TORNA ART GALLERY
In 1942, a new cuban art gallery opened its doors at Prado 72, Havana, and closes the same in 1944, the first of its kind in Cuba. The force behind that gallery was Maria Luisa Gómez Mena, who was, incidentally, married to the painter Mario Carreño.
In his autobiography, Chronology of the Memory, Mr. Carreño gives 1944 as the year the gallery closed its doors, but other documents place the closing of the gallery in the year 1945. Regardless of the year, the fact of the matter remains that an intense artistic activity took place in Cuba during that time, and that the Prado Gallery was at the center of that activity. The vanguard painters and sculptors of the time saw their works exhibited at the gallery, and this fact contributed, in so far as it was possible, to help them become known in a milieu that was little inclined to receive them, This event of itself would have been sufficient for Maria Luisa Gómez Mena’s name to occupy a predominant place in the Cuban arts. But something additional happened: the arrival in Cuba of Alfred Barr, Jr., the Director of the Museum of Modern Art of New York.
Let us ponder about this decade, the forties, a decade, which was already experiencing the ravages of World War II. Let us travel to New York, a city where many artists who had immigrated from Europe had concentrated, and let us relive just how major figures like Alfred Barr, Jr., or Peggy Guggenheim brought to light an entire vanguard movement that radically transformed the arts in the United States. Let us now go to Cuba, an island that had just recently shaken off political apathy to enjoy a relatively more stable period that favored the resurgence of a vanguard movement that encompassed not only the fine arts but poetry as well. This is the island where Alfred Barr, Jr., arrived to discover a group of artists whose works caught his attention thanks to his contact with the Prado Gallery and his relationship with the young art critic Jose Gómez Sicre, Mr. Sicre’s view of Cuban painting influenced two major and decisive events that helped shape the history of 20th century Cuban art.
The first event had to do with the famous Present-Day Cuban Art exhibition that opened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. This meant that, while a famous school named after that city was in the midst of being created, the main doors of an increasingly prestigious museum were thrown open to a group of Cuban artists. This occurrence was followed by a second momentous event: the publication of the book Cuban Painting Today, written by Jose Gómez Sicre and financed by Maria Luisa Gómez Mena. Both events occurred in 1944, a year which propelled a process of maturation of the fine arts in Cuba that had started back in the late twenties, The painters represented in that book, according to the index, were: Victor Manuel, Abela, Gattorno, Amelia Peláez, Ponce, Carlos Enriquez, Carreño, Lam, Portocarrero, Felipe Orlando, Mariano, Cundo Bermúdez, Jorge Arche, Martinez Pedro, Serra Badue, Ravenet, Diago and Escobedo, in addition to trendy and naive painters. In other words, every painter who had been part of the Cuban vanguard after the 1930’s was represented in this book.
Three events took place, whose importance cannot be ignored by art historians. They symbolize what Jung defined as “synchronism,” that is, a significant coincidence between one or more events. Thus, it was thanks to synchronism that Jose Gomez Sicre cooperated with Alfred Barr, Jr., to select the works that were to be exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art, and it explains how the exhibition came to be. The abundant correspondence between the two is a testimony to their thoroughness in choosing the painters that were to form part of this exhibition. Today, critics agree that it marked a substantial milestone in Cuba’s modern art process, but at the time it was necessary to take a very close look at what had perspired in order to understand its significance. That was, of course, Jose Gomez Sicre’s great contribution to Cuban art. However, that contribution would not have been possible without the financial support of Maria Luisa Gomez Mena, one of those Cuban women whose independent spirit and enthusiasm for new concepts helped develop a vanguard conscience in Cuba.
Torna Art Gallery opened its doors, February 15, 2002 in Miami, whose name evokes the gallery Maria Luisa Gómez Mena opened six decades ago, pays a justly deserved tribute to her memory. This tribute, however, would not be complete without the inclusion of Jose Gomez Sicre. Both walked hand-in-hand in the same direction, achieving something that had not occurred in Cuba until then. The fact that Cuban modern painters were given a space in which to exhibit, that the Museum of Modern Art of New York welcomed them, and that, in addition, they were able to see their works reproduced in a book all happened thanks to the friendship that flourished between them.
Jesús Fernández Torna
Torna Art Gallery
From left to right : Mr. Alfred Barr Jr, Mrs. Maria Luisa Gómez Mena , Mr. José Gómez Sicre and Mr. Albert Kaufman. Havana-Cuba,1942.
From left to right : Mrs. Tatiana Fernández , Mr. Cundo Bermúdez, Mrs. Eridania de la Cruz and Mr. Jesús Fernández Torna, Artwork by Cundo Bermudez, “Mural Lugar de Gente” 2007. At Cundo Bermudez studio in Westchester, Miami, Fl, 2006.