The Rodriguez Collection is privately financed by Leo Rodriguez and his family and is one of Miami’s largest, privately owned Cuban contemporary art collections. The collection reflects significant artistic developments in contemporary art by established artists from Cuba, U.S. and abroad.
The collection is constantly expanding and features well-known artists such as Wifredo Lam, René Portocarrero, Amelia Peláez, Mariano Rodriguéz, Gina Pellón, Zaida Del Rio, Rubén Torres Llorca, José Bedia, Sandra Ramos, Pedro Pablo Oliva, Tomás Esson, Ciro Quintana, Humberto Castro, Angela Alés, Pedro Vizcaíno, Manuel Mendive, Carlos Estevez, Guido Llinás, Hugo Consuegra, Carlos Luna, Roberto Fabelo, Pedro Ávila Gendis, Consuelo Castañeda, Ángel Delgado, Geandy Pavón, Marlys Fuego, José María Mijares, Cundo Bermúdez, Julio Girona, Aldo Menéndez, Ivonne Ferrer, Rubén Rodríguez, Carlos Quintana, Aimee Perez, Flavio Garciandía, Pedro de Oraá, Loló Soldevilla, Nestor Arenas, Henry Ballate, Acosta León, Servando Cabrera, Reynerio Tamayo, Lisyanet Rodríguez, Maikel Domínguez, Allison Kotzig, William Hough, Javier B Brockman, Robert Rauschenberg among others.
The Rodríguez Collection of Cuban Artists
Dedicated to preserving the history and significance of Cuban art, the Rodríguez Collection showcases the work of artists who have established the key tenets of a visual language with global implications that reach beyond the island and its diaspora. The artists represent more than a Cuban identity as they come to be recognized in international venues as an affirmation of the island’s long tradition of creativity, academic and technical excellence, even under the worst of circumstances. Cuban artists, who established a new course of modernism for the country, to the most outstanding artists of the present day, have become part of the Rodríguez Collection and this book serves as official documentation of an artistic and cultural journey revealed through works of art. The Collection is also more than just a selection chosen by a single person, it reflects the community in which so many of the artists now live and work, and a venue for discourse and sharing that continuously develops its curatorial concepts to introduce new ideas, artists and works of art, and bridge the gaps of time and place. The Rodríguez Collection of Cuban Artists promises to be just the beginning of an ever-expanding gathering of art, artists and information critical to understanding and sustaining the artistic trajectory that represents the best of Cuba.
Carol Damian, Ph.D.
Kendall Art Center / The Rodríguez Collection Fifth Anniversary (2016 - 2021)
In May of 2016, Leonardo Rodríguez raised the idea of opening his collection to the public. The project seemed simple: Leo had an admirable collection of Cuban art, which he has treasured for more than twenty years; he had the location and the experience necessary in order to turn it into an exhibition hall. For my part, I provided the experience of having created and managed several galleries and collections; in addition to a background in advertising and art education at the academic level.
We commenced by crafting a name and identity for the Center and the collection, as well documenting, cataloging and defining strategies. The Center would be an exhibition space, but not a gallery, rather the depository house of the collection that by exhibiting the work of its established, international, emerging and local artists would stimulate critical thinking, art appreciation and awareness in the visual arts.
The art in Miami was exhibited, customarily, in Wynwood, Downtown, Little Havana and Coral Gables. Kendall was not an area commonly associated with the artistic flux and that was, precisely, Leo’s reasoning for opening his collection in this area of the city: there was a need that we wanted to meet. Curating the collection and mounting them on the walls, as something static and inert was not enough for Leo: he wanted a lively space. Two months later, the already baptized Kendall Art Center opens its doors presenting “The Rodríguez Collection.” This inaugural event saw more than 200 people in attendance and more than a 1000 visited the space during the exhibition. The beauty of the space, the quality of the works and the artists, combined with the warmth of its hosts were details that caused an immediate, strong impact on the public and even more on the artists, who recognized and validated the center as a serious and valuable institution, with which they were willing to collaborate.
In the first years, thanks to an extensive program of successfully executed exhibitions, the name of Leonardo Rodríguez as a collector and the Kendall Art Center have managed to establish themselves, not just locally, but beyond Florida, knocking on the doors of permanent collections of great renown, such as the Smithsonian Institution. Exhibitions proposed by the Kendall Art Center with works from The Rodriguez Collection have been hosted in several museum and academic institutions with the aim of promoting and saving the Cuban contribution. Besides, some of these important institutions have accepted donations made by Leonardo Rodríguez and his family.
During these five year each exhibition has had, since the beginning, curators and specialized critics working hand in hand with the artists. Names known both locally and internationally have been added to our initial intent with the objective of leaving a mark on the Cuban-American artistic production. Thanks to these collaborations, we now have an important showcase of critical texts, which include: José Ramón Alonso, Gary Anuez, Gabriela G. Azcuy, Janet Batet, Samuel Beck, Roxana M. Bermejo, Willy Castellanos, Elvia Rosa Castro, Raisa Clavijo, Carol Damian, Orlando Hernandez, Dennys Matos, Aldo Menéndez, Hortensia Montero, Gerardo Mosquera, Píter Ortega, Ricardo Pau-Llosa, Jesús Rosado, Andrés Isaac Santana and José Veigas, all of them cited in the present compilation entitled, “D Fine.”
