The Gables Art Galleries

The Educator 

Ramon Cernuda wants to explain as well as curate the experience of Cuban art.

At any given time, the twin buildings on Ponce de Leon Boulevard that comprise Cernuda Arte are showcasing multiple exhibits of Cuban art, mostly paintings with some sculpture. Currently, the gallery is showing works by the top 12 artists who initiated the modernist movement in Cuba, painters who were born between 1890 and 1905. Simultaneously, the gallery is exhibiting works by Wifredo Lam – the most famous of those modernists – from his “mature” period, the last 20 years of his life. 

“We try to make it a very educational experience when visitors come to the gallery, because we think of a gallery as more than just a store that sells art products. It’s a cultural entity that has a role to play in that regard in the community,” says gallery owner Ramon Cernuda. “We treat everyone who comes to the gallery as equally important, even if they are not here to buy.” 

Gables Art Galleries: Cernuda Arts
Gallery Owner Ramon Cernuda Has Been at the Same Location on Ponce De Leon Boulevard Since 1999

In furtherance of that didactic goal, Cernuda publishes catalogues of Important Cuban Artworks (the most recent is volume 18) and includes substantial information about the artists and their “trajectory,” on the walls adjacent to their work. 

Cernuda has been at same location (3155 Ponce) since 1999, where he has exhibited exclusively Cuban art ever since. He purchased the first of the two gallery buildings a year later and the second one six years ago, one of the reasons he has been able to remain in the Gables where rising rents have sent other galleries to places like Wynwood and Little Haiti in search of cheaper digs. 

Even though he enjoys his location in the Gables, however, Cernuda says he does not rely on “walk-in” clients. “I like being in Coral Gables, but our success has not been dependent on that,” says Cernuda, now recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on Cuban art. “We’ve always done well, even during Covid, because we have a strong clientele that comes to the gallery throughout the year. We focus on building art collections and not just selling a painting here and there. We have created a body of clientele.” 

Cernuda himself is an avid collector, whose home is an addendum of his gallery – or possibly the other way around. “I love the arts and it’s a passion,” he says. “My wife and I started collecting art right out of college, so the running of a gallery is an extension of our passion for the arts.” 

As for the future, after a long absence from the First Friday Gallery Night in the Gables, Cernuda is returning this month (May). “We stopped doing Friday nights because attendance started dropping dramatically once the pandemic began,” he says. “It was difficult because our clientele takes good care of themselves and didn’t mess around with Covid.” 

Now, lovers of Cuban art can once again visit to see such masters as Lam, Amelia Pelaez, Victor Manuel, René Portocarrero, and Carlos Enriquez – along with contemporary Cuban artists about whom Cernuda is happy to educate you. – By JP Faber

From the Americas

At the Americas Collection, the idea is to match the patron to the artwork.

Ponce de Leon Boulevard, as it runs south between Bird Road and San Lorenzo, is not exactly a center for the arts. Once part of the city’s warehouse district, it’s now anchored on Bird by the fortress-like Collection car dealership and on San Lorenzo by the three-story Nordstrom department store, itself part of the Shops at Merrick Park that opened in 2002. In between lie interior design stores, a bank, a piano outlet, an office building, and a fashion shop, among others, but only one art gallery. 

That gallery, the Americas Collection, arrived nearly 10 years ago, relocating from its original address on Ponce and Andalusia (where Bulla restaurant is now), in search of more affordable space. When downtown rent costs escalated and Gables galleries were driven out to more affordable areas like Wynwood (now itself pricing out galleries), the Americas Collection managed to stay firmly planted on Ponce by purchasing the space back when the area was still known as the industrial zone of the Gables. 

The Americas Collection Is Run by Silvia Ortiz, Whose Family Founded the Gallery in 1991

“Our heart was always here,” says Silvia Ortiz, whose family founded the gallery back in 1991. “We always believed in our city. There was practically nothing around here, but this became a cultural design corridor.” Among her neighbors now are showrooms for Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting, Victoria’s Armoire, Snaidero USA, Modo Furniture, Miele, Iberia Tiles, Studio Becker, and Filomena Fernandez fashions; the nearest other gallery, however, is Cernuda on Ponce and San Sebastian, a good quarter mile away. 

