To say that I was getting bored with local art would be an understatement—it might also seem a tad bit dismissive, which to me is unacceptable. Boredom after all is a matter of taste still, which is not to say that mine is leveling up (or down, as the case may be) as it is to say that the redundancy of works has become more and more obvious the past three years or so, where the young(er) artists are being copied by the even young(er) artists, and the art that sells is being done over and over.
One would like to imagine that this is a matter of the market dictating what is created as art—one can’t fault artists for wanting to earn after all. But then again there are old(er) artists still doing “new” things—which is to say still engaging with nation through their art, changing as the landscape of nation is. Jose Tence Ruiz, Antipas Delotavo, Agnes Arellano, come to mind. They remind that commodification need not be the end all and be all.
The art fair conundrum
There is no greater indication of art’s commodification than the two art fairs in the country: ManilArt of the Bonafide Art Galleries Organization (BAGO) and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), and Art Fair Philippines of the trio of Trickie Lopa, Dindin Araneta, and Lisa Ongpin-Periquet.
A major difference between the two is the fact that one has as co-organizer the NCCA, a government institution for culture, and the other is a private enterprise. That does demand of us to be more critical of ManilArt, because that is public money after all, spent on mounting an art fair that has as primary task the selling of art: getting galleries to pay an amount for a stall at the fair, which ensures for them and the artists they carry a sale or 10. It’s a win-win-win situation.
Except that one does wonder why the NCCA is working with gallery owners at all, given that these are already people who have the capital to invest in art. One would like to think that the NCCA could do better than to mount art fairs. On the other hand, my tendency is to demand for more transparency as far as expenses and earnings are concerned, and then ask how exactly the NCCA disburses funds as it is tasked to give grants to local artists and their projects.
My bigger issue is NCCA’s aesthetic predisposition towards certain works and artists, and how this is removed from the kinds of creativities that exist, disenfranchising artists who might want to go beyond the aesthetics of commodified art and artmaking.
#ManilArt2015 and the ‘new’
Although if there is anything that I appreciated about Manila Art this year, it’s that I walked in there and found unfamiliar galleries carrying works I would otherwise not get to see.
Azor Pazcoguin’s works (Artery Manila) were a breath of fresh air, hyperrealist renditions of work and labor as symbolized by objects: an apron with a Starbucks logo, a typewriter. I would’ve wanted to be served it without the accompanying poetry though, which would’ve made it more powerful as a statement on capitalism and consumption.
Tebs Gomez’s works (Ysobel Art Gallery) were curated against another artist’s colorful (forgettable) paintings, which made the animal heads and horns even more haunting. Up close each head was intricately carved with whimsical details, the irony so in your face as you’re drawn towards the dead, skinned animal’s head.
Daniel dela Cruz’s sculptures (371 Art Space) were also such a welcome up-yours to the more famous and now repetitive Michael Cacnio sculptures that have lost its edge, now looking like nothing but vignettes about nation, like pretty sculptural postcards of nation that appeal to tourists, if not to the nostalgia of the elite for the simplicity of childhood.
Dela Cruz’s sculptures does one (10!) over Cacnio as he portrays children’s play with the truths of our contemporary existence: a tug of war with barbed wire, a skeleton teaching a kid how to shoot with gun fingers, a kid playing with tanks that have “killed” a doll fallen on one side, a kid playing on a noose, unable to get down.
Honesto Guiruela’s “Sagot sa Dayo” (Artepintura Gallery) is a small sculpture of shanties, one on top of another, crowded the way we know them to be so, refusing the tendency at whimsy and cuteness despite its size, given the magnitude of its statement about urban migration and poverty, development and need.
Before changing the system
And then one realizes that one can’t blame artists for not taking a stand against art fairs. After all they have a bigger chance at sales in spaces like this one, no matter who organizes it. It is also an easier way to be considered as “established” artist, without having to do press releases or getting an art critic or academic to praise your work.
Here, in this art fair, across all these galleries that are not the usual ones we see in Manila, there’s still a sense that one has a fighting chance amidst all the more famous names and sought-after artists. And maybe until we have the balls to change the system, well, getting more artists earning from their works, is enough reason to keep going.