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Cuba opens first big U.S. art exhibit since 1980s

 An artist works underneath paintings which are part of the exhibition
An artist works underneath paintings which are part of the exhibition 'Chelsea visits Havana,' in Havana March 24, 2009. The work of more than 30 U.S. artists representing New York City's Chelsea district will be displayed March 28 through May 17. REUTERS/Enrique De La Osa
— image credit: Reuters

By Rosa Tania Valdes

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba on Saturday opened its first big group exhibit of American art since the 1980s amid hopes it would inspire better relations between the United States and the communist-run island.

The show "Chelsea visits Havana" presents works from more than 30 artists representing New York City's Chelsea district and includes paintings, photographs, sculptures, installations and videos.

"Incredibly, we did it. I think it's an incredible first step," said Alberto Magnan, principal curator and a Cuban-American who owns a Chelsea art gallery.

The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama "did not impede the show and I hope that when he sees this it will inspire him to do something" to improve U.S.-Cuba relations, Magnan said.

Obama has said he would ease a 47-year-old trade embargo against Cuba and take steps toward normalizing relations with the island just 90 miles from Florida.

The embargo, which was tightened under former U.S. President George W. Bush, has prevented much interchange between the countries. Vice President Joe Biden said at a meeting in Chile on Saturday that Washington would not lift the embargo.

The last large U.S. group exhibit in Cuba was presented in 1986.

The current show includes a piece called "Castrobama" by Padraig Tarrant that shows cutout profiles of Obama and former Cuban leader Fidel Castro facing each other.

Another, by Doug Young, is a sculpture of a desk used by U.S. military officers in charge of Titan II nuclear missiles during the Cold War.

Cubans attending the show, which is at Havana's Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes through May 17, said they were surprised that some of the works alluded to Cuban icons such as Castro and Ernesto "Che" Guevara, an Argentine who fought in the 1950s revolution that put Castro in power.

One of the pieces was a black-and-white jigsaw puzzle of Guevara's face.

"It's interesting because they haven't shown American art in Cuba since 1986. I've never seen in person anything by U.S. artists," said art history student Liliana Artiles.

Co-curator Abelardo Mena said the U.S. government had been very cooperative in getting the artworks to Cuba, which was a welcome change from the past.

"We hope they will continue doing that so that we can have new contacts and new interchanges," he said.

(Editing by Jeff Franks and Peter Cooney)

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