THE NEW YORK TIMES: T MAG - The Man Bringing Contemporary Cuban Art to America

The Man Bringing Contemporary Cuban Art to America

Written by: Carson Griffith

"Long before travel restrictions from the U.S. to Havana were relaxed, Bryant Toth, the former membership manager at New York’s Soho House, had racked up quite a few visits — and a growing collection of contemporary Cuban art. The pieces he brought back sparked immediate interest among his friends, and before he knew it, Toth, 28, was a de facto dealer. “I didn’t have this grand vision,” he explains. “My friends just asked about the artists.” By last fall, demand was so high that Toth left Soho House to work full-time with seven of them, displaying their work mostly on his website and Instagram account, but occasionally in pop-up gallery shows, too: One he mounted at the Hotel Chelsea last November for the painter Hector Frank, a 55-year-old former electrical engineer, nearly sold out. Toth will exhibit the work of Cuban artists including Frank later this year in New York and Los Angeles."

SURFACE MAGAZINE: Havana Rising

Written by: TONY PERROTTET

"Over the last 5 years, the new property laws have also led to a urry of private renovations of mansions surviving from another architectural golden age: the sugar boom years of the late 19th to early 20th centuries. For travelers, the most acces- sible are the paladares (home-spun restau- rants) and casas particulares (family-run hotels). Filmmaker Rafael Rosales, for example, has turned his town house, built in 1919, into Madrigal, a café and meeting spot with bizarre murals and memorabilia from Cuban cinema.

In the district of Playa, three up-and- coming young artists whose work sells in the six gures banded together to renovate a mansion into the slick 331 Art Space, whose crisp white lines and sun- lled sky- lights evoke a gallery in Chelsea. “Things have been busy since The New York Times and Wall Street Journal [both] pro led us,” says Frank Mujica, one of the trio, who cre- ates works of graphite on canvas. “There have been so many visitors that we have to limit access. We need to work some time!”

Nearby, the painter Hector Frank de- signed his own studio addition to his house, in part funded by a successful exhibition at the Chelsea Hotel in New York. Frank, now in his fties, is self-taught, and began making art in the austere Special Period— an era of economic turmoil in the early ’90s, precipitated by the fall of the Soviet Union. As a result, he takes a more ironic view of the fashionable Cuban art scene. His subtle portraits are embedded with found ob- jects from the city streets—sections of old doors, window frames, rusted handles. “I need to nd more garbage,” he says. “These discarded fragments have life, they have history. Havana is a treasure trove.”

This trend of renovating privately is still an experimental eld in Cuba. Architecture is not on the roster of professions permit- ted by the government, so the work must be done with guile. Artisans can now make and sell items like furniture and tiles, but they and interior designers often have lim- ited access to raw materials, so they become experts in improvising. As one designer told me, “This is Cuba. If something is not available, it is really not available!”

Still, I got a sense of the potential when

I dropped by the mansion of Josie Alonzo, a tiny, elderly woman who came to Cuba from Spain seven decades ago and has lived alone since her husband’s death a few years ago. Her rambling home was a Catholic version of house from The Addams Fam- ily, but also an artistic dream: Designers in London, Paris, and New York would kill to recreate her naturally distressed walls and ceilings. I was clearly not the only one fascinated by the house’s eerie beauty. Sit- ting on her dressing room table was a copy of last November’s issue of Vanity Fair. It turned out—in a twist only true to mod- ern Cuba—that Rihanna had been pho- tographed by Annie Liebowitz here for a cover story. “Rihanna was awful!” Señora Alonzo says, as she puttered in the kitch- en. “Such terrible manners. She didn’t say a word to me. But Annie was a wonderful person.” (Rihanna’s spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.) "

 

FORBES: Curator Bryant Toth Draws NYC's Attention Towards the Best in Cuban Visual Art at Chelsea Hotel

By: Adam Lehrer

“Ever since my first trip to Havana, I was quickly exposed to a very real, thriving and warm culture,” says Bryant Toth of the SoHo House who curated the “Bryant Toth Fine Art – Cuban Art Exhibition” at the Chelsea Hotel on June 25, “I was hooked after the first trip and enamored by Cuban culture.”

Toth travelled to Cuba years ago and found a rich and unique culture that manifested itself in the country’s art. Unfortunately, Cuban art and culture has been isolated from the rest of the world since President John F. Kennedy signed a trade embargo on Cuba in 1962 (Proclamation 3447) following Cuba signing a trade agreement with the Soviet Union. Since then, traveling to and from Cuba has been notoriously difficult, limiting American exposure to Cuban art but also to Cuban exposure to American art and art from around the world.

