Ohio real estate developer Ron Pizzuti might not wait until May for his next trip to Cuba for an art biennial. A quick visit in January may be in order “to get the lay of the land” before the hungry crowd swoops in, he said.

Pizzuti, 74, owns about 100 Cuban artworks and last year opened a private museum in Columbus with an inaugural exhibit devoted to artists from the Communist country. He has paid $5,000 to $200,000 in the past six years for works by artists including Enrique Martinez Celaya.

“I see prices rising as artists get more exposure,” said Pizzuti, who, with his wife, Ann, has built a collection of 2,000 contemporary works over 40 years. “That’s good for them, but not good for me. But that’s inevitable when a new market opens up.”

With news that the U.S. will establish diplomatic ties and ease economic barriers with Cuba, the art world is looking at the nation about 90 miles (145 kilometers) off the coast of Florida as the next hot market. The expansion of private wealth has boosted the number of collectors, who in turn have fueled art prices. In two weeks of auctions in New York last month, a record $2.3 billion of art was sold.

Thawed relations “will have a huge impact because Cuba was a limited market in terms of who got to see the art from the Chelsea and Miami scene,” said Alberto Magnan, the Cuba-born founder and co-owner of Magnan Metz, a gallery in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. “That number now will become huge.”

Easier Travel

With President Barack Obama’s surprise policy shift allowing U.S. companies to do business in Cuba after a more than 50-year embargo, travel restrictions will be eased and U.S. financial institutions can open accounts with Cuban banks. American visitors will be allowed to bring back as much as $100 of Cuban cigars.

Americans have been able to get around the U.S. embargo and bring artworks back legally because those items are classified as cultural assets. U.S. collectors had traveled to the country on educational or humanitarian trips. They also joined curators or gallery dealers who received travel licenses from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.

Cuba should brace for a rush of collectors, said Magnan, who has taken Americans to Havana for years to look at and buy paintings and sculptures. Magnan said he fielded at least 25 calls from collectors within 24 hours of Obama’s Dec. 17 announcement. Their goal is to acquire works by emerging artists before they are discovered and their prices rise.

“They want to go to Cuba before things change further,” said Magnan, who represents Cuban artists including Alexandre Arrechea, Roberto Diago and Glenda Leon. “So I’m basically in Havana for the coming year.”

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