by brett sokol
January 2011 | January 4, 2011 | Lifestyle
María Martínez-Cañas, The Present Absent, 1999
Glexis Novoa, 76#29B06 Buena Vista, 1993 to 1994
Ana Albertina Delgado, La Realidad de un Sueño
Art enthusiasts Arturo and Liza Mosquera at their Coral Gables home
"We're sitting in a renaissance!” Ricardo Pau-Llosa happily thundered to the crowd seated before him, gesturing to the artwork hanging inside downtown Miami’s Freedom Tower. “What more proof do you need?” It was hard to argue with Pau-Llosa’s evidence. This past October’s “Ways of Worldmaking: Notes on a Passion for Collecting” exhibition featured highlights from the art collection assembled by Dr. Arturo Mosquera and his wife, Liza, over the past two decades.
Curators Cristina and Vivian Nosti mined the Mosquera Collection to focus solely on Cubans and Cuban-Americans in South Florida—and the Freedom Tower’s status as a processing center for an initial ’60s generation of Cuban exiles gave the show a particularly poignant air. Plumbing the artistic course of el exilio, there was a movingly bleak 1990 painting from Carlos Alfonzo, as well as a 2005 canvas by Hernan Bas, in which even a seemingly chaste tableau of kite-fliers became invested with Bas’ signature sensuality.
A futuristic 1994 landscape by Glexis Novoa contrasted with Black Galleon, a sprawling new work by George Sánchez-Calderón whose ominous glitter-infused image of a vintage pirate ship seemed to portend a brave new world of an entirely different sort.
From the Collection
In fact, walking through the exhibition revealed a who’s who of the modern Cuban diaspora: works from the ’80s by Luis Cruz Azaceta and María Brito, works from the ’90s by Ana Albertina Delgado and María Martínez-Cañas, as well as of-the-moment pieces from Rubén Torres Llorca, Beatriz Monteavaro and César Trasobares. The net effect was of an artistic renaissance in full bloom, albeit one that, as Pau-Llosa gripes in the exhibition’s catalog, often seems overshadowed in the media eye by “hand-me-down Manhattan trends, or worse, globalist uniformity.”
Of course, Pau-Llosa, a celebrated writer of verse as well as an art historian, has had more than a little influence in shaping the Mosquera Collection. Graduating in 1971 from Miami’s Belen Jesuit Preparatory School alongside Arturo, the two reconnected in 1988: “I picked the normal path of a poet, while he picked the weird, underground world of dentistry,” Pau-Llosa jokes. Mosquera had caught the art bug, and Pau-Llosa was eager to mentor a collector willing to embrace a vision of Cuban culture that went deeper than repeating calcified folklore over cortaditos at Versailles.
“Nostalgia is a mental illness,” he quips. “There should be health insurance for it.” For his part, Mosquera says he was looking to move beyond his teenage passion for Impressionism—“When I was younger, I thought anything beyond Monet was godawful”—and into fresher milieus.
The Miami of 1989, with all its social turmoil and clashing demographics, felt like the perfect place to begin venturing beyond the museum world. “We realized this incredibly gifted group of artists was living here, all creating a synergy with each other. It seemed similar to what transpired in New York City after World War II.” Just substitute war-torn Europe’s refugees for Cuba’s.
“What Ricardo [Pau-Llosa] did in 1989 was to start taking my wife and me around to different artists’ studios, helping us to make selections, getting us initiated in collecting contemporary art. He was taking us by the hand, recommending books to read, lectures and conferences to attend. Eventually the artists themselves became friends with us—and they were an incredible resource, giving us insight into not only their own art-making, but whole movements that were happening.”
One key moment, Mosquera adds, was visiting Philadelphia’s Barnes Foundation, a head-spinning array of artwork amassed in the first half of this past century by Albert C. Barnes and hung in a quirky salon-style arrangement throughout his open-to-the-public mansion. Today, Barnes’ collection—including 46 paintings by Pablo Picasso and 59 by Henri Matisse—is enough to make art lovers swoon and auctioneers drool. But in its day, much of this work was derided by Philadelphia’s art establishment as simply avant-garde nonsense. None of which dissuaded Barnes in the least.
On the contrary, it hardened his determination to continue following his own aesthetic instincts. And present his collection to the public himself. “Seeing a collection like that hung inside a house was a catalyst,” Mosquera says. “It definitely accelerated the role and the scope of how we were collecting. My wife and I began thinking about a legacy for the future.”
So while the international market buzz around Cuban-exile art may have faded away, “We never really followed the fads or the fashions. We’ve always concentrated on what we feel is important.” Mosquera has also taken another cue from Barnes. It’s a bit more modest than the latter’s palatial spread, but adjoining Mosquera’s Westchester orthodontics practice is the Farside Gallery, home to monthly exhibits of new work from emerging artists—as well as local heavyweights such as Robert Chambers—looking to strut their stuff in a freewheeling venue.
“My grandparents’ house in Pinar del Rio was the inspiration for Farside,” he explains in the “Ways of Worldmaking” catalog. “They had ‘la casa de al lado,’ the house next door, and it seemed to us such a natural connection. So we emptied out whatever was there, purchased some lights, did the touchup painting, and lo and behold—an alternative art space.” Still, Mosquera hasn’t been content to merely address art-scene regulars.
Since 2000 his orthodontics office has also hosted “Art @ Work,” allowing artists to present their creations far from the familiar white walls of a traditional gallery setting. Some shows have been an immediate hit—no one, adult or child, can resist breaking into a smile at the sight of Pablo Cano’s marionettes. Others spark more varied responses, and often heated waiting-room debates. “After a couple of years, you’d be amazed how many of my patients have become art critics,” Mosquera chuckles.
Photographs by pedro portal (the mosqueras); Courtesy of the mosquera collection (Delgado, Novoa, Canas)