You get the feeling nothing could stop Yoan Capote from succeeding, and nothing has. His talent and boundless energy work together to make him one of Cuba’s most exciting contemporary artists. We first met him at the 10th Havana Biennial in 2009, where he was officially represented by Mente Abierta/Open Mind, his installation that took up an entire room in the Morro fortress. Capote had constructed a white labyrinth in the centre of the room which, when viewed from above, resembled a cross-section of a human brain. Small bronze people and plastic trees had been placed at seemingly random intervals. Mente Abierta/Open Mind was impressive enough, but Capote explained that his brain-maze was only the beginning of what he sees as a much larger (and more ambitious) art project. He’d like to see a large-scale replica constructed in a public park somewhere, and to hear him speak of it – with the exuberance of someone who has already seen a few dreams come true – you have little doubt he’ll find a way to make this project happen. “If it became a reality,” he told us, “it would provide visitors with a real opportunity for dialogue. They would move through this space like neurons.”
Capote, born in 1977 in Pinar del Rio, is a veteran of the Havana Biennial circuit. He shared the UNESCO prize as part of Rene Francisco’s DUPP art collective at the Biennial’s seventh edition in 2000. But Capote’s sculptures had already come to the attention of art collectors in the late 1990s, as the world art market became hungry for new talent and as Cuba emerged from its “special period” economic crisis. Capote went on to receive some important grants, among them a Vermont Studio Center Fellowship (2002); a Brownstone Foundation Residency in Paris (2003); a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Award in New York (2005); and a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship in New York (2006). And his work was shown in solo exhibitions in New York (2004) and Zurich (2006).
Capote’s sculptures tend to be strong on concept, exceedingly well crafted and witty. A Michelangelostyle torso features a brain where genitalia should be. Two halves of a heavy bronze cube close to unite male and female reproductive organs. A suitcase zips opens to reveal a brick wall. The latter work, which Capote calls Nostalgia, is described on his Wikipedia page as “a metaphor for nomadism and its limits, the wall of bricks standing for our own impediments we all carry with us wherever we go.” The Island, a Cuba-shaped installation made from bloody fishhooks, was sold to an American buyer in 2008.
The second time we met Capote was in his studio, which he called “my bunker”. He didn’t seem to mind that the place looked like a construction site, which it was. He invited gallery owners, journalists and anyone else in Havana during the Biennial to visit and watch a slideshow presentation of his work amid the dust and debris. Capote had been handling the construction himself, moving steel beams into place, pouring concrete, with the same attention to detail he gives his sculptures. He was transforming the building, situated next to a playground in Vedado, into a strange new addition to Havana’s cityscape. This, too, seemed to be part of Capote’s master plan. “When it’s finished I want it to look like White Cube,” he said. The White Cube gallery in London represents Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst and other art-world superstars, and Capote is clearly positioning himself to join their ranks.