Vidal in Kassel

Although regrettably after his death, Antonio Vidal joins the small group of Cuban artists who have exhibited their works in Kassel’s Dokumenta. The visitor encountered the work of Antonio Vidal, winner of the National Prize in Visual Arts and one of the most relevant figures in the history of Cuban art, in the Neue Galerie, one of Dokumenta’s central spaces that brought together a large number of artists and works in a diversified and historical perspective. The gallery also featured works by Hans Eijkelboom and Cecilia Vicuña.

Antonio Vidal con el grupo Los once. Primero de la izquierda

Antonio Vidal con el grupo Los once. Primero de la izquierdaVidal was a leading figure of the artistic renewal movement in the Cuban 1950s, a member of the Group of Eleven who, according to Antonio Eligio, Tonel, “. . . are, indeed, the most transcendent expression of a will to renew the national art, which at the time seemed about to stagnate in the sweetness of the so called School of Havana. And The Eleven were also, along with other artists of the same generation, leaders in the rejection of conformism and the maneuvers of cultural institutions submitted to retrograde government authorities, at a time of dictatorship and social and political crisis. That aesthetic and political ‘double rebellion’ is embodied in them, around them. . .”

The diverse and very affluent public visiting the Neue Galerie was attracted by the set of eleven paintings of various techniques and fourteen small format metal sculptures created by the artist between the 1950s and 1980s. Undoubtedly, the exhibition curators were interested in going beyond the mere exhibition of works by also showing the contexts, the history, the documents and the very life of the artists. With that purpose they presented the Declaration of Intellectuals and Artists on the pretended Spanish-American Biennial, dated 1953, and the Catalogue from 1954, Contemporary Cuban Art in Tribute to José Martí.

With this curatorial gesture they draw attention to one of the most relevant aesthetic and civic actions of those years. Plástica Cubana Contemporánea, according to José Antonio Portuondo, “was a truly rebellious exhibition, deliberately made in opposition to Batista’s exhibition. However, the predominant element in that exhibition was not art of political content, but essentially abstract art, with which abstractionism confirmed its condition as an expression of protest in the face of capitalist decline . . .”

In an interview with José Cid, Vidal commented: “It doesn’t matter which form you choose to express yourself; none is better or worse. Trends do not imply hierarchies. Only that in some, one feels more comfortable, one moves with greater freedom, one is more in accordance with his own personality and sensibility: one expresses oneself better, says more. Inflexible limits make me feel uncomfortable, which is why I have never been able to cope with them. I really don’t care at all whether I am modern or old-fashioned.”

Also, as part of that text, the artist admitted: “Every honest creator wants to reflect the world surrounding him, the time he has been given to live; his sensibility is an instrument, and his style, his voice. We all want to have a voice of our own, but in the orchestra not all of us can be trumpets or violins or drums. Of course, behind each instrument there can be a giant or a Pygmy. In the end, I am not interested in trends as such. They, by themselves, mean nothing. What matters is the sincerity, that beautiful, old, dignified, and abused lady; although by itself, in the end, it does not guarantee a significant work.”

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