Art Basel in Miami Beach is one of the premier events in the contemporary art world. Every year, it offers a platform to international galleries and both renowned and emerging artists. Ella Fontanals-Cisneros—founder of the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation (CIFO) and an influential art collector whose vision over decades has brought Latin American art into prominence worldwide—wanted to use that platform to bridge a gap and showcase contemporary abstract art in the U.S. rarely seen outside Cuba.
“There was an important movement of Latin American abstraction…The art that was being made in the ’50s in Cuba was, I would say, the same as something that was happening in Paris,” says Fontanals-Cisneros. “This needs to be seen and this needs to be part of history.’”
This was the inspiration behind CIFO’s Triángulo exhibit, featuring the works of three Cuban abstract artists: Loló Soldevilla, Sandu Darie, and Carmen Herrera. But Darie’s works, in particular, posed a challenge because they were either too large or too fragile to move from Cuba. Fontanals-Cisneros reached out to Microsoft to find a solution via technology—and the result was Sandu Darie: An Immersive Experience, a mixed reality experience that recreated Darie’s works as holograms viewable through the HoloLens and the new Windows Mixed Reality headsets.
What made this project so difficult was the scale and environmental nature of the art. Darie’s sculptural mural El Dia y La Noche fills the vestibule of a hospital, while the sculptural ensemble Construcciones is located at a popular intersection in Havana. In order to reproduce these works in mixed reality, photographers and drones captured high-definition images across every angle that were then used to create the 3D objects and their environments.
The resulting mixed reality experience broke down barriers in the art community, giving anyone the ability to see the awe and splendor of Darie’s art, once only available to those living in Cuba. Similarly, Cuban visitors to the exhibit who long ago left the country were able to re-experience iconic works of art they never thought they’d see again. And viewers across the board got a unique perspective they likely wouldn’t be able to get even up close or in person.
“One of the pieces I’m particularly fond of was designed to be moved. But because of its fragility and its location, it’s not actually moved very often,” said Lourdes Orive, Senior Director of Microsoft Mixed Reality Studios. “Because of our ability to recreate it as a hologram, we’re actually able to show it moving, and you can experience it fully in the way that the artist most likely intended.”
Microsoft re-created one of Sandu Darie’s works (Untitled, c. 1960s-1970s, from the Estructuras Transformables series) for the HoloLens to showcase its kinetic movements that were—up until now—off limits to the public due to the piece’s delicate nature.
“Our generation is used to coming to the museums and seeing things on the wall,” says Ella Fontanals-Cisneros, founder of the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation (CIFO) . “The new generation wants to experience things—be hands on.”
Darie’s sculptural mural El Dia y la Noche (1982) is located in the hospital vestibule of Hermanos Ameijeiras, Havana. It was reproduced for the HoloLens using photographs that capture the art from every angle and a process called photogrammetry.
Darie’s environmental sculpture Arbol Rojo (1981) is located in Palacio de Pioneros Ernesto Guevara, Parque Lenin, Havana. The “red tree,” which produces a melodic sound when moved by the air, was also recreated for the HoloLens.
Viewers were also able to experience Darie’s Construcciones (1977), located at the popular intersection of Cuatro Caminos in Havana. It is one component of a series of three sculptures in the same area.
“One of the basic goals of our exhibition is to help people know a little more about Cuban art, specifically."
Elsa Vega, CIFO Curator
Beyond giving attendees a better glimpse of the artwork itself, curator Elsa Vega hopes the exhibit will also promote a broader understanding of Cuban culture and art.
“Up until a few years ago, nobody would have imagined that this type of art, of this quality, would have arisen in Cuba at an international level,” says Vega. “One of the basic goals of our exhibition is to help people know a little more about Cuban art, specifically.”
And ultimately, Sandu Darie: An Immersive Experience has the potential to cross not only international boundaries, but generational ones as well.
“Our generation is used to coming to the museums and seeing things on the wall,” says Fontanals-Cisneros. “The new generation wants to experience things.”