Released May 22, 2004
SALEM, MA—In the first solo museum exhibition of his photographs, the Peabody Essex Museum presents Havana: Photographs by Robert Polidori. Eighteen of the artist’s stunning, large-scale images will be on view from May 22 through Jan. 9, 2005. The exhibition, which is enhanced by a catalogue and an evening of programs celebrating Cuba’s cultural heritage, is organized by Elizabeth S. Padjen, FAIA, consulting curator of architecture and design at the Peabody Essex Museum.
Polidori first visited Havana in 1997 while on assignment as staff photographer for The New Yorker. He began exploring the city's dynamic architecture—from the elegant colonial to the exuberant Modern, which appeared arrested in time, reflecting years of economic and political turmoil. He returned four more times, continuing his study of the astonishing range and scale of Havana’s buildings. The results are a remarkable interpretation of the city's magnificent architectural legacy.
Polidori refers to himself as a “habitat photographer” rather than an architectural photographer. His images of Havana’s buildings reveal a complex history of a sophisticated, vibrant culture and its expression through art. The fragile state of the city’s architecture is brought to light, as is the enduring spirit of its residents. Polidori boldly presents his subjects without apology for their condition?a departure from most commissioned architectural photography, which aims to present buildings as beautiful, even glamorous, objects. These powerful, highly personalized images invite us to look beyond the formal surfaces of great buildings to the inhabitants who invest them with life and meaning.
Cuba has been a Spanish colony, a republic, and a communist nation, and this complex history is reflected in its architecture. In the early years of the Republic, the country responded to the principal formal styles of European and American architecture, but the urge to affirm the island’s heritage soon gave way to a more open, innovative spirit and a more deliberate search for a true Cuban architecture.
Cubanidad, the concept of “Cubanness” has influenced Cuban art and culture for more than 100 years, resulting in one of the world’s great collections of twentieth century architecture in its capital city, Havana. Since the 1959 revolution, most of this architectural heritage has been frozen in time by a form of tacit preservation, so that while many buildings have deteriorated, they continue to be occupied. They endure as a testament to the creativity and sophistication of Havana and its residents, the habaneros.
Born in Montreal in 1951, Robert Polidori moved to the United States with his family when he was 10 years old. After receiving a master’s degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo, he became a filmmaker in New York City before moving to Paris in 1983 and pursuing his growing interest in photography. He returned to New York in 1997 and has been an award-winning staff photographer at The New Yorker since 1999. Polidori is represented by Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York.
A special night of programs celebrating Cuba’s culture will include a panel discussion featuring Robert Polidori; Harvard University professor and architect Leland Cott, FAIA (Fellow of the American Institute of Architects), who has worked with many of Havana’s leading architects; PEM consulting curator of photography Clark Worswick, and Emerson College professor Flora Gonzalez, who has written extensively on the Cuban-American experience. The discussion will be moderated by the exhibition’s curator, Elizabeth S. Padjen. There will also be a sampling of traditional Cuban cuisine, and a performance by the Boston-area ensemble Cuban Fantasia. All events take place on Saturday, June 19 beginning at 5:30 p.m. Elizabeth Padjen will give a gallery talk on Tuesday, June 29 at 9:30 a.m.
Labels and wall text created for the exhibition will be presented in both English and Spanish. The Peabody Essex Museum gratefully acknowledges the generous support of
Neil St. John Raymond, James G. Babb, and Karl W. Frey for Havana: Photographs by Robert Polidori.