But over the last year, trade relations with Cuba have thawed. Though to fully end the embargo requires Congress to make the final decision, traveling to Cuba has become easier. For some 50 years Cuba has been geographically close to the United States but nigh impossible to get to. That notion has only fueled American fascination with Cuban culture.

Because of limited exposure to the world, Cuban culture has an immensely strong identity. That identity manifests strongly in Cuban artists’ work. It is that national identity that gripped Toth when he first traveled to the country.

 “Everything is decidedly Cuban – the food, sights, sounds, and art,” says Toth. “They all weave together to create a truly striking, captivating place.”

To both satiate American interest in Cuban art and expose Cuban art to an audience outside Cuba, Toth curated “Bryant Toth Fine Art – Cuban Art Exhibition” that held its opening at the Chelsea Hotel on June 25. The exhibition features portraits from some of Toth’s favorite Cuban artists: the expressionism-influenced painter Eduardo “Exposito” Gonzalez, the 27 year old draftsman Juan Carlos Vazquez Lima, Cuban culture celebrating artist Hector Frank, and San Alejandro Fine Art Academy-trained artist Ignacio Merida.

Toth and I corresponded over email to discuss his love of Cuban art and why he had to curate this exhibition.

Forbes: What does the lessening of trade restrictions between Cuba and the United States ultimately mean for Cuban artists?

Bryant Toth: One of the main changes that will transpire will be the increase of exposure via the influx of tourism by both US citizens as well as the rest of the world. The announcement has shed new light on Cuban art and peaked the curiosity of the rest of the world.

Also, Cuban artists will gain better access to materials like paints, brushes, and canvases. Perhaps even more importantly, Cuban artists will gain access to information: inspiration from other artists, mediums of work, and standard business tactics.

Forbes: What was it like for you being able to give these artists a place to show their work outside Cuba?

Bryant Toth: It’s been such a wonderful experience getting to know these artists. From working with them in their studios, to cooking dinner with their families, to sharing their stories; they’re all talented and it’s a shame that their art works have been kept from the rest of the world. But ultimately my goal is to get these artists themselves in New York City so they can show their own work and tell their own stories.

Forbes: There has always been an American cultural interest in Cuba: the food, Buena Vista Social Club, cinematic portrayals of Che and Fidel, etc. Do you think this might be because the country is so geographically close, but so metaphorically far away?

Bryant Toth: Proximity is a factor but also people are interested in visiting a county preserved in time. Cuba has always had very strong creative roots in music, food, art, and literature and these roots have caught the world’s attention.

With that said, the nation’s isolation from many of its neighbors has fueled Cubans’ desires to develop strong self-identities that then manifest in the art.

Forbes: Social unrest often begets great creativity; did art flourish or flounder under the rule of Castro?

Bryant Toth: As mentioned above, the isolation has fueled creativity and a Cuban self-identity. But social unrest permits limited exposure for inspiration: books, materials, and exposure to creative minds outside of Cuba.

The Cuban government allows certain individuals more artistic opportunities as unofficial “ambassadors” of the country; Cuba has always been proud of its history in creative arts.

Forbes: How did this particular exhibit come into fruition?

Bryant Toth: I decided to do a group show for this exhibition. It was important to showcase different artists with different styles, approaches, and outlooks. But all the artists use portraiture as the common theme. My goal was to showcase a large selection of pieces by different artists and expose New York to a piece of Havana.

Everything in the exhibit was intended to be authentically Cuban: the aesthetic of the space (layers and layers of plaster/paint on the ceiling), a 5-piece Cuban band, signature Cuban cocktails made with rum distilled in the traditional style, sun flowers, and of course, the art. I wanted it to be more than a traditional art opening, which I think we accomplished.

Forbes: Where is Cuba in terms of gender equality? I couldn’t help but notice that the entire roster consists of male artists. Is it difficult to find women artists in Cuba, and are there social or cultural explanations for this?

Bryant Toth: My focus was to cultivate these specific relationships but have met some female Cuban Artists and hopefully will have the opportunity to work with some in the future.

Forbes: So many of the images from the show depict the human form, is it safe to say that Cuban art is fascinated with people over anything else?

Bryant Toth: Human form and portraits were the general themes of the show, but it’s safe to say that depicting the human form is one of the most common and fascinating subjects in Cuban art and art from around the world. Personally, I find it to be the most dynamic.

