The Art of Massaguer

| by Roxana M. Bermejo |

Caricature is an artistic manifestation that is born speaking. It does not require long periods of formation nor for newer generations to interpret the hidden meanings that past viewers did not understand. If the caricature needs interpretation, it is not good. Therefore, reliving it, quoting it, and concentrating the past in a museum room is and will always be a risky task. Fortunately, however, there are those who dare, and it is because of them that the exhibition, “Cuban Caricature and Culture: The Art of Massaguer”, is presented in the Wolfsonian-FIU during the months of June to February of this year.

Vicki Gold Levi and Frank Luca

The exhibition, comprising of over one hundred works by Cuban illustrator Conrado W. Massaguer, comes to safeguard the memory of this artist in the city of Miami. Although Miami is one of the most populated “Cuban cities”, it is the first time that the illustrator’s work is shown in South Florida as a monograph, fifty years after his death, a well-mentioned point by Danny Rivero (WLRN). “Cuban Caricature and Culture” features the curatorial work of Frank Luca, who has organized the materials of a chronological journey that goes from Massaguer’s first collaborations for El Fígaro magazine to his sharp and critical interventions about World War II (“Double Nine”). Another name worth mentioning is that of Vicki Gold Levi, a collector whose donation and enthusiasm for Cuban culture has made the delightful success of the exhibit possible.

Conrado W .Massaguer, who was born in 1889 in the city of Cárdenas, is considered, together with Rafael Blanco and Jaime Valls, father of the modern Cuban caricature. Of the three names, Massaguer is the most admired and recognized due to his lively and personal style. His work was published in countless magazines across Cuba, Mexico, and New York. At an early age, Massaguer moved to Havana, a city that along with New York will be considered home to him.  From his years of exile in the Big Apple, he inherited the thematic metropolitan background that precisely defines the modernism in his caricature. This is a caricature that leaves behind the most rustic and acidic form of Ricardo de la Torriente, in which the mockery manifested itself through the exaggeration of the characters’ heads. Massaguer’s line will always be agile, free, and fine, a line almost born of Japanese illustrative technique. Its themes will always be the urban city life, full of honking, fumes, and fashion. Art Deco wardrobe, stylish haircuts, unmistakable features: Conrado’s “Massa-girls” travel from New York to Havana, cigar in hand and hat in vogue.

Massaguer was not only a social observer but also a political critic. Characters from the Cuban-American scene met in his magazines (Social, Carteles – of which he was the founder and illustrator). At the same time, typical subjects such as Liborito, a representation of the Cuban people, discussed and shared space alongside the most recognized names of culture and politics, like Walt Disney, Adolf Hitler, and Albert Einstein. The opening of this exhibition gives us the opportunity to dialogue with presidents, artists, countrymen and even with the self-portrait of Massaguer himself. His work, on the walls of the Wolfsonian, ceases to judge to be received, ceases to be gestures to become words, to be read, to be interpreted even by the new generations who are also able to recognize in them their history. Caricature, when it is good, is never silenced.  

The Cuban peasant made of rumba and rum, greets from the halls of the museum to her stylish friend from the city. There are so many worlds in Massaguer that the walls of the room become windows. The author’s ability to move over the different formats and proportions, to look from within and from afar to the Cuba that was his and is ours, will have to be one day repositioned in the place that was ripped from him, at the very center of our identity.   

Roxana M. Bermejo, Havana, 1992. Historian and art critic. Graduated in Art History from the Faculty of Arts and Letters of La Universidad de La Habana. She works as a publisher of an academic journal with an independent profile Art-Sôlido. Worthy for her book Bitácora del sujeto ausente, First International Novel of Poetry University Miguel Hernández Chair Miguel Hernandez University of Elche, Alicante (Spain, 2016). Participant in various national and international events, related to the Caribbean and Latin American culture. Her texts have been published in spaces such as the magazine and Tabloid Artecubano, AMANO: Oficio & Diseño, FullFrame, Art OnCuba, and the digital film portal Cuba Now.


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