• Steven Heller

When Cuba Was Seductive

Diplomatic relations and travel are now in full swing between the United States and Cuba—a propitious time for The Wolfsonian–Florida International University to present an exhibition titled Promising Paradise: Cuban Allure, American Seduction, on view May 6 through August 21, 2016, culled from the collection of Vicki Gold Levi (with whom I co-authored Cuba Style, which was reissued this year). It sheds light on the glamour and exoticism of tourism campaigns that lured Americans to their southerly neighbor, as well as the remarkable impact of Cuban culture in the U.S. that resulted from this contact—from rumba and mambo to Afro-Cuban jazz and Latin nightclubs.

Brochure, Come to Cuba: The Loveliest Land That Human Eyes Have Ever Seen, c. 1950 Conrado Walter Massaguer (Cuban, 1889–1965), illustrator Cuban National Tourist Commission, publisher Offset lithograph The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Vicki Gold Levi Collection

The Wolfsonian will also acquire over 1,000 works from Gold Levi, bolstering previous gifts of Cuban material by Levi to the museum, including a collection donated in 2002 of over 400 objects ranging from cigar labels to magazine covers.” Selections from both gifts are included in Promising Paradise, which opens tomorrow, in addition to loans and other items from The Wolfsonian’s permanent collection.

“We are thrilled to be presenting this exhibition on the cusp of a new dawn in Cuba-U.S. relations,” stated Wolfsonian chief librarian Francis X. Luca, who is co-curating Promising Paradise with Rosa Lowinger, noted Cuban-born conservator and author of Tropicana Nights: The Life and Times of the Legendary Cuban Nightclub. “These rare materials provide a glimpse into a period many Cubans and Americans have forgotten after more than fifty years of isolation. We’re excited to share Vicki Gold Levi’s gift with Miami, a city so richly influenced by the Cuban- American community.”

Promising Paradise features products of the pre-1959 tourist trade that framed Cuba as an escape for wealthy Americans from the bounds of Prohibition, Depression-era economic woes, and wartime rationing. Through bold graphics, lush imagery, and dazzling, enticing color palettes, these materials packaged and publicized the enchantment and beauty of Cuba for Americans, creating a fantasy of a dreamy island paradise. The exhibition also addresses the role of Cuban tastemakers—artists, musicians, performers, graphic designers, and the Cuban Tourist Commission—in shaping this vision of Cuba for American audiences in travel brochures, posters, and promotional films.

Label samples, Almirall stockings, Mercurio towels, and Ariguanabo sheeting, c. 1935 Compañía Litográfuca de La Habana, publisher The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Vicki Gold Levi Collection, XC2016.01.1.1253

In addition, photographs, film clips, and other artifacts reveal the craze for Latin culture in the U.S., particularly among celebrities and the Hollywood elite. As the rich and famous frequented the cabarets and casinos of Havana, Americans adapted Afro-Cuban dance and music for the stage and screen—bringing the Cuban flavor experienced abroad back home, and resulting in an explosion of Latin-inspired nightclubs across the country and the establishment of many Cuban performers as household names. The indelible influence of Cuban culture on the U.S. extended beyond movies, jazz, mambo, cha-cha-cha, and the conga to sports, fashion, and more.

Album cover, 2nd Afro Cuban Jazz suite, Chico O’Farrill, 1953 Norgran Records, Los Angeles, producer The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Vicki Gold Levi Collection, XC2016.01.1.1331

Label samples, Cinelandia stockings, c. 1935 Compañía Litográfuca de La Habana, publisher The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Vicki Gold Levi Collection, XC2016.01.1.1253

Photograph sleeve, Club 21: Table D’Hote, c. 1955 The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Vicki Gold Levi Collection, XC2016.01.1.732

Brochure, Golden Caribbean and West Indies Cruises of the Great White Fleet, c. 1950 United Fruit Company Steamship Service, publisher The Wolfsonian-FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection, XC2016.01.1.388

Sheet music cover, Danzon Cubana: Siboney (See-bo-nay), 1929 Ernesto Lecuona (Cuban, 1895–1963), composer and lyricist Leo. Feist, Inc., New York, publisher The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Vicki Gold Levi Collection, XC2002.11.4.148

Menu, Sans Souci restaurant garden, Havana, c. 1950 The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Vicki Gold Levi Collection, XC2002.11.4.130

Periodical, Carteles, February 6, 1936 Andrés García Benítez (Cuban, 1916–1981), cover illustrator The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Vicki Gold Levi Collection, XC2016.01.691

The Spring 2016 issue takes a dive into the largest design capital of the world: New York City. Get an exclusive look into the lives of design celebrities–from James Victore to Timothy Goodman, Jessica Walsh to Stefan Sagmeister. And then ask yourself: what makes a designer a celebrity? And is there a difference between “celebrity” and “fame?”

All of this PLUS the winners of the Typography & Lettering Awards, the history of Helvetica and a sneak peek at Seymour Chwast’s next exhibit.

#PromisingParadise #DailyHeller #Wolfsonian #VickiGoldLevy #StevenHeller #Cubandesign