Raul Martinez's Pop Art of the Cuban Revolution finally hits New York

Since July 22 and continuing until August 13, more than forty pieces by Cuban artist Raúl Martínez (1927-1995) are being displayed at the Magnan Metz space, New York.

The exhibition is made up of photos, paintings, drawings and collages by Martinez - the first time his work has exhibited in the United States - and includes works from the private collection of playwright Abelardo Estorino, his life partner.

It is supported by the Rubin Foundation and the non-profit organisation Cuban Art News, and was organised by Corina Matamoros, curator of the Fine Arts Museum who is also writing a book about Martínez's life and works.

Since the early '50s, along with artists such as Guido Llinás and Tomas Oliva, Raul joined the group called Los Once (The Eleven) who incorporated the Abstract Expressionism of the New York School in the Cuban context.

Raúl Martínez's Blue Militia Man from 1970

When, in 1959, Fidel Castro's guerrillas defeated Batista's army, Martinez worked successfully as advertising designer, a job that allowed him to influence the art direction of the magazine Lunes de Revolución (closed in 1960) along with poets like Heberto Padilla, Pablo Armando Fernandez, Anton Arrufat and Guillermo Cabrera Infante.

His creation of large abstract paintings continued until 1963, during which time the artists' Soviet anti-abstractionist aesthetics began to take a hold on Cuba's cultural landscape, and move away from the traditionalism favoured by the Cuban leadership.

With his series, "Homage" (1964), Martinez left behind orthodox abstraction in favour of art which merged fragments and real objects, such as furniture, magazine covers and family photos.

Particularly evident in these works were the spontaneous aesthetics of graffiti and street art - the revolutionary political slogans which Cubans enthusiastically wrote on the walls of the city that became the unofficial chronicles of a changing country.  

In addition to his paintings, Martínez taught design at the School of Architecture - from which he was expelled in Cuba's 1960s wave of homophobia - and at his home district of Vedado, and was a prominent designer at the Cuban Book Institute.

During this period, Martínez, along with other contemporary artists like Umberto Peña, Antonia Eiriz, and Santiago Armada (Chago) suffered "undeclared" censorship which was a common during the period against any art which didn't support government propaganda.

For instance, he was not allowed to display the mural by the death of Che Guevara in 1967. This era became known as the "Grey Period" (or El Quinquenio Gris) of 1970-76, during which the authorities undermined all areas of the arts in Cuba and forbade the entry of Cuban art into the international markets.

Martinez's influence can be found in various media, including the 1968 film Lucía, directed by Humberto Solás, and in the 1970 book, The Art of the Revolution, with a preface by the Amercian activist and author Susan Sontag.

While the most comprehensive collection of Martínez's work remains in the National Museum of Fine Arts in Cuba, for the next two weeks the Magnan Metz exhibition offers art lovers and collectors a very rare chance to get up close to one of the Cuban Revolution's most important artists.


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