It is precisely at the occasion of said exchange between professionals, that today we are able to present a product that, although unfinished for the reason that it is an eternal work in progress, can give us an idea of what the road traveled has been. The purpose of this book is then, to make accessible a set of written texts about The Rodríguez Collection, The Kendall Art Center, its exhibitions and artists for a holistic understanding of the collection and its development. “D Fine” directly reflects the meritorious work of Leonardo Rodríguez as a collector and The Kendall Art Center as an institution dedicated to promoting and safeguarding Cuban art wherever it may be.
Henry Ballate M.F.A.
Art Director and Curator
Kendall Art Center/The Rodríguez Collection
Ciro Quintana, Chronicles of a Cuban Artist, 2017, oil on linen, 82 x 250 .”
About the concept of art and collecting in our times
I have spent several years trying to capture the concept of “Art” as a whole. I have never been able to. There are always areas that escape me, intelligible ideas that exceed the limits of my research, however extensive it may be. Perhaps for that reason, I have had to accept, little by little, what others had already coined before: “a picture is worth a thousand words”. However, after all is said and done, I have also been shown that humans are conceptual, idiomatic beings, who like to understand and synthesize everything that surrounds them. Hence, if it were necessary to find an accepted definition for art, it would coincide, on my horizon of expectations, with George Dickie’s “Institutional Theory”, according to which (and above all in contrast to modern and contemporary production) a piece of art is an artistic work if, and only if, it belongs to the “World of Art” (galleries, museums, academies, culturally legitimate institutions). In this space, with its limited and elitist nature, different entities come into play that can define, promote or censure the way forward, diffusion, reception, or the value of art piece and its artist. One of the main characters to be found within this nobiliary group is the art collector.
The latter could be defined over a hundred pages or in a single line: the work, with its inflated rate of exchange, if collected appears to be a great investment. Behind every great artist there is usually a sponsoring patron: Sandro Botticelli and Lorenzo de’ Medici, Caravaggio and Cardinal Francesco del Monte, Gustave Courbet and Alfred Bruyas, Pablo Picasso and Gertrude Stein, Jackson Pollock and Peggy Guggenheim.... This continues on until nowadays, with more familiar names such as Ella Fontanals-Cisneros, Jorge Pérez, Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz, or the Rubells, who redirect and transform the fabric of contemporary art. This list of collectors was recently joined by Leonardo Rodríguez, a Cuban living in Miami, who for almost thirty years, has focused on safeguarding and supporting the artistic production of the island’s creators.
Rodríguez’s work as an “art collector” began in the complex nineties of the last century, still in his own country where he made his debut as an antiques collector. From this stage, little by little, his taste changed towards visual arts, given his interest in “authenticity and aura” which characterizes this production. In light of this, it is interesting to note that when Leonardo emigrated from Cuba, he brought precisely the twelve paintings that would become the genesis of what today is his treasure with him.
Once settled in Miami, this initial pruned collection (very limited with regard to the artworks that did not leave the island), is gradually nourished and begins to grow more vigorously, opening up to the multicultural environment that prevails in this North American city, without ceasing to favour its Cuban roots. Artists such as René Portocarrero, Cundo Bermúdez, Pedro Pablo Oliva, Gina Pellón, Tomás Esson and Reynerio Tamayo join him and increase the lists of the artists he represents. With this plurality of artists, who are all different in terms of themes and inclinations, I have asked myself on various occasions what exactly Leonardo Rodríguez is looking for when he selects a piece for his collection. His hasty response has always been the same: “I need a transparent work that illustrates everything expressed by its artist, that reflect the artist, although not literally. I have no other way of understanding art, I cannot read it if it is not credible.”
However, it is important to clarify that Leonardo´s career as a collector has experienced a substantial leap in the last year due to a major event not only for him and the artists at his side, but also for the artistic scene in general. This was the birth of the Kendall Art Center (KAC), which opened its doors to the public on July 15, 2016 and which, although it is in its early years, already deserves a detailed introduction.
The Kendall Art Center was created with the intention of bringing Rodríguez’s collection closer to the community. This purpose has been fulfilled throughout these twelve months through different personal and collective exhibitions, where emerging and established artists find a space for fruitful and pleasant dialogue. Artists such as Sandra Ramos, Pedro Ávila, Lisyanet Rodríguez and Maikel Domínguez have all appeared there and left their imprint on the building´s white walls. In addition, each of these exhibitions (in total ten to date) have been accompanied by the presence of highly regarded names within the Miami cultural network, such as Janet Batet, Aldo Menéndez, Henry Ballate and Píter Ortega. These critics have set their sights on the visual arts production that revolves around the KAC and have found in its rooms, space for debate in diverse activities such as book presentations, piano concerts and opera, guided tours for art students and other interested parties and the center’s participation in academic events such as the “Eleventh Conference on Cuban and Cuban-American Studies”, held at Florida International University (FIU).
