Havana's serious art scene is curator Bryant Toth's specialty. He shared a list of his favorite places to experience the city's thriving creative culture. In the meantime, check out Bryant Toth Fine Art's exhibition featuring Cuban artist Hector Frank at Gallery 151 in Chelsea, NYC, from November 4-10, 2016.
HAVANA – As an avid traveler, I am passionate about people and cultures. Cuba always piqued my curiosity, and when my hospitality mentor, Sam DuVall, introduced me to Havana back in 2008, I was immediately drawn to it. Now almost nine years later, I've traveled to the country more than a dozen times, lived there for two-month stints, and continue to visit. Cuba's honest, real, and thriving creative culture is present in the city's art, music, architecture, people, and community. Bryant Toth Fine Art, my fine art gallery, was founded out of my appreciation for Cuba, its culture, and its creative talents, and to offer platforms to celebrate, promote, and exhibit the powerful story of its artistic community.
Hector Frank's Studio / Gallery
By far, my favorite artist in Havana. I have known and worked with Hector for over eight years and his work captures the purest form of creativity in Cuba. He received the highest governmental degree as an electrical engineer before pursuing his passion for art. Now one of Cuba' leading contemporary artists, exhibiting in New York City, San Francisco, London, and Paris, Hector Frank's home is a stunning studio and gallery space that he built and designed himself. If you'd like to schedule a visit, reach out to me and I will make an introduction.
Fábrica de Arte Cubano
Calle 26, Esquina 11, Vedado; +53-7-838-2260
This is an absolute must-visit, as it is a music, fine art, theater, and a thriving social scene for both Cubans and tourists — all in an old vegetable factory. Rosemary (Fabrica's curator) exhibits work by leading contemporary artists in Cuba. You might even catch live performances by Arcade Fire, Questlove, or ZZ Top here.
Jesus Nodarse Studio and Gallery
Another fantastic Cuban painter. Jesus and his brother have converted their home into a casa particular (one of the nicest in Havana) and gallery space for paintings. It's definitely worth checking out for the eighteen-foot-high ceilings, colonial decor, unique antiques, and large-scale paintings. If you'd like to schedule a visit, reach out to me and I will make an introduction.
Siá Kará Café
Calle Industria no. 502, Esquina Calle Barcelona, Centro Havana; +53-7-867-4084
The stunning bar and restaurant is on the side street called Barcelona behind the Capitolio. Beloved by travelers for years, the place has maintained its charm. The owners exhibit works of art throughout the restaurant, which itself continues to evolve.
Young Cuban Collective
This group of Cuban talent is really spectacular. Four or five Cuban artists paint and exhibit their work in the space. The artists rotate, but the quality is among the highest in Havana. If you'd like to schedule a visit, reach out to me and I will make an introduction.
ISA, Universidad de las Artes
Calle 120 No. 904, e/ 9 y 23, Playa; +53-7-208-0017
The National School of Art is recognized as the most outstanding architectural achievement of the Cuban Revolution. ISA is definitely worth a visit, but plan to reach out ahead of your trip to receive visitation permission from the head of cultural administration. University students exhibit their work and offer a glimpse into the country's top artists. Most of the grand masters have graduated from ISA; the institution remains among the world's best.
Avenida de Maceo
Havana's five-mile walkway along the water is also known as "La Sofa" for the countless locals socializing, singing, flirting, drinking, and entertaining along the waterfront. Go for an early morning run to avoid pollution, a ride in a 1950s convertible at sunset, or a stroll to people-watch. It's one of Havana's most special sites.
Línea 460 E y F, Vedado; +53-7-832-7101
One of the oldest government-owned galleries (circa 1962), Galeria Habana has exhibited some of Cuba's most respected artists, including old world masters like Wifredo Lam, Rene Portocarrero, and Mariano Rodriguez. They continue to stay relevant, showing some of Havana's current talent: Roberto Fabelo, Manuel Mendive, and a handful of the best students from the University. Hands down, it's the best gallery in Havana.
Wifredo Lam Centre of Contemporary Art
San Ignacio, La Habana; +53-7-861-3419
One of the most premier art institutions in all of Havana. They have a stunning private collection and consistently put up shows centered around Cuban artists, Latin American artists, and other work from around the world. It's amazing to find a place in Havana that exhibits work by famous contemporary Chinese and Italian artists next to the city's grand masters. Truly inspiring.
Casa de los Artistas
Oficios #6, e/ Obispo y Obrapía, Habana Vieja
Roberto Fabelo, Ernesto Rancaño, Pedro Pablo Oliva, Angel M. Ramírez — some of the most famous living artists in Havana all have showroom galleries in this charming colonial building in the heart of Habana Vieja.
The Merger Art Gallery
Avenue 31, esq. 66 #6602, Playa; +53-5-283-3492
The Merger is a collective of three individual artists, giving it its name. The gallery features some of their spectacular sculpture work as well as work by other Cuban artists —both emerging and established. It is definitely worth a visit and you'll get to view a ton of work.
Rafael Trejo Boxing Gym
Calle Cuba 815, La Habana
Not exactly a gallery, but I'd be remiss if I didn't include it. There is no question that boxing is an art — here it is in its truest form. Ask to train with legendary two-time Olympic Gold Medalist, Hector Vincent. This should not be missed, especially if you plan on visiting Cuba for more than a few days.