On the heels of renewed diplomatic relations and travel between the United States and Cuba, The Wolfsonian–FIU will explore images of pre-Revolution Cuban culture and the exotic in Promising Paradise: Cuban Allure, American Seduction, on view May 6 through August 21, 2016.
Promising Paradise will feature hundreds of American-Cuban tourist trade products from 1920-1959, including travel brochures, posters, and promotional films that framed Cuba as an escape for wealthy Americans. The exhibition is based on a gift of more than 1,000 works from collector, author, and longtime donor Vicki Gold Levi to the Wolfsonian-FIU.
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. Many of the works will be on public display for the first time in the U.S.
“We are thrilled to be presenting this exhibition on the cusp of a new dawn in Cuba-U.S. relations,” stated The Wolfsonian-FIU 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 50 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.”
This donation bolsters 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 will be included in Promising Paradise, in addition to loans and other items from The Wolfsonian-FIU’s permanent collection. Many of the gifted works are reproduced in the exhibition’s complimentary publication Cuba Style: Graphics from the Golden Age of Design, co-authored by Gold Levi with renowned art director and museum advisory board member, Steven Heller.
“I’ve had Latin rhythms in my DNA since growing up in Atlantic City, mamboing my way through high school dancing to Pérez Prado. As a picture editor and later as an author, I became further enthralled with Cuba,” said Levi. “My collection is right at home at The Wolfsonian-FIU, where I know it will be the subject of continual study and re-examination for years to come.”
The photographs, film clips, and other artifacts reveal the craze for Latin culture in the U.S., particularly among celebrities and the Hollywood elite, including Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner.
Many of the works also speak to historic issues of race and gender in representing ideas of the tropics and the exotic. Women and the female body played prominent roles, as did acknowledgments of the Latin American and African geneses of jazz, rumba, and other popular music and dance genres of the first half of the twentieth century.
“Promising Paradise marks new territory for The Wolfsonian,” said The Wolfsonian-FIU Director Tim Rodgers. “As we continue to research the collection generously gifted to us by Vicki Gold Levi, we look forward to building upon these opportunities to tell the nuanced, complex stories of Cuba and the U.S.—neighboring cultures that together shaped Miami into what it is today.”