Politics and Aesthetics: Cuban Artists and Intellectuals, 1920-1952

March 25, 2016 - 4:00 PM

Politics and Aesthetics: Cuban Artists & Intellectuals, 1920-1952

Between the Street and the Ivory Tower: Cuban Artists and their Politics, 1940-1952.
Alejandro Anreus, William Paterson University
What were the politics of Cuba’s visual artists during the nation’s most democratic years? These varied from the leftwing nationalism of the 1920s generation to the apolitical elitism of the Orígenes group during the 1940s. What did the artists associated with Nuestro Tiempo stood for in reaction to the two previous generations? And how did they react to the end of constitutional democracy with Batista’s coup? These and other issues will be juxtaposed with definitions of pictorial styles and the sense of Cuban identity.

‘Social’ in Context: 1916-1938
Ana María Hernández, LaGuardia Community College
The revista Social, founded in 1916 by Conrado Massaguer, had harbored ambiguous aims from the start. On the one hand, it catered to the desire for prominence of the emergent Cuban middle and upper classes that had become enriched as a result of the rise in the price of sugar after World War I. On the other, following the urgings of Emilio Roig de Leuchsenring, director of the literary section of the magazine until its demise in 1938, it advanced criteria and ideologies that undermined the hegemony of new elites. Social was a unique blend of artistic vanguard and banality that encompassed social chronicle, fashion, film reviews, various kinds of advertisements, and some of the best poems and stories of its generation, as well as critical essays on art, music and architecture. This introduction creates a context for the visual and textual images to be presented by Vicki Gold Levi.

Art Deco in Cuba
Vicki Gold Levi, collector, curator and author, New York
Review of some of the iconic Art Deco graphics that appeared in magazines, brochures and advertising, including the masterful works of Conrado Massaguer.

Race, Art, and Social Thought in the Cuban Republic*
Mario Valero, Fashion Institute of Technology
* tentative title
Considering Cuban Counterpoint (1940) as a turning point in Fernando Ortiz’s intellectual career, I would argue that some of Ortiz theoretical principles governing his earlier criminological research on population control, particularly those works aimed to produce a typology of Cuban crime, would connect with his later anthropological work. Cultural specificities that earlier stood up for strictly criminological material began in the 1940’s to be presented as a source for cultural originality and nationalistic pride. As one of the leading figures of the “Negritude” movement in Cuba, Ortiz promoted afro-Cuban cultural production as a means of social integration, rather than racial difference. Following this theoretical avenue, Ortiz insisted on a “race-less” Cuban society, where racial differences would be reset through cultural features.

Moderator: Ana María Hernández, LaGuardia Community College (to be confirmed)

About the Speakers:

Alejandro AnreusAlejandro Anreus is professor of Art History and Latin American/Latino Studies at William Paterson University. A former museum curator, he is the author of over sixty catalogue essays and refereed articles. He has published the following books as principal author, co-author and editor: Orozco in Gringoland (2001), Ben Shahn and The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti (2001), The Social and The Real. Political Art of the 1930s in the Western Hemisphere (2006), Mexican Muralism. A Critical History (2012), and the monograph from the A Ver series on Living Latino Artists Luis Cruz Azaceta, which received the Latino Book Award for Art Book in 2015. Forthcoming at the end of 2016 is the Blackwell Companion to Modern Latin American and Latino Art, which he has co-edited with Robin Adele Greeley and Megan Sullivan. Doctor Anreus is currently working on a manuscript titled Havana in the 1940s: Artists, Critics and Exhibitions.


Ana María Hernádez specializes in Caribbean and River Plate studies and is Professor of Latin American Literature and Culture at LaGuardia Community College (CUNY). She coordinates the Latin American Studies and Spanish translation programs at LaGuardia. As a fellow of the Bildner Center, she participates in the coordination of events about Cuban art, music and literature. Her publications have focused on Julio Cortázar, Horacio Quiroga, Julio Herrera y Reissig, Felisberto Hernández and Antonio Benítez Rojo. Her recent publications include an annotated edition of Fantoches 1926: Folletín Moderno por Once Escritores Cubanos (Stockcero, 2011), and an edition of Cirilo Villaverde’s novel Cecilia Valdés o La Loma del Angel (Stockcero, 2013).


Vicki Gold LeviVicki Gold Levi is a historical picture editor, photography curator, and author who has worked for Esquire, Mirabella, and New Woman. Co-founder of the Atlantic City Historical Museum, she lives in New York City. Vicki Gold Levi is known for her work on Boardwalk Empire (2010), Cuba Style: Graphics from the Golden Age of Design (2002), American Experience (1988) and Great Performances (1971).



Mario ValeroMario Valero (Ph.D., Columbia University) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultures at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Professor Valero has taught Latin America literature and culture both in English and Spanish as well as a full range of Spanish grammar courses at Columbia University, Kean University and Instituto Cervantes. He has published essays and lectures on literary criticism and the visual arts in the United States and abroad. His academic interests cover the relationship between literature, social sciences and visual culture in Modern Latin America. He is currently researching the construction of racial categories through diverse regimens of representation in Latin America.