One of the first places on your list of galleries to see in Havana should be the National Museum of Fine Arts (Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes). It is located at Calle Trocadero, e/Av. De la Belgica (Misiones/Egido/Monserrate) y Calle Agramonte (Zelueta), in Old Havana.
Beyond this, you could also visit the many other art galleries in Havana which can be discovered on an organized tour of the city. After visiting the National Museum of Fine Arts, walk through the streets of old Havana and discover small art galleries and there are plenty of them. It is possible and wonderful. Stumbling upon a small gallery not listed in a tourists’ guide to Havana or finding an artist’s workshop and meeting the artists by chance on your own should be listed as one of the true delights of Havana. The Cuban government has supported the development of the arts in Cuba.
That being said, the National Museum of Fine Arts in Havana should be the starting point of your exploration of the world of art in Cuba. There are actually two buildings which house the national collections of arts. In one museum, you’ll find the international collection of artists. In the other, one can find the collection of the works of the artists of Cuba.
The building was designed by the architect Rodriguez Pichardo. It was opened in 1954. Later renovations to the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes were completed by the architect Jose Linares. It is a gorgeous building architecturally.
The Museum’s collection houses the works of Cuban artists from the 17th century to modern contemporary works of art. Cuba’s history, often unexplored and misunderstood, is expressed in the works of the artists.
The National Museum of Fine Arts’ Cuban collection is an extensive art collection of the works as far back as the early colonization of Cuba. Historically, art was created by the working class man serving the Spanish aristocracy. “Painting” was was frowned upon and not an activity of the ruling class. The creation of art was seen as an occupation of the working man. The historical art in the Museum’s collection, is the art of the “workers” of the 17th century. These “working class” painters would never know their creations would one day be displayed on the walls of one of the finest art galleries in the city. One can see in the earliest paintings the dark representations of noble men and women poised in their elegant European clothing and the suffering of the people they conquered.
Throughout the centuries in the history of Cuban art, one can witness the suffering of the Cuban people at the hands of the Island’s invaders. The history of Cuba has been documented by art. From the history of slavery to the rape and pillaging of its peoples. History documented by art probably illustrates more truth than the words of historians.
Landscape painting also emerged over time to document the early towns and landscape of the Island. Painting portrayed the satirical as the awareness of the colonization of Cuba develops.
After the Cuban Revolution of 1959, art became political in the early 1960s. Artists, once believing in the Cuban Revolution became confused and frightened by the events which occurred in the early years of the Revolution. Some fled Cuba and others remained, not sure of their place in this new society. Their confusion, anger and fear can be seen in their art displayed on the walls of the Museum.
However, not all art is political in the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. In the collection, one will also find works of Cuban surrealism, contemporary abstracts, religion, Cuban life, landscapes, and sculpture. Also part of the Museum’s collection are the works by Victor Manual Garcia and Wifredo Lam, one of Cuba’s greatest artists. The beautiful painting by Victor Manual Garcia of the archetypal Cuban woman, “Cuba’s Mona Lisa” must be seen.
The National Museum of Fine Arts also host numerous exhibitions of the most talented contemporary artists of Cuba.
It could take a couple of hours to a couple of days to view the entire collection. The National Museum of Fine Arts is the perfect starting point for the art connoisseur into the art world of Cuba.