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Tampa Museum of Art exhibits find beauty in Cuba, Mexico

Special correspondent
Published:   |   Updated: May 10, 2013 at 10:19 AM

Michael Eastman’s photographs of Havana take you to another place and time. They may even make you want to go to Cuba.

Taken between 1999 and 2010, the Havana photographs are one of two exhibits opening Saturday at the Tampa Museum of Art. “Faded Elegance: Photographs of Havana by Michael Eastman,” consists of 29 photographs that reveal the current cultural landscape in Havana’s structures and interiors. They are richly colored and large – the average size is 6 by 7 feet – making them very accessible. It’s almost as if you’re there.

“He captures these great architectural cities in a way that is really more than an architectural photo,” observes museum executive director Todd Smith. “There is the sense of humans in the photo even if humans aren’t there.”

There is also a sense of former glory, romance and mystery, particularly in Eastman’s interior shots. It’s hard to stand in front of the green foyer with the green couch and the winding staircase and not want to climb those treads and see what’s upstairs.

“These interiors have been inhabited for many generations,” Smith says. “So it’s not just one person or one family that’s left the room but whole generations of people have been here and left. And they might come back in. He captures them when they are not there.”

A self-taught photographer, Eastman has spent the past four decades similarly documenting other cities, such as Paris, Rome and New Orleans. He is considered one of the world’s leading photographic artists and is most recognized for the architectural approach to his art.

“He follows in the tradition of Henri Cartier Bresson,” Smith says. “And he does so by capturing decisive and definitive moments. He spends time setting up the image, setting up the view from his camera. So the photos are very deliberate, very thought out.”

Bresson is known for using what he called “the decisive moment” in photography. The museum exhibited his work in the fall of 2012.

Eastman’s Cuban photos have a natural place in a Tampa exhibit, says Smith.

“For us, it was an acknowledgement of the great Cuban heritage that exists here in Tampa and the historical connections between this area and Cuba,” he said.

The other exhibition opening Saturday is “Miradas: Ancient Roots in Modern and Contemporary Mexican Art, works from the Bank of America Collection.”

Here you’ll find more than 100 photographs, paintings and prints, created over the past 80 years by selected Mexican and Mexican-American artists. Most of the featured artists emerged after the Mexican revolution, and their art often reflects their reaction to the sociopolitical climate of Mexico and the United States at the time.

“This exhibit gives a good cross-border sense of traditions in Mexican art during the 20th century,” explains Smith. “We have started to do exhibitions that are broad surveys of a particular period and this gave us a chance to give a large survey of modern Mexican art by American and Mexican artists.”

Some familiar names in the exhibit include: Diego Rivera, Rufino Tamayo, Gabriel Orozco Manuel, Alvarez Bravo and David Alfaro Siqueiros and Alfred Ramos Martinez.

Martinez exemplifies the cross-cultural element of the exhibit. Considered to be the father of Mexican art, he was born in Mexico, studied and produced art there and eventually came to reside and create art in Los Angeles. Once in the US, he changed his style in response to the demand for more modern, Mexican-themed works.

His drawing “El Prisionero” from this period depicts figures with sombreros, but only one figure has a face. Presumably the prisoner, he lacks any emotional expression whatsoever.

The two exhibits complement one another nicely.

“I think people will respond differently to each one,” Smith says. “Those who like photography will prefer the Eastman exhibit; those who want a more general look at that period of Mexican and American art will prefer the Miradas exhibit.”

TWO SPRING EXHIBITIONS

“Faded Elegance: Photographs of Havana by Michael Eastman” and “Miradas: Ancient Roots in Modern and Contemporary Mexican Art”

When: Saturday through Sept. 15

Where: Tampa Museum of Art, 120 Gasparilla Plaza, Tampa

Tickets: $12 adults; $10 seniors, Florida educators and active military, $5 children 6 and younger; free for museum members; www.tampamuseum.org

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