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Beyond the Collector’s Kabinet

The Rodríguez Family at KAC

Collecting is not only a passion; it can become a lifetime goal. Through collecting, stories are constructed; stories that in the future will speak through the accumulated works, providing a vision not only of the personal universe of the collector, but also of the visual culture of his era.

It has been established that art is a good investment when compared to the fluctuating currency and precious-metals markets. Art speculates with its symbolic, cultural and historic value. We know that it would be difficult for a Picasso, Rembrandt, Goya, van Gogh or Warhol to lose value. However, what happens when you collect works by young or mid-career artists? What happens when you collect guided by passion and personal taste? Collecting intelligently and passionately is more than just following the simple logic of buying low and selling high or demonstrating a very high purchasing power. To be a good collector of contemporary art implies being sensitive to the world, artistic production, understanding the period and its historic flow, since what we collect today will be part of the history of art within a few decades. Even now, the relationship between patronage and collecting is not passé; it is still very close. There are many informed and responsible collectors in the world; they invest in the work of artists that they collect and support their careers. This is the case with Leonardo Rodríguez, a Cuban living in Miami who started collecting more than 30 years ago in his native country.

Rodríguez grew up in a family associated with art and culture. His mother worked in museums her whole life. In Havana, as an adult, Leonardo began buying and selling works of art from the last decade of the 20th century. Subsequently, he learned to work with metal, glass and bronze and specialized in jewelry, especially working with silver and black coral. He was a member of the Asociación Cubana de Artesanos Artistas (ACAA), and as a result in 1999 he traveled to Mexico to exhibit; then from there he moved to the United States.

At the beginning, Leonardo acquired mainly antiques, crystal ware, marble, furniture. Then he started buying works by Cuban artists. “I kept what I liked the best, and the rest I sold in order to buy other pieces that I liked, and in this way the passion for collecting got into my blood,” he says. “My collection in Cuba was extensive. I had works by Nelson Domínguez, Roberto Fabelo, Pedro Pablo Oliva, Zaida del Río, Flora Fong, among other artists. I was only able to bring 12 works to the United States, the least valuable. Here, little by little, I got to know Cuban artists, and I continued collecting.”

Currently, his collection is mainly comprised of Cuban art, although Leonardo plans to enrich it with works by artists from other parts of the world, in keeping with Miami’s multicultural social psyche. His interest in collecting is guided by the relationship he sees between the work of the artist and his own vision of the world. “When I buy a piece, I always investigate; I find out about its meaning, the context in which it was created. I have to establish a dialogue with the piece in order to be able to live with it. One of the artists in my collection that I like the most is José Bedia because I understand what he is saying with his work. I studied Afro-Cuban religion, and that is why I am able to identify with his work. I am also interested in works that communicate freedom, reflection on the evolution of human thought, soul searching and personal growth. That is why I like abstract painting so much, because it appears to me that it is an expression of emotions, feelings and the artist’s knowledge, but expressed with hidden codes, not evident, codes that the artist is inviting us to unveil.”

When asked which artists he would like to include in his collection, he replies, “I have always wanted to have work by Wifredo Lam. I see a relationship between the work of Lam and Bedia because of their ties to Afro-Caribbean cultures. I would also be interested in having works by Tomás Sánchez, Eduardo Roca (Choco) and Tomás Esson. I would like to acquire other works by Pedro Pablo Oliva. These are pieces I shall have some day.”

For Rodríguez, collecting also implies a commitment to the community in which he lives. That is why he has created the Kendall Art Center, which will open its doors on July 15. The center will enrich the cultural options of the city of Miami, especially in a densely populated area like Kendall in which no important cultural centers exist. “The Kendall Art Center is being established to support the careers of the artists I collect so that they may have a space where they can create projects, a place to exhibit, to be able to present talks, conferences, where they can have a platform to promote their work,” Rodríguez says.

The Kendall Art Center will open with an exhibition that will include significant pieces from the Leonardo Rodríguez Collection, with works by such artists as Bedia, Ciro Quintana, Pedro Vizcaíno, Néstor Arenas, Manuel Mendive, Silvio Gaytón, Vicente Dopico Lerner, Aisar Jalil, Pedro Avila Gendis, José Orbeín, Ahmed Gómez, Angel Delgado, Geandy Pavón, Jose María Mijares, Cundo Bermúdez and Gina Pellón. According to Rodríguez, the center plans to have a rich program of exhibitions that will include 12 shows per year. “We would like the space to not only be a space for exhibitions, but also for projects,” he says. “We shall invite artists to develop works especially for the space at the center. We want the Kendall Art Center to not only promote the work of the artists, but also to serve as a platform for the production of new pieces, a space also open to experimentation. Currently my collection has mainly Cuban art, but the Kendall Art Center will be open to artists from everywhere, whose work and career demonstrate solidity and coherence.”

The center is planning a program of events that will accompany each exhibition. This program includes creative workshops (painting, sculpture, photography, theater and body painting, among others) basically directed at children and young people, but which can also include people of all ages. In addition, there will be book presentations, conferences on contemporary art, classes, concerts, the mise-en-scène of plays, etc.

In the near term, Rodríguez plans to gradually enrich his collection with works by notable contemporary artists while supporting and promoting the careers of artists that he collects. When asked if he considers the act of collecting to be an investment, he replies, “I believe it will be considered an investment for my third generation. Now I am showing my son a way of giving meaning to life. By collecting you learn; you get to know the artists, who are human beings with a very rich interior universe. For me, collecting is my passion, my goal.”

Raisa Clavijo is an art critic, curator and art historian based in Miami. She is founder and editor-in-chief of ARTPULSE and ARTDISTRICTS magazines.

* All excerpts are the result of an interview with Leonardo Rodríguez that took place in May 2016.

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