ARCHITECTURAL DIGEST: Hector Frank Feature

Designer Ashley Darryl put a modern spin on her friend Jeremy Globerson’s one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan by using clean-lined furnishings and carefully selected accents. “We chose a mixture of vintage and new pieces to help us create the minimal and inviting space we were after,” says Darryl. Sconces by Apparatus and a painting by Hector Frank are displayed above the Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams sofa in the living room.

Source: http://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/h...

STEADFAST ARTE: AN INTERVIEW WITH BRYANT TOTH

AN INTERVIEW WITH CHRISTINA ARZA

PHOTOS BY BRETT KINCAID

Bryant Toth is an art collector and gallerist based in New York City. His gallery and pop-up art shows center on shedding a much-needed light onto Cuban contemporary art. Since his first trip to Havana back in 2008, he has become a leading figure in bringing Cuban artists into the international arena, motivated by his fascination with Cuban culture, the paradox of the nation’s isolation, and its artists’ reflections of its ever-evolving self-identity.

CHRISTINA ARZA Can you describe BT one of your first trips to Cuba?

BRYANT TOTH First and foremost, I am passionate about people and cultures. As an avid traveler, it has always been important for me to see the true colors and emotions for each destination. I was introduced to Havana back in 2008 by my hospitality mentor, Sam DuVall— restaurateur, art enthusiast and genuine connoisseur of the world. The first moment I disembarked on Cuban soil, I quickly identified a real, thriving and addictive creative culture. Everything was honest from the art, music, culture, and community - Bryant Toth Fine Art was created from an appreciation of Cuba, its culture and creative talents. It provides a platform to celebrate, promote, and exhibit the powerful story of Cuba’s artistic community.

CA You solely represent Cuban artists. Why?

BT While there are many famous Cuban and Cuban American artists, there are many remarkable artist’s unknown to the rest of the world. e drastic isolation of Cuba has fueled this intense creative self-identity and something truly Cuban. But, the past social unrest has limited their exposure to markets around the world. I took it upon myself to focus on these underrepresented artists, offering them an opportunity to promote and tell their own stories. Initially focusing solely on Cuban artists while also focusing on areas of growth, education and cultural exchange.

CA I admire your love for the culture, people and artists of Cuba. It takes patience & appreciation to represent artists. What has been most rewarding in this journey as of yet?

BT Thee most rewarding part of this journey has been closely working with these artists—both in terms of representation but also the powerful relationships, which have developed. rough, exchanging knowledge and guidance, this journey has been rewarding every step of the way. While exposing Hector Frank’s work to new markets is the goal, inviting him to celebrate his work in person has truly been powerful.

CA What has been an obstacle in your pursuit?

BT While there are many obstacles in any pursuit, the main obstacle with working with Cuba are basic logistics. e limitation of resources such as materials, internet, cell, and transportation have proved di cult but not one we haven’t been able to solve through countless trip of personal interaction and hand carrying materials, supplies and paintings to and from Cuba.

CA Talk about your pop-up events—versus a traditional gallery space.

BT As I have previously stated - I am not only committed to introducing under-represented Cuban artists to new markets, but also to challenge the gallery-based model that currently dominates the art world. rough experience focused exhibitions and collaborations, my goal is to create emotional connections through each of my shows—First and foremost around the art, but accompanied by music, design, aesthetic, and community.

Pop-up exhibitions allow me to create a unique experience each time as well as target a vast array of different markets. While New York is a primary focus, the concept allows us to exhibit work in many cities around the world— projective markets are: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Aspen, Mexico City, Berlin, and Shanghai.

CA Where do you see Bryant Toth Fine Art in 10 years?

BT I’d love to continue hosting exhibitions in sophisticated and diverse cities around the world, while always focusing on positive change in Cuba. e opportunity to have these artists present during each exhibition and collaborating with different markets and cultures is a main focus. Every year is dynamic and I truly look forward to the future. 

STEADFAST ARTE: AN INTERVIEW WITH HECTOR FRANK

AN INTERVIEW WITH GABRIELLA OWENS

PHOTOGRAPHY BY BRETT KINCAID

Hector Frank was born in Havana in 1961 where he trained as an electrical engineer. Quitting this work to pursue art, Frank has since become an internationally- recognized contemporary artist. Renowned for his creativity of form and for his ability to depict the influences, colors, and textures of Cuban life, Frank’s mixed-media paintings offer a window into the diversity and vibrancy of the Cuban experience. 

GABRIELLA OWENS The concept behind a self-taught artist is one of intriguing nature; what was your personal experience developing your creative process and your choice of mediums? 

HECTOR FRANK It was like being born again. Everything was new and I began nding ways to translate my ideas on a canvas or through other supportive mediums. It was very di cult but also a very interesting process as I began to discover things unknown in myself. 

