As U.S. relations with Cuba are changing, so is the tone of Cuban art.
How many times have you been to Cuba?I've been six times in the past year. My first trip was in 2014. My last trip was in May, for the 12th annual (Havana) Biennial. Every two years, they invite artists from all over the world to do an installation all over Havana.
How do you get into the country?I have my license with the Department of the Treasury to go legally, on missions. My mission, when I take people, is dealing with art and architecture. You are not there to be on vacation. We're not permitted, for instance, to go to the resorts at all. Before we leave America, we have an itinerary of what we're doing every day, where we're staying, where we're having dinner.
Why Cuba?One of the reasons I became so involved with Cuba is I saw what [Ron Pizzuti] had purchased. There were big 8-by-10-foot photographs of street scenes and peoples' homes, done by Michael Eastman, who's actually an American. I thought, "Oh my God, I have to go now; I have to figure out a way."
What's Cuba like?When you enter Cuba, don't be in a rush. It feels safe. No one is hustling you for money; they want to know if you want a taxi. I feel like the Cubans are like my relatives from Southern Italy. They're warm, they're friendly, they're so hospitable, they're kinda loud-they're just so wonderful.
And the art? When I went the first time, I noticed the twisted political messages in the art. Strong political satire. And now the art is somewhat changing because they're more optimistic. They have this hope that the U.S. is going to end the embargo.
Who are some of your favorite contemporary Cuban artists?Cesar Leal Jimenez-he makes large political art. Adonis Flores-he does military-inspired pieces. The Pizzuti Collection has a lot of his work.