The Americas Collection showcases primarily Latin American art, like the whimsical clouds of Coral Gables local Liv Dockerty or the flaring abstracts of Nicaraguan Norlan Santana. Most are paintings, but sculptures and photographs are also featured. They represent 16 artists exclusively, whose work ranges from $5,000 to $80,000 for better known artists like Chilean master Andrea Carreño. In addition, the gallery also works with secondary markets and private collectors for those wanting to invest in more exclusive works. 

Gables Art Galleries

“We do have a special focus on artists originally from Central and South America,” Ortiz says. “We want to showcase their talent and skill, the works that reflect personal experiences as well as appreciations of beauty and other topics. Art must speak to the eyes, to the heart, and to the mind. Art should touch our hearts because of its beauty and composition.” 

One of the gallery’s unique features is an online quiz that helps patrons find their perfect piece. First, you’ll identify your preferred style and medium of art, then the orientation, size, and your budget. You can even upload a photo of your wall so the Americas Collection can digitally “install” the artwork for you. Once you’ve fallen in love with the art, the gallery offers custom framing as well. 

While Gallery Nights in the Gables aren’t exactly what they used to be, Ortiz and her colleagues are still hopeful that they will make a comeback. “It’s not as before, with hundreds and hundreds of people,” she says, “but you do have quite a few. Back in the day, you used to sell art at the openings. Now, you have to create opportunities.” –By Kylie Wang

The Colors of Memory

The inspiration at the H. Benitez Fine Art Gallery comes from another place and time.

If you stroll down Aragon Ave, perhaps on your way to Books & Books or the Coral Gables Art Cinema, you’ll almost certainly no- tice a vividly painted violin in the window of a small storefront, snuggled between Pacific National Bank and 231 Salon. That violin and storefront belong to H. Benitez Fine Art Gallery, which moved there during the pandemic to exclusively showcase the work of Humberto Benitez, a Cuban-American artist known for his evocative use of col- or and striking subject matter. 

The gallery is a family affair, and on any given day all three members of the Benitez nuclear family are somewhere inside. Lisette, Humberto’s wife, and Jason, his son, handle most of the operations of the gallery, leaving the artist to work from his armchair in the back. The chair, covered in paint from top to bottom, is like a functioning piece of art itself, with one arm modified to act as the artist’s toolkit and palette. Over the years, the paint samples, layered one on top of another, have formed a brightly colored mound, a physical history of Benitez’s process, updated in real-time as he mixes and paints. 

Gables Art Galleries: H Benitez Fine Art Gallery
The Cuban-American artist Humberto Benitez Is Showcased at the Family Gallery on Aragon Ave.

Benitez does, in fact, grind his own pigments, oftentimes from off-the-shelf products he won’t reveal (trade secrets, of course). The effect, however, is knock-you-off-your-feet stunningly vivid colors that draw the eye to surrealist scenes of Cuba, typically featuring dancing women in long flowing dresses and men in wide-brimmed fedoras. Almost all the subjects in Benitez’s paintings have their faces covered by hats or turned down, away from the viewer’s eye. 

“The main reason is humility,” he explains. “I do portray the faces on the paintings that are religious. The second reason is that I want you to focus on that moment… what my piece is trying to tell you, the surroundings of it. I believe that once you put eyes on a piece, you’re going to focus on those [faces], and sometimes you forget what’s around it.

Benitez’s scenes come mostly from his childhood in Cuba, where he was born and raised until the age of nine in the small town of Guanajay, a farming community about half an hour west of Havana. He discovered painting at a young age, a few years before he immigrated to America, blending charcoal and red clay soil to create his first pigments. 

“To me, art is very spiritual,” Benitez says. “When I do a piece, I don’t pre-sketch any of the work. The canvas dictates the movement. My philosophy is that if you’re able to put into that canvas your passion, your truth, it will connect with somebody else.” 

This is certainly true of those who buy Benitez’s work, which is showcased everywhere from cruise ships to cafés, as well as in homes and at the gallery, which moved from the side of a paseo on Alacazar to its current storefront two years ago to increase visibility as more and more Coral Gables galleries fell off the map. Interested art lovers can find the H. Benitez Fine Art Gallery at 233 Aragon Ave. –By Kylie Wang