A soon-to-open exhibition is taking a close look at the fraught diplomatic relationship between the United States and Cuba through state-sponsored architecture.
At New York’s Simon Preston Gallery, artist Terence Gower is showing a series of collaged prints and sculptures that interrogate the U.S.-Cuba diplomatic relationship. This is the second in an installation series that centers American diplomatic architecture in an effort to understand U.S. international relations; Havana Case Study is backed by Gower’s two years of archival research in Havana, Cuba and stateside.
In the late 1940s, the U.S. went on an embassy building spree, tapping leading modern architects to design buildings that portrayed the U.S. as “an open, dynamic, and cooperative modern country.” Gower, who’s based in New York, picked these buildings to understand how the U.S. government’s aspirations and ambitions have changed over time, and what modifications to the embassy buildings reveal about both the U.S. and host countries’ priorities.
One work, Balcony, is a full-scale rendering, in rebar, of the U.S. ambassador’s balcony in Havana, Cuba’s capital. According to the gallery’s press release, the balcony is “a symbol of diplomatic stalemate and [its] political and economic fallout.” When the building opened in 1953, critics zeroed in on the fact that the balcony posed a security risk to the ambassador, as everyone would know his exact location. The building closed in 1961 when the U.S. and Cuba halted diplomatic relations, and the balcony, Gower claims, symbolizes the diplomatic limbo between the two countries in the 1960s and 70s. (Today, under President Obama, the building sports at U.S. flag once again.) Rebar in its naked form is a common construction material in Cuba, but here, in an apt metaphor for diplomacy, the material makes Gower’s sculpture seems permanently under construction.
Havana Case Study opens on Sunday, November 6 and runs through Friday, December 23, 2016. Gower is giving a gallery talk on November 17; see Simon Preston’s website for more information.