Disrespecting art spectatorship by way of ‘Loom’



There are few artists whose exhibits I continue to look forward to—not at all a measure of who is exciting at any given point in time, as it is a measure (of course!) of my taste, personal and subjective as that is.

I’m also pretty sure that there are many artists whose exhibitions I have missed, based solely on the logistical nightmare of traveling this city to visit galleries—there was a time I could get on the train and go to all the galleries in Makati on one day, and then do the rounds of the QC exhibitions another day. With the current state of public transport and traffic, that is just impossible.

Untitled landscapes
Which brings me to Loom by Zean Cabangis, which ran at Art Informal last month, and which I did not want to miss and was finally getting to see on its last day—better late than never, right?

Wrong. By the time I got there, it was obvious that the gallery was ready to close it down.

There was some kind of construction happening outside, they refused to turn on the aircon, and the heat was unbearable. All of it would’ve been fine, except that there was also the stench of paint, or varnish, or whatever it was they were doing that day.
There were no apologies.

Zean Cabangis, 2016, Titles Not Available

Zean Cabangis, 2016, Titles Not Available

The exhibit was thankfully still up, and as I looked through the works, taking photos, I realized that none of them had titles—which is strange for an artist like Cabangis, whose body of work is of familiar landscapes and sights, rendered unfamiliar by layers of color, geometric shapes, cubes and prisms and grids. The controlled hand that makes these uncanny images—like contemporary collages—has always fascinated, where there is a sense of melancholia achieved in each work, that is a delicate balance between what is lost in those layers, and what remains despite these.

Specifically for the works in Loom there is a playfulness as well, where static everyday spaces seem to undergo a remapping, where the layers of shapes and grids, lines and color, force the eye to follow the reconfigured depth and breadth of the original landscapes.

It was still a lot of really good work for sure: but without those titles, one is not given a map upon which to base one’s spectatorship of the exhibition and its individual works.

What is there to hide?
When I asked about those titles, I was given the catalogue that was inside the gallery’s office—not at all readily available by the guest book. As I started taking photos of the catalogue’s pages: I was told it was not allowed—a surprise, because I’ve never been disallowed before. Was it for fear of documenting how much they were selling the works? But what would I be doing with that information, really?

The distrust was unnerving.

2-Zean-Cabangis,-2016,-Title-Not-AvailableBut I was there, and I was there for Cabangis’s works. In one of the second floor rooms was a display of 100 works, like miniature versions of the artist’s uncanny landscapes, this time actual collages—at least as far as I could tell. I could only spend time looking at few of the works, as the stench of paint or varnish was horrible in this room, and the gallery people refused to open the one door that would’ve let the air in from the outside.

As I stepped outside, the other room was closed to the public, which was a disconcerting because it was there that the work Loom stood.

Ah, but the work had been sold, we were told, and was going through treatment before being shipped to the owner.

Unmanned galleries

Ah, but it gets worse.

Here, said the gallery person, this is a bit of that work, she said, pointing to an installation about a foot high, standing one corner of the second floor landing, amidst a furniture set that—oh by the way! That’s for sale, too!

I kept asking questions about the installation, which carries the title of the exhibit itself, in hopes of being allowed to see the real thing in the other room. But nothing. There weren’t even any apologies.

Instead I was being told to take this girl’s word for it: it’s just like this foot-high cut plywood in bright acrylic colors, she said, just higher.

Eight feet by four feet to be exact, standing in one corner of a dark room painted black.
So no: none of it is the same.

I couldn’t help but feel duped. Sure it was the last day, but if someone can’t see all of the works anymore, why not close it down altogether? To be told that this fraction of the major installation stands for the real thing just adds insult to injury: it misunderstands art spectatorship, and is really an injustice to the artist and the work he does.

More than anything though it is telling of how the business of art is at the point when it cares little for spectators and reviews and critics, because selling matters more, yes?
I have a sinking feeling though that it has been like this all this time.


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