Article about Manila’s contemporary art!

Galleon Trade is thrilled to see writers discussing the Manila art scene! Gina Fairley does a good job encapsulating its recent history and current status.

(In reference to the article’s title, however, it’s hard to say whether “Filipino” art is about being urban: “Manila” art sure is, however. Galleon Trade will need to spend more time on some lovely non-urban beach, sipping a mango milkshake, and contemplating this prospect further.)

From Art Market:
Filipino art is about being urban, not Asian

By Gina Fairley | Posted 02 August 2007

SYDNEY. The Philippines is a country of contrasts. It is shackled by religion and government corruption, its mega-city Manila squeezed between shanty towns and skyscrapers. Historically, this clash has produced art with oppositional tendencies which caught the eye of international curators in the 1980s and early 90s.

In recent years though, the Philippines has slipped off the art world’s radar, viewed as less “Asian” than its neighbours. This oversight is partly due to over-zealous travel warnings, but even more to the physical impenetrability of Manila’s art scene, which is something of a labyrinth traversing the city, from Pasay’s galleries to Makati’s private museums, the art shops in Mandaluyong’s mega-mall to the artist-run spaces around the university belt of Cubao and Quezon City—not to mention the 7,000 islands. How does one get around the obstacle of geography to discover what is new in Filipino art?

Perhaps the most accurate barometer of current trends is provided by the country’s many competitions and awards: the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ (CCP) triennial Thirteen Artists Award, the Art Association Annual Competition and the Ateneo Art Award, now in its fourth edition and given to the best solo exhibition by a Filipino artist under 35. Last year’s winners for the latter prize were: Maya Muñoz’s psychological portraits in “Closer” at Hiraya Gallery in Manila; the compelling performance/installation Banquet by Mideo M. Cruz at the CCP; and Poklong Anading’s “Anonymity” at Finale gallery in Makati City, combining high and low technology in a comment on Filipino identity. This year’s winners are announced on 8 August.


Mideo M. Cruz’s performance Banquet. (photo: Gina Fairley)

Filipino art is about being urban, not Asian. Bembol dela Cruz’s technically adroit tattoo portraits exhibited at Future Prospects last year illustrate this perfectly. Subscribing to global design styles and grunge- glamour, they connect identity through body art and urban graffiti. Olan Ventura also paints with plastic perfection, inspired by Japanese manga comics. He is having his first international solo exhibition with Taksu Singapore this year. Together with other young artists breaking into the regional scene, such as Lena Cobangbang, Luisito Cordero, Jayson Oliveria and Wire Tuazon, they are shaping contemporary Filipino art.

At the same time, expatriate Filipinos who have been showing and producing work internationally are returning to engage in the local scene and exhibit work in Manila, including artists such as Manuel Ocampo, Paul Pfeiffer (who was born in Hawaii but raised in the Philippines), Alfredo Aquilizan, Maria Cruz and Alwin Reamillo.

The current art scene has evolved out of a succession of alternative spaces opened in the 1990s and run by artists educated in the post- Marcos era at the University of the Philippines and on large doses of Art in America. These include venues such as Third Space Art Laboratory, Surrounded By Water and Big Sky Mind. Now, a second generation of galleries have joined together over the last three years to form a group of venues loosely referred to as Cubao X, fusing graphic design, indie music and art.

With the closure in February of the key space Future Prospects, due to a major rent increase, these artist-run spaces have started to decentralise. Some say the scene has burnt-out. Another interpretation is that, as property developers swallow up alternative areas like Cubao, art centres are becoming more polished, globally focused ventures. In 2002, Ramon Lerma took over as director and chief curator of the Ateneo Art Gallery and organised the benchmark exhibition “Whitewash”. That same year, the independent artist-run space Green Papaya Art Project moved to a new venue in Quezon City and redefined itself as a savvy, professional art centre encouraging collaboration across all fields of the arts, with an in-house graphic design studio and an artist residency and exchange programme. Norberto Roldan of Green Papaya explains: “We are interested in how we can work as partners with the few professionally run galleries to create a new kind of arts management in this country.”

Who are those commercial partners? The serious contenders are Hiraya, Galleria Duemila in Pasay City, West Gallery in Quezon City, the Drawing Room and Finale both in Makati. They have survived despite a stifling local economy reliant on a small group of collectors and designers working with developers. For these galleries to grow, international exposure is vital.

Fortunately, the commercial sector is starting to expand: Galleria Duemila recently moved to a custom-built space; the Drawing Room has broadened its activities in the Region, opening a branch in Singapore and attending regional fairs; and galleries Finale and West continue to collaborate with Roberto Chabet, an artist and educator who has been influential in developing conceptual art in the Philippines, curating salon-style surveys of young artists.

Other Asian cities are also taking notice. Singapore’s Taksu and Hong Kong’s Osage galleries held shows in 2005 focusing on contemporary Filipino art, “Emerging Fires” and “Metropolitan Mapping” respectively, which could be viewed as an update on Valentine Willie Fine Arts’ (Malaysia) landmark show in 2000, “Faith +the City”.

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