From the first biennials I have few memories, from the vision of a primary school girl. I do remember that the challenges at the time were many, both material and organizational as budgetary, but the organization of the Biennial was a group project and my mother had the cooperation of many agencies, organizations, artists, museum directors, professionals from the world of art, and people from all walks of life, both from Cuba and abroad. At that time parents did not worry about “entertaining us” like today and we simply went where my mother took us and we just followed her around the exhibitions walking, looking and without any plan or fixed direction. It was a matter of seeing and walking, nobody was there to explain what was happening. The children used to run through the museum and naturally we would see what was exhibited there.

Later my brother and I studied in a boarding school between 1984 and 1990 and did not participate a lot in the art events of the time, so the clearest memories I have begun in the fourth biennial in 1991, still being adolescents. We began to participate in the activities of the event and in many cases we assisted the artists, whom we were getting to know in that way. From the memories of that time if I had to choose one, it was the opening day of the fifth biennial for the unforgettable performance of Manuel Mendive. That day I was at home all the time, which for me was an enchanting and wonderful place. There we were while he was painting and preparing the dancers, so I experienced the whole process of preparing the performance until it ended at the National Museum of Fine Arts.

The present exhibition compiles the creative talent of numerous artists from diverse nationalities. How did the idea of collecting fan art pieces come up and which would be the objective for their exhibition?

Essentially, the idea was based on the interest in bringing the Cuban public closer to contemporary art. And it was also a bit, as in many things in life, the combination of varied factors: the heat of Cuba; the lack of air conditioning; the will of the artists and the respect and appreciation that artists have for my mother’s work. We tried that the Cuban artists who were part of the national artistic scene were present and, as a group, the original collection had 45 fans. With time and thanks to the support of artists from other countries who were interested in the project, the group was expanded.

The anthology of fans was exhibited for the first time in 1998, at the Wilfredo Lam Center and has visited institutions such as the Recoleta Cultural Center in Buenos Aires, Argentina; the National Museum of Visual Arts in Montevideo, Uruguay; the National Museum of Ceramics and Sumptuary Arts González Martí of Valencia, Spain and it was exhibited for the last time in the National Museum of Contemporary Art of the Dominican Republic in 2004, date from which it is kept. After 20 years and due to the great reception and interest that always aroused in the public, we thought that it would be a good idea to showcase again the collection, which currently has 211 fans made by 147 artists from Spain, Cuba, Argentina, Uruguay, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Guatemala, France, Japan and a recent incorporation from Italy. Several of the fans display in Portugal are being shown for the first time to the public and it is necessary to emphasize that several artists made fans especially for this exhibition, like Alfredo Sosabravo. Among Cuban fans we have nine artists who have been awarded the National Prize for Plastic Arts in Cuba. The place chosen has been the beautiful Quinta de Santiago Museum, in Porto, which also holds its first international exhibition.

The idea remains the same; expose the public, expert or amateur, to a greater knowledge of contemporary art and if the opportunity arises, they can stay in a public institution where they can be enjoyed permanently.

How would you value the creativity of the Latin American artists and which new possibilities would you perceive for Cuban artists in this recent stage?

Artists in Latin America are creative, but I do not think that creativity is the heritage of any group of artists in particular, since the same can be said of contemporary African artists and Asian artists. The fact is that Latin American artists have been able to use all resources of art to express the problems and concerns of our continent in a way that leads to a reflection for the beauty that it has been expressed and for the depth of the thoughts. Naturally, times and situations are changing and acquiring new profiles.

Cuban art has always been updated and open to the world. Cuban artists have always participated in numerous international events. We can follow their trajectories to see the variety of countries and places where they have exhibited. What has been opened even more is the market, and with this opening everything that the market brings, positive and negative.

At present we could appreciate a greater diversity in the arts and, lately, a large part of it in favor of globalized environmental and social messages. Which contemporary artists attract your attention?

In recent times there are two exhibitions that I liked very much. One is the exhibition of the Sindika Dokolo collection of contemporary African art that I saw at the Almeida Garrett Municipal Library in Porto and the other was the exhibition of African contemporary art at the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris. In the Sindika Dokolo collection, I particularly liked that I was able to admire again works that were exhibited for the first time in the Havana Biennial and that were artists that I knew at that time. And in the Louis Vuitton Foundation I saw recent works of many of those artists who had rediscovered the Porto exhibition, like Romuald Hazoume and Cheri Samba, whom I admire for the contemporaneity of their proposals. There are many Latin American artists that I deeply admire and that I like their work. I have the joy that many of them are friends which also makes them have a personal affection. It is difficult to choose between them because friendship is more important than my opinion about their works. But I can say that the topics that most interest me are the interaction of man as a human being with his environment, both the interaction with nature and the position of man in society, the roots of Cuban culture and social issues. And I must also admit that I prefer figurative art.

After the thematic opening of the exhibition in the gardens of the Museum, including a Spanish flamenco show, we bid farewell to this beautiful Museum with the hope and expectations that, not too far in time, a fan made by any of our talented Peruvian artists, could become part of this innovative art collection.

“Brinquedos para Ícaro”
From 18th May to 9th September 2018
Museu Quinta de Santiago
Rua de Vila Franca, 134, Leça da Palmeira
Matosinhos, Porto – Portugal
Tel. +351 22 939 2410
http://www.facebook.com/museuquintasantiago
museuqsantiago@cm-matosinhos.pt

All photos in this article are by Francisco Teixeira, Nuno Leal & Francesco Zavatari

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Jessica de Pomar is an Art Consultant for Art Institutions. She has studied Art History at Sotheby’s in London and Art Valuation, at IART in Madrid. She has worked for The Art Newspaper (UK), The Museum of Art of Fort Lauderdale (USA) and the Museum of America (Spain), as well as for La Molina Borough Council (Peru). As collaborator for The Art Newspaper, she has participated in globally recognized art shows such as Arco Madrid (Spain) and Art Basel Miami Beach (USA). Jessica writes on the international fine arts for Living in Peru Magazine and for the London Magazine Escapadas UK - Medium.