Built on these pillars, KAC has become – according to “The Miami Herald” – one of the best cultural offerings, not only in Kendall, which needed an initiative like this, but in the city of Miami as a whole. Its foundation and the constant interaction with artists that have nurtured it, has meant that the Leonardo Rodríguez collection has grown by approximately 40%, refining its artists and moving towards a pluralist profile where, however, the work of the renowned artists on the island in the eighties is especially noteworthy, in terms of its continuity and validity, and no longer as something static or archaeological. This approach can be seen with a mere look at the exhibitions that have been held in the center of the current work of Ciro Quintana, Ana Albertina, Pedro Vizcaíno and José Bedia. As an example, it is worth clarifying that the Rodríguez collection has doubled this year in terms of the number of artworks by the aforementioned artist (José Bedia), the top name in Cuban visual arts of all time. This makes the Rodríguez collection one of the most vital sources for studying this painter, as it includes works such as “Chicomoztoc Tzotzompan Quinehuayan”, which was included in the first Havana Biennial in 1984.
At this point, I think it is also important to refer to the figure of Leonardo as a collector. His modus operandi involves closeness and direct contact with the artist. He aims to find out the circumstances behind the creation, study it, learn from it and receive it from the author’s own hands whenever possible. Hence contemporary names predominate in his coffers and special value is given to fresh, living work that breathes.... His interest lies in giving way to creation without any kind of barriers. In this sense, the collection, which until now has been more focused on so-called “fine arts”, has found with the creation of the KAC, a thriving place for other forms of expression such as photography, video art, installation and performance... We were fortunate to experience these forms of expression during the week of Art Basel and which are expected to become an even more active part in upcoming exhibitions at the center.
The KAC of tomorrow is being shaped in this way; not just as a gallery or a museum space to host Rodríguez’s collection but as a living stage for the community, a vital source of reference for new and not so new generations. This only leaves me to express my gratitude, as any art lover would do, for an idea as vigorous, as promising and as strong as the Leonardo Rodríguez collection and his Kendall Art Center initiative. This first approach then may just be the starting point of its impact in the near future, which is always aimed at profiling new investigative, historiographical and creative routes.
Roxana Martínez Bermejo B.F.A.
Gina Pellon Untitled mixed media on paper 26 x 18 1/2"
Over the last several decades, the collection of Cuban art has been one of the most turbulent fields in the panorama of visual arts in Cuba. The promotion and circulation of Cuban art traverses through a series of corridors, sometimes underground, which lead to spaces that are not entirely defined. However, I suppose that these are gaps within our history. I assume that within the cracks of a commercialization that runs through pipelines of all kinds, it is made impossible to carry out an integral study of said phenomenon.
The Kendall Art Center/ Rodríguez Collection has established one of the most widely recognized spaces for the collecting of contemporary Cuban art outside of the island. “Collecting is not hoarding,” recites one of the most lucid phrases regarding the subject of collecting of all kinds. To that effect, the Kendall Art Center responds to a space in which beyond the act of collecting in and of itself, artistic and cultural processes are generated, where the promotion and exhibition of the most prominent Cuban art of the moment meet in harmony.
A space, generally speaking, in which both processes are integrated, achieves a degree of high quality in its repertoire. Curatorial exercises, just like a systematic job regarding the growth of the whole, makes it acquire specific nuances when it comes to a collection of regular art. Which is why the collection of Leonardo Rodríguez has reached, without a shadow of a doubt, a status distinct from passive collecting.
The Kendall Art Center has a list of artists who, far from conceptual, generational or formal simplifications, have managed to consecrate an independent phenomenon around contemporary Cuban art, without geographical distinctions. I recognize in each of its acquisitions, a rigorous investigation into solid pictorial and thematic movements of the most diverse international art trends. As a result, the Kendall Art Center/ Rodríguez Collection seeks to break the boundaries of what a Cuban art collection should be, to demonstrate that its health lies precisely within the plurality of styles and themes that weave it together.
The constant integration of this center within the heart of Floridas’ exhibition dynamics indicates that this collection was born with the full awareness of an art gallery. An art gallery draws from a promotional principle. It is precisely this leitmotif that has transformed a collection into an unmitigated space of Cuban contemporary art outside the island.
One of the main stigmas devised in regards to the collecting of art lies in the apparent concern for the representation of a national art with a patriotic perspective. It could be said that in the case of the Rodríguez Collection, this process acquires a playful sense. In the Kendall Art Center, Cuban art is nothing more than the rejection of Cuban institutional patterns of disseminating and conceiving art. The fluidity with which topics are combined in artists belonging to different generations, promises a counterpart to the artistic/cultural categories and assumptions no longer rooted in ART, but instead in the art of a political Kamikaze.
Modesto D. Serpa B.F.A.