The Cuban government bans the sale and export of antiques. Hence, there are no stores selling antiques to tourists. Fortunately, there are an abundance of galleries and markets that feature handmade items and artworks, from souvenir-style trinkets and kitsch to collectible pieces.
Habana ViejaThe private galleries of artists are your best source for really good art bought at the source.The city’s largest market is the Centro Cultural Almacenes de San José (Av. Desamparados at San Ignacio, tel. 07/864-7793, daily 10am-6pm), on the waterfront side of the Alameda and a.k.a. Feria de la Artesanía, selling everything from little ceramic figurines, miniature bongo drums, and papier-mâché 1950s autos to banana-leaf hats, crocheted bikinis, straw hats, and paintings. It has an Agencia San Cristóbal (tel. 07/864-7784) travel agency, Etecsa office with Internet, plus cafés and restaurants.
Habana Vieja contains dozens of galleries, many selling naíve works by the artists themselves; these galleries, called expo-ventas (commercial galleries representing freelance artists), concentrate along Calle Obispo. The Asociación Cubana de Artesana Artistas (Obispo #411, tel. 07/860-8577, Mon.-Sat. 10am-8pm, Sun. 10am-6pm) represents various artists.
One of the best galleries is Galería La Acacia (San José #114, e/ Industria y Consulado, tel. 07/863-9364, Mon.-Sat. 9am-5pm), selling artwork of international standard by many of Cuba’s leading artists. Similar pieces can be found at Galería Victor Manuel (San Ignacio #46, e/ Callejón del Chorro y Empedrado, tel. 07/861-2955, daily 10am-9pm), on the west side of Plaza de la Catedral. Around the corner is the Taller Experimental de la Gráfica (Callejón del Chorro, tel. 07/867-7622, Mon.-Fri. 9am-4pm), a cooperative that makes and sells exclusive lithographic prints.
You can buy handmade Spanish fans (abanicos) for CUC2-150 at the Casa del Abanicos (Obrapía #107, e/ Mercaderes y Oficios, tel. 07/863-4452, Mon.-Sat. 10am-7pm and Sun. 10am-1pm).
The Tienda El Soldadito de Plano (Muralla #164, tel. 07/866-0232, Mon.-Fri. 9am-5pm, Sat. 9am-1:30pm) sells miniature lead (!) soldiers, including a 22-piece War of Independence collection, for CUC5.45 apiece.
The private galleries of artists are your best source for really good art bought at the source. Try Estudio-Taller Ribogerto Mena (Calle San Ignacio #154 e/ Obispo y Obrapía, tel. 07/867-5884) or Taller La 6ta Puerta (Calle Oficios #6 esq. Obispo, tel. 07/860-6866), the gallery of Angel Ramírez.
This area doesn’t abound with galleries. An exception is Galería Galiano (Galiano e/ Concordia y Neptuno, tel. 07/860-0224, daily 9am-9pm), with works by top artists.
Vedado and Plaza de la Revolución
Vedado has an artisans’ market on La Rampa (e/ M y N, daily 8am-6pm).
The Casa de las Américas (Av. de los Presidentes, esq. 3ra, tel. 07/55-2706, Mon.-Fri. 8am-4:45pm) hosts exhibitions with works for sale.
Servando Galería de Arte (Calle 23, esq. 10, tel. 07/830-6150) represents some of the top artists in Cuba. And for beautiful evocations of Cuban landscapes check out Estudio de Mario García Portela (Calle 17 #815 e/ 2 y 4, Vedado, tel. 07/836-0425).
Playa (Miramar and Beyond)
Two of my favorite art galleries are Estudio-Galería Flora Fong (Calle 11 #4212 e/ 42 y 44, Playa, tel. 07/204-9543) and Lighthouse Studio (Av. 47 #3430 e/ 34 y 41, Kohly, tel. 07/206-5772 or 5281-6686), displaying the works of Karir López-Nieves.
For iconic one-of-a-kind prints signed by world-renowned photographer Roberto Salas, head to his Galería Robert Salas (Calle 30 #3709 e/ 37 y 39, tel. 07/206-5213), where he signs iconic images of Cuba during the past 50 years.
A visit to Casa-Estudio de José Fuster (Calle 226, esq. Av. 3ra, tel. 07/271-2932 or cell 5281-5421, daily 9am-5pm) is a must while in Havana, regardless of whether you buy or not. The “Picasso of the Caribbean” sells ceramics from CUC25 up, and main art pieces sell for CUC150 into the thousands.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Havana.