In Miami on April 22, 1988, Manuel Mendive's painting El Pavo Real was set on fire. The Cuban painter's work had been purchased at a fundraising auction for the Cuban Museum of Art and Culture, but its buyers weren't exactly art collectors. Rather, the winners of the auction were members of the Bay of Pigs 2506 Brigade, which paid $500, picked up the artwork, and marched out to the street. There they set Mendive's painting ablaze while the Cuban national anthem blared from a nearby radio.
Two weeks later, the museum was bombed by exile hardliners who claimed it was exhibiting artists sympathetic to the Castro regime. In June 1990, the museum was bombed a second time. More than a dozen trustees resigned and Miami commissioners voted to evict the museum, which never really recovered and dissolved in 1999. Its collection and archive were donated to the Lowe Art Museum at the University of Miami.
These days, Ileana Fuentes, who served as the Cuban Museum's last director in 1995, insists the burning of Mendive's painting planted the seed for new ideas, opening artistic expression in Miami. "Today those protests and tirades against Cubans exhibiting or performing in Miami are ancient history," she says. She adds that although President Barack Obama's recent diplomatic thaw between Cuba and the United States might have heightened expectations for greater cultural exchange, the fact is that Cubans have been showing their work in the Magic City for years.
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