If you think you’ll probably not get to visit Cuba in person, but you remain curious, you can substitute a “next best thing” right here in the Galveston-Houston area by visiting the Houston Museum of Fine Arts exhibit of Cuban art through May 21.

“This exhibit illustrates the length of time between utopia and dystopia,” summarized one organizer.

“It is the first large exhibit of Cuban art in the United States since 1959”, said Gary Tinterow, MFAH director. The debut is in Houston.

Cuba, largely closed to tourists for decades — recently more open to tourists — is transitioning to one of the most popular destinations. I visited Cuba in March 2011.

What is unique about this politically compelling exhibit is that the art displayed is not just “art” presented in a sociopolitical vacuum. ”It is a deconstruction of the cult of the Revolution. It tracks a chapter (in history) that has not been known in America for five or six decades,” said one organizer.

“The Revolution (in Cuba) was fraught with ultimate failures, but it also produced great art,” observed Cuban-born Ella Fontanals-Cisneros who was instrumental in bringing the art to Houston.

The art itself and the arrangement of the exhibit pieces into a series of “themed clusters,” deliberately tracks and reflects the political journey of Cuban leaders, and the Cuban people. In date-framed sequences, the exhibit explores the Cuban visual artists’ metamorphosis from “exalting (the Revolution) to be extremely critical (of the Revolution)” explained Cisneros.

Cisneros, called by friends “the absolute godmother of this exhibit,” Olga Viso, executive director of the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, and Mari Carmen Ramirez, an MFAH curator, are three women whose perseverance and passion birthed the engaging presentation.

“At first artists participated in the euphoria, with iconic images of the revolutionaries,” Cisneros explained using one themed cluster. “But as the revolution turned away from revolution, they (the artists) exposed the contradictions of the government. Artists go from exalting to being extremely critical — (often) using humor and parody.”

Her voice sometimes quavering with emotion, Cisneros told how, when returning to Cuba after several years of revolution, she was “devastated.” Cisneros describes artists who struggled “with no materials and no one to purchase their art. We had no one to tell our story,” she added.

Now that story is being told through art — with historical insight and flair — like a book you can’t put down, or a movie where you can’t take your eyes off the screen.

On Thursdays, admission is free. Children 12 and younger are never charged admission.

The Cuban artists exhibit moves to Minneapolis in November, the only other American venue.

Janice Law is a columnist for The Daily News. Have a travel question? Email janice.law@galvnews.com.

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