Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Behold, Thou Art Fair

by Sam Marcelo
Originally published in Businessworld, July 15, 2009

Despite staring down the throat of a recession, 40 brave galleries will participate in Manilart 09, the first international art fair to be held in the Philippines.

FLOWERS by Isabel Diaz is one of the paintings that are for sale at Manilart 09

"It may not be the best time, but we have to be courageous. We cannot hold back — everything will collapse if everybody runs scared," said Galleria Duemila owner Silvana Diaz, one of the last gallerists to sign up for a booth owing to her visit to the Venice Biennale.

Over 500 works, mostly new, from around 300 artists — among them masters like Benedicto "Bencab" Cabrera, Arturo Luz, Federico Aguilar-Alcuaz, Juvenal Sanso, Ramon Orlina, and Michael Cacnio and emerging talents like Marcel Antonio, Buen Abrigo, Anthony Palo, Farley del Rosario, Ruel Obemio and Camille Ver — will be featured in a single venue.

Galleries from Manila, Baguio, Bacolod, and Dumaguete will represent the Philippines while two galleries from Malaysia and Singapore will lend the event a regional flair.

Jonathan Sy, director of the P5-million project and foun-der of Bonafide Art Galleries Organization, said that contemporary art in the Philippines has remained vibrant despite the downturn.

"Galleries have grown in number and in size — spaces that used to be in the malls have moved into large warehouses because of their success in the international market," he said, citing the recent triumphs of Geraldine Javier, Nona Garcia, Ronald Ventura and Rodel Tapaya at auctions held by Christie’s and Sotheby’s.

"There’s been an acceptance of the diversity and talent of the Filipino artists, who count among the best when it comes to concept. They might not be as skilled as their regional counterparts but their ideas are very original," he said.

He added that the glut of condominium units with bare walls waiting to be furnished — a consequence of the real estate boom that preceded the crisis — has generated a lot of opportunities for artists.

Manilart 09, modeled after art fairs in Hong Kong and Singapore, presents a unique opportunity for collectors. Galleries were screened beforehand to make sure that no artist is represented in more than one booth and owners themselves had to be highly discriminating in deciding who to show, given the competition.

Ms. Diaz, for example, is banking on her 35 years of experience in the art world.

"I have an eye for art and I’m very sure of my artists. I believe that they are extremely good. If the public does not share my point of view then it’s a loss for them. At the same time, this is also a chance for me to learn and see new ideas."

Since everyone is vying for the attention of buyers, Mr. Sy said that the fair represents the "best of the best."

"Let’s say you have P50,000 — you can shop around and make sure that you get your money’s worth. You don’t even have to go around the entirety of Manila since all the prestigious galleries with integrity are going to be at the fair," he said.

Mr. Sy estimates an attendance of 10,000 visitors over a period of three days, a number that he hopes will increase to the hundred thousands (similar to tallies at car shows) at succeeding Manilart events. "Even if people have no intention to buy, they should come to enjoy and see what’s happening. This is our culture and our pride — our art is who we are," he said.

Manilart 09 will also feature free seminars: "Trends in Philippine Contemporary Art" by Prof. Ma. Corazon Hila, Chairman, Department of Theory, UP College of Fine Arts, Diliman and "Building an Art Collection" by Dr. Jaime Laya, former Finance Minister and Central Bank Governor on Friday; and "Appreciating Philippine Contemporary Art Today" by Cid Reyes, veteran art critic and visual artist and "Introduction to Preventive Conservation" by Ma. Genylyn Yusi, painting conservator and chairman of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts Committee on Galleries on Saturday.

Other activities include the Manilart Auction, organized by Vita Sarenas of Finale Art File; Looking for Juan in Art and Rakenrol, a mini-concert featuring Peryodiko and Loquy; an art raffle by Delan Robillos of CANVAS and 1/of Gallery on Saturday; and "Oriental Strokes," a Chinese painting demonstration by art teacher Haw Chok on Sunday.

Contemporary Art Philippines Magazine will also be launched on Friday.

Participating galleries include 1/of Gallery, ArtAsia, Art Circle, Art Informal, Art Verite, Artes Orientes, Blanc Art Space, Boston Gallery, City Gallery, Choice Expression, e Galerie, Finale Art File, Galerie Astra, Galerie Francesca, Galerie Joaquin, Galerie Stephanie, Galerie Y, Gallery BiG, Gallery Genesis, Gallery Nine, Kaida Gallery, Kulay-Diwa, Linda Gallery, Manila Contemporary Gallery, Mariyah Gallery, Masterpiece Gallery, Metro Gallery, my little art place, Nicolas, Paseo Art Gallery, Phinma Gallery, QuattroCento, Renaissance Art, Ricco-Renzo Galleries, Silverlens, Tam-awan, The Artesan, Village Art Gallery and Whitewall Gallery.

MANILART 09 will be held from July 16 to 19 at the NBC Tent, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig. Tickets are at P200. Students and senior citizens with valid IDs can get a 50% discount. For details, call 531-6231, 0917-8511333 or visit

Artwork above: CRAWLING MAN by Thirteen Artists 2009 Awardee Buen Calubayan, one of the artists represented by 1/of Gallery at Manilart 2009.

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