Cuba has long been an incubator for extraordinary and unique fine art. It can be a collector’s dream for spotting emerging artists and inventive techniques. You never know when and where you might run into a piece that will make you freeze in your tracks and drop your jaw as you are astounded by the pure beauty a piece or pieces. It could be on the Prado on a Saturday morning where artists show their works along the tree-lined walkway, in a tiny shop snuggled down a tiny corridor, through a doorway off of Obispo Street, or it may be in some of the more traditional galleries such as the Fototeca de Cuba in Old Havana.
For me that sort of powerful discovery last happened at the Fabrica de Arte Cubano (The “FAC” as it is more commonly known) located in a former olive oil factory in the Vedado district of Havana. My heart skipped a beat as I came face to face with the photographic works of Enrique Rottenberg, a comparatively new but very powerful Cuban artistic voice. Suddenly I found myself immersed in a colorful and fantastical world that drew on some of the familiar elements of Havana (distressed interiors, colorful costumes, dissolute lives, worn, tired and resigned faces). Yet the artist had transformed these oft portrayed components into true masterpieces that would fit comfortably beside a Rembrandt or a Warhol if you were a museum curator looking to expand the collection.
Enrique Rottenberg is one of those true Renaissance men who comes by the handle honestly. Prior to his relatively recent imminence as one of Cuba’s premiere photographers and resident artists, Rottenberg has at one time been a film producer, who has produced six films (including one, “Isaac Finkelstein’s Revenge”, that he was screenwriter and director and was nominated for a foreign Oscar in 1994); a novelist (“La mujer de su vida” published in Spain in 2006); and a real estate developer (including the Miramar Trade Centre in Havana, built by Rottenberg and his associates in 1993 shortly after he moved to Havana from Israel).
Born in Argentina 66 years ago to Jewish parents of Russian and Polish decent, he immigrated to Israel on his own at the age of 13 where he eventually built a thriving real estate empire. There is no doubt this man’s interests are diverse and global. Yet his photographic career is a relatively recent endeavor (since 2010.) He is already making an impact on the international art community. This summer he shows in Berlin. Previous exhibits have included shows in Australia, Argentina and Amsterdam. Enquiries from the U.S. and Canada have been steady but this is a gentleman who is in no rush to have his works consumed by the masses for purely economic gain. Rather than choose the more traditional commercial art venues his only real interest, at this point, is in showing in major contemporary art galleries and museums.
At the FAC, where he was a driving force in getting the multifaceted complex off the ground, the collection I came across included images from his series “Sleeping with…”, which are a number of photographic studies of various Havana bedrooms, the incredible “19 Women and 1 bed” project that involved the sitting for the photographer from a truly varied number of women from the Marianao neighborhood in Havana; and Self-portraits (2011-2014) which are a series shot in one of the most famous mansions in Havana where the artist interacts with his inner fantasies and issues.
All of these photos are there for the viewing at the FAC and I suggest you get there soon. This artist is one to watch and his adopted homeland may soon prove to be not big enough to contain his talent.
The Fabrica de Arte Cubano is located at 26 Calle 26, corner of Calle 11, Vedado, Havana. Tel (+537) 838-22-60.