For some people it would be unthinkable to visit a foreign city and not spend time inside one of the numerous art galleries on offer, utterly transfixed by the work on display.
For other people, this might be the definition of boredom, hating the idea of being forced to look at paintings and sculptures that are not as impressive in real life as they were expecting (hello, Mona Lisa with your vague smile, surprisingly small size, and millions of tourists who need to take a photo of you while elbowing everyone else out of the way).
Some of the usual suspects for art appreciation such as Paris or Rome arguably approach art from a historical context. The majority of popular works on display are largely universally renowned, but were generally created centuries ago. Art in Havana is different. The galleries of the Cuban capital offer much to appreciate, much of which is specific to Latin America, but the home is also home to a burgeoning art scene, with many artists living, creating, and impressing in the city.
So whether it’s on the wall of a gallery or simply painted on a wall in the city, where can you see the best art in the Cuban capital?
The National Museum of Fine Arts
The very term “fine art” is open to interpretation, but Havana’s National Museum of Fine Arts (Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana) has a well curated collection that is concerned with Cuban art from the 17th century to contemporary times. Their hyperrealism collection (mostly from the 1970s) is truly remarkable.
Without a doubt, the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana has the best collection of Cuban art in Havana (or anywhere else in the country for that matter).
Outdoor Art in Havana
Also from the 1970s, any exploration of art in Havana requires a visit to Fusterlandia. Named for the artist Jose Fuster, this remarkable area on the outskirts of Havana (in the neighbourhood of Jaimanitas) has been transformed into something doesn’t look quite real. After moving to the area in 1975, Fuster originally transformed his own home by attaching vibrant mosaics and statues to its exteriors.
He then began to transform other buildings in the area using the same style (with the owner’s permission naturally) and now entire streets have been taken over by this wonderfully weird style. It’s a somewhat inconvenient distance from the centre of Havana, but many tours will take you to Fusterlandia.
Photos of Havana
If weird avant garde outdoor art installations or traditional galleries aren’t your thing, it’s important to remember that most photos you see on social media really aren’t that good. To truly appreciate the art of the photograph, head to Fototeca de Cuba. This facility exhibits profoundly beautiful work by a variety of Cuban photographers. There are two galleries, with an ever changing schedule of exhibitions.
Admire and Buy
If you like to combine art appreciation with some retail therapy, make your way to Havana’s Art Market, located in a cavernous shed by the port in Havana’s Old Town. This is where a number of local artists will set up stalls in an effort to sell their products. It’s really like a flea market, and while art is the focus, you will also find a number of different handicrafts and general souvenirs on offer. Please remember that while you can easily pick up an original work for a good price, you will also have to find some way to transport it back home!
A Personal Experience
Art in Havana is a way of life, and nowhere is this more evident than Estudio Taller Santacana. The work on display is created by the artist Beatriz Santacana, and tours of the gallery and workroom are well worth your time.
Some of the sculptures are wonderfully ethereal, and are a wonderful contrast to the more standard (though still beautiful) works on offer at Havana’s Art Market. If she’s available, Beatriz Santacana might even come out and say hello.
A Female Point of View
Another gallery where you might actually meet the artist is the Daymi Ticet Gallery in Havana’s Old Town. She paints in a style that is reminiscent of Picasso, and yet is still undeniably her own. A lot of her work depicts the role of the Cuban woman in society. It’s one of the smaller galleries in the city, but when it comes to art in Havana, this space is truly special.
A Whole Street of Art
If you’re travelling with children or simply might not have enough time to sample as much art in Havana as you want, then there is just one place that you need to go. The Callejon de Hamel in Havana’s Old Town can feel somewhat like an artist’s commune, with huge amounts of creativity and expressionism all combined and contained within a fairly small area. This is simply where a number of Havana’s artists have set up studios, and in some cases, homes.
Their work has spilled out of the studio and has seemingly taken over the street. There are bright, vibrant murals, and while Havana is certainly colourful at the best of times, the colours on display on the Callejon de Hamel can cause a wonderful sensory overload. Children will appreciate this street art, along with the unique sculptures that are erratically positioned throughout the area. This place is fairly well known, and so it has become a bit of a tourist hotspot.
But please don’t let this deter you, since even during its busiest times, the Callejon de Hamel retains its relaxed charm. It’s busiest on Sundays at around noon, when a rumba band plays for the admiring crowds. Art and music in the heart of Havana… not much could be better.