Cuban Interest Section: Call it a “living installation,” as artist José Parlá does, or call it Cafécito Neptuno, which he also does, what’s clear is that the café tucked in the patio of Miami’s Standard Spa is a well-placed spot to fuel up on a valuable commodity: authentic Cuban coffee.
The café, which offers the classic Cuban café varieties as well as guarapo (sugar cane juice), croquetas, a Cuban sandwich, and other light snacks, is decked out in stunning ceramic tiles, which upon closer inspection turn out to be photographic reproductions.
“It’s like it would be in Cuba but exaggerated,” says the Miami-born artist, who lovingly hand-lettered the signs and adorned the space with images of his family (including Agustín Parlá, the first Cuban aviator), along with objects like a balloon his mother painted and an album by iconic Cuban comedian Alvarez Guedes.
Parlá, who just finished murals at the new Barclay’s Center and the Brooklyn Academy of Music and is preparing for a show at Haunch of Venison in London in February, was in town to discuss another mural project, realized during a trip to Cuba with street artist JR earlier this year.
As part of the Havana Biennial, they sought out senior citizens who had lived through the revolution, forging a connection as JR showed images of Parlá’s art and Parlá showed them JR’s photos. Following JR’s customary practice, they shot portraits and pasted 25 of them on the walls; Parlá then created new levels of texture with his dense calligraphic markings.
The murals sparked a lot of confusion and animation in Cuba, where the only billboards are revolutionary and street art is not exactly encouraged. “People would say, what is it,” Parlá says. “How did you get permission? Is it art?” The process is chronicled in a book, Wrinkles of the City (published by Damiani with Standard Press), and in a film that will be screened at the Standard on Saturday.
Inhaling the cafecito aroma as strains of salsa played in the background, Parlá was glad there was no label to identify the café as his work. “People don’t even know they’re having an art experience,” he said.