GO Your work has a sense of varying consistency. The focus upon the portrait remains the same, yet the substance within each piece seems to change. What inspires the consistency? What inspires the variety? 

HF What inspires me are human beings - with all of the forces and emotions that we bring in and not always externalize, but at the same time we betray our behavior. en I think of my characters (portraits) in a very particular way to catch certain feelings and visions that are these that characterize us and make us communicate without reasonable words.

GO How does your Cuban heritage inspire and influence your work? 

HF My Cuban heritage is the product of two strong cultures such as Spanish and African. I have a lot of both and my work can be re ected either by the colors, expressions, forms. It is impossible to escape this in uence. 

GO With the new political developments between Cuba and the United States, do you foresee this making a drastic impact upon your work? 

HF This has not had any dramatic impact on my work so far. (I think drastic is a very strong word to talk about the opening of relations that is still in its infancy) But it has given me the opportunity to present my work in some parts of the US and meet and exchange with artists who live there. I met Bryant before this process and we will have been together for a long time. He is a human being who deeply loves art and more importantly is an excellent person and a good friend. 

GO What is your voice? What do you want your audience to walk away with from your work? 

HF is is a paradox of trying to get closer to the human as today increasingly moves away. e great triumphs of humanity have been when we’ve been all together. However, more and more, our interactions are being reduced. We are the center of our civilization but when developments grow, we communicate less and I want this to reach the audience especially when I do these characters with headsets and distant faces. 

GO Can you use three adjectives to describe yourself as an artist and why? 

HF Well... I think I am persevering, hardworking and sincere in my work. Without these qualities, it would not have been possible to achieve what I have achieved until now, especially considering what I had to learn on my own.

GO Can you describe what the expression artistic freedom means to you? 

HF It is the possibility to express how you want. It is very important for any artist. 

GO What does the word steadfast mean to you? 

HF I think it must be a requirement in this profession. Naturally, it accompanies me in everything I set my mind in life.  

THE COVETEUR: THIS ART COLLECTOR'S HOME IS A TRAVELER'S PARADISE

By: Alicia Cesaro

Photography: Leslie Kirchhoff

Bryant Toth is single-handedly bringing Cuban art to the rest of the world.

For most (Americans), Cuba is a bucket-list destination; one they hope to visit before hordes of tourists arrive and ruin everything. For others, (pretty much every other nationality), it’s a place they’ve visited for years, taking in its unspoiled beaches, culture, and of course, cigars. For artist Bryant Toth, though, it’s a place he’s been lucky enough to both live and visit over the last seven years. The Californian-turned-New Yorker’s itch to travel to the island was influenced by his parents’ and mentors’ twenty years of experiences there. After only his first trip he became enthralled by the city of Havana and its abundance of unseen artists—and shortly thereafter his eponymous gallery, Bryant Toth Fine Art, was founded. His goal? To merge and saturate the American art world with that of Cuba. Specifically, the under-represented contemporary Cuban artists whom he has worked with and mentored.

Toth’s previous role in membership at Soho House allowed him to make the rounds in various cities, only proving his theory that the hotel industry can seemlessly bleed into music, fashion, film and of course, art. Ahead of his latest exhibition on November 3rd, Hector Frank’s Bridge to Cuba, we stopped by Toth’s Chinatown apartment to get a private tour and chat about the stories behind the artifacts—Cuban and otherwise—collected from his travels, why hospitality will always run through his veins, and what it’s like falling in love with America’s southern neighbors.

The Huffington Post: Cubas hottest new export may not be what you think

Written by: Michael Tommasiello

While Cuba may be known for its retro lifestyle, cigars and rum, throughout the years Bryant Toth has come to know it for something different. Bryant is almost single handily been responsible for bringing Cuban art and artists stateside, with his latest exhibition being aptly named Bridge To Cuba. Resulting from 12 trips to Cuba and a career curating membership at Soho House New York and Soho House Miami Beach, Toth was able to do what few people before him had been capable of, and that was to not only bring art from a place that was relatively untouched by American hands and create a market for it in the US.

