And this year’s award for the Best Exhibition of Foreign Design of American Film Posters goes to … “Hollywood in Havana: Five Decades of Cuban Posters Promoting U.S. Films.” Roughly 40 screenprints from this Latin American island are now on display at Pasadena Museum of California Art. They publicize movies ranging from Singing in the Rain to Silence of the Lambs; directors from Kubrick to Hitchcock; and films produced in Cuba from a Marilyn Monroe documentary to a Chicano cinematography retrospective. The designs themselves range from the straightforward and the symbolic to the Surreal, and span from the 1960s—that golden age of cinema poster graphics—to contemporary. Carol A. Wells, curator and the Center for the Study of Political Graphics executive director, will be receiving the award in partnership with PMCA.
All the posters were produced by Cuba’s Film Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry, and, as Wells notes, they “were part of an initiative of the Revolutionary government to develop cultural literacy and promote discussions after Fidel Castro overthrew the United States-supported dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista.” If you haven’t yet seen “Hollywood in Havana,” it’s open until Sunday, January 7. And if receiving an imaginary honor isn’t enough to convince you that it’s well worth your time to visit, here are some actual, legitimate reasons.
Because hey, Poland’s Waldemar Swierzy, Roman Cieslewicz and Andrzej Pagowski aren’t the only remarkably talented Communist-controlled-country designers of conceptual movie posters that began and blossomed during the 1960s and ’70s. Because Saul Bass is a major inspiration to these designers. Because our own beloved Charlie Chaplin—the “Little Tramp” worshipped as an icon by the Cuban people—is well represented. Because Print’s Steven Heller himself has heaped high praise on “the Cuban art of film posters.” Because curator Carol Wells is justifiably famous for her smart, sophisticated assemblies of significant poster exhibits, which she discusses in our Print interview, here.
Because, as Wells notes, “Free from the commercial need to sell tickets, Cuban film posters encouraged viewers to understand images, to learn to look at art—and the world—differently. They transformed streets into galleries.” Because, as she further details, “ICAIC posters represent the innovation and ingenuity of the Cuban spirit. While ICAIC posters are frequently exhibited all over the world, this is the first time that posters promoting U.S. films have been the focus.”
Because the creative experimentation and innovations reflected in these posters was in itself a visual reflection of Cuba’s new, revolutionary fervor and energy as well as its active promotion of literacy and the arts. Because this design aesthetic went so far as to even reject the Stalinist Soviet Union’s official, heavy-handed Socialist Realism art. Because Cuban designers produced such stunning results with very limited material resources—due in large part to the U.S. embargo—the work is inspirational (see: our current administration’s escalating war on the arts and humanities). Because relations with Cuba, including travel, have opened (although, also see: erosion of President Obama’s accomplishments).
Because if you want to attend at least one “Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA” event before it comes to a close in a few weeks, “Hollywood in Havana” is a bright and lively option. Because this museum’s in Pasadena, closely connected to Tinseltown (by freeway if nothing else). Because it’s also located at the intersection of graphic design, politics and entertainment. So there you go.
All images copyright © Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematográficos (ICAIC) and courtesy of the Center for the Study of Political Graphics.