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The front of the Weisman Art Museum.

The reluctance of the U.S. government to grant visas to Cuban artists stood in the way of an exhibit of Cuban conceptual art coming to the Weisman.

Weisman forced to cancel exhibition of Cuban conceptual art

By Rick Moore

Published on August 7, 2004

The Weisman Art Museum has been forced to pull the plug on an exhibition of Cuban conceptual art, scheduled for January of 2005, due to an inability to obtain visas for the artists. The show had been in the works for about four years and would have featured the works of nine Cuban artists, says museum director Lyndel King. The artists were to come to the Twin Cities, oversee the installation of their art, and in some cases create new art for the exhibit while here in town. But over the past year or so, with tensions increasing between the U.S. and Cuban governments, King says she felt an inkling that "it was becoming difficult for Cuban artists to get permission from the U.S. government to enter."

The visual artists involved likely got entwined with the success of other Cuban performing artists abroad. "It's the Buena Vista Social Club phenomenon," says Lyndel King.

King consulted with a representative of the U.S. interests section of the State Department, who informed her that the U.S. has been strictly enforcing a provision of the current embargo with Cuba that forbids Cuban artists from earning money here that could conceivably benefit Fidel Castro's government. Even though the artists were only to have had their expenses paid for, the State Department representative suggested that the prospect for having their visas approved was bleak. "She told me that only one artist in the last nine months had gotten a visa, and that was for personal reasons," King says. King says that because of the nature of the conceptual art, she chose not to go ahead with exhibition without the artists. "For most of the pieces in the show, the presence of the artist is what animates the piece," she says. According to King, one artist had planned to spend a week in Minneapolis interviewing residents to find out their perceptions of Cuba, and use snippets of those interviews in an audio piece he would have installed here. Another artist, she says, was planning to record his visions of an "ideal woman" and submit them to various sketch artists to see what details the sketch artist would fill in, "based on his own ideas or the culture he's in." "We just decided that without the presence of the artists, it's just so different that we wouldn't go ahead," she says, noting that the visual artists involved likely got entwined with the success of other Cuban performing artists abroad. "It's the Buena Vista Social Club phenomenon," King says. "It's a big disappointment, because we've been working on it for a long time and because I got to know the curators really well," she adds. "And I have a great respect for the artists that would have been in the installation." In place of the Cuban art show, the Weisman will run an exhibition of paintings by American modernist Alfred Maurer from its collection. King says the museum was planning on doing the Maurer show anyway in 2006. "We're very lucky to have had that in our back pocket," she says.

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