Toth's latest exhibition features renown artist Hector Frank, who was born in Havana, Cuba in 1961 and currently still resides there. Having already been featured the New York Times, Forbes, Surface, and Departures, Frank continues his already successful career with this exhibition in Chelsea. Working with mixed mediums, Frank’s work comes to life by mixing textures and collages to bring the images to life. Toth and Frank were joined by many prominent faces in the art and fashion world at the opening that included the likes of Kinetics & One Love, Heron Preston, TK Wonder and Cipriana Quann, Fredrik Eklund, John Targon, Connor Franta, Lo Bosworth, Julia Loomis, Tyler Rowe, Ashley Wilcox Platt, Lexi Wood, Amalie Gassmann, Janica Compte, Nathaniel Dam, Amilna Estevao, Irina Shnitman, Manuela Frey, Oda Marie Nordengen, Anja Voskresenska Sanna Backstrom, Aku Orraca-Tetteh, Lucy Baaman, Kelly Connor, Grace Givens, Emma Morrison, Cyril Foiret and many more. The gallery remains open through Nov 10th and is located at Gallery 151 - 132 W 18th. St.

MANHATTAN DIGEST: Hector Frank’s Portraits: Celebrating Cuba, Celebrating People

Written By: Jessica Klein

Hector Frank’s portraits are as colorful as the Havana you can see when searching Google images. Presumably, they embody the spirit of Hector’s real Havana (to which I’ve never traveled), the vibrant but politically tumultuous city he grew up in.

“The color is natural in me,” Hector explained when I spoke to him a week after his opening at the Bryant Toth Fine Art show at Gallery 151 in Chelsea. Part of an exhibition that stemmed from the American Bryant’s love for Cuba and Cuban artists, whose work has been so difficult to traverse US borders for so long, Hector’s work reveals a compassion for the people of his country and their indomitable collective spirit, one that he certainly shares.

As an artist in Cuba during Communist party rule, Hector faced many problems. “You don’t have materials, you don’t have many other things,” he said.* “But it’s okay for your brain. You need problems for your brain to keep working, for inspiration. And my country has many, many problems. The people are happy…but they have nothing. There is never a complete solution for your problem, never. But for me the best is just going through and following your own path.”

Born in 1961 in Havana, Hector followed his path when he left his electrical engineering career to become a full-time artist. He at once seems to take the craft very seriously and with extreme lightness.

The lightness shows through his lack of self-critique. When asked if he has a favorite work in the Bryant Toth show, Hector replied, “All my favorite.” He starts creating one portrait, and when it gains the “energy” he desires, he’s finished. Maybe it’s the language barrier between us (Hector speaks Spanish better than English), but this strikes me as a less than heavy approach to artistic creation.

 

The seriousness comes through in his clear dedication. “I put my heart in this, and my time, and my brain. Look at this,” Hector held out his dry, possibly paint-covered (or maybe just very dry) hands. “This is my brain…my idea, my composition when finished comes out in this, my broken skin.” He described fighting an internal battle with himself as he creates each new piece of art “alone in my studio in the middle of the night…[I] work all night long, it is fantastico. No wife, no children, nothing…”

His portraits clearly look like they’ve been labored over, with love. Besides the bright, hectic but cohesive color palettes and the aspects of collage, Hector’s signature lies in his simplicity. He depicts faces with a few, judicious lines, some more defined than others, where a few drips of paint manifest a nose. The eyes are bright, the expressions varied. Several of his subjects (“no specific people”) wear headphones. Hector sees this as a commentary on information control, that people increasingly rely on media constantly fed through personal aural devices, and on personal isolation.

“Ten more years, and you’ll have a chip inside,” he tapped the side of his head. “People are very important for me, and in this life, people take more distance.” He noted that a common goal, once a person acquires capital, is to move away from others and create more and more space between themselves and their fellow humans, and this distance creates more problems. This is why people wear headphones, he said, “so people get away.”

While Hector uses painting as an opportunity to get away, spending long hours by himself in his studio, it is clearly in celebration of people, the joyous ones that he paints, collages, and even cuts out of wood. His dedication translates to his advice for aspiring artists. “Cuando vas a pintar como artista, tu no peudes pensar que nada mas [When you go to paint like an artist, you cannot think about anything else]. Not on money, not on nothing, only your work,” he said. “Yo quiero pintar porque necessito pintar [I want to paint because I need to paint]. If you spend a lot of time in your studio, you are going to be an artist…most important, be sincere. Don’t paint for others—paint for yourself and it will be for everyone.”

After our interview, Bryant, who had shown up midway through, went across the room and with a flourish, placed a little, red circle sticker on one of the painting’s placards to show Hector it had been sold. The latter leaned in and told me it was to go to one of the actors in “Game of Thrones.” He then went over to Bryant (who is tall and skinny), picked him up, and spun him around on his shoulders.

Before I left, Hector insisted I visit Cuba because everyone there is friendly and there are wonderful museums and art. He has two sons, one of whom is an artist, and they both speak English “very well.”

For more information about Bryant Toth Fine Art and Hector Frank, visit this website.