It sure feels heartening to witness big business come to the support of the visual arts. Last weekend, the Ateneo Art Gallery formally unveiled an awesome addition to its already fabulous collection: Alfredo + Isabel Aquilizan’s Mabini Art Project: 100 Paintings. Security Bank acquired the piece for the university museum, a special project to celebrate the bank’s 60th anniversary. This is not the first time that Security Bank has come out for the arts. For the past three years, they have been one of major sponsors of Art In The Park, the annual project of the Museum Foundation of the Philippines.
Freddie and Isabel Aquilizan are Filipino artists currently based in Australia. They travel the globe mounting their work for institutions and art events. They call their pieces projects, as they work on open-ended premises that evolve over time. The Mabini Art Project is a commentary on the status conferred to artists and paintings found in the tourist belt of downtown Manila, a district within the environs of Mabini Street. The pieces found here cater to the tourist trade; paintings are usually of tropical vistas, most of them of the famous Manila Bay sunset framed by coconut trees.
For 100 paintings, Freddie and Isabel sought to transform a large-scale oil on canvas piece by Antonio Calma, a Mabini painter. They cut it up into 100 various-sized rectangles, and had each of these framed. By doing so, they have bestowed a cachet of legitimacy, of respectability, to each of the pieces. The frames do more than provide wooden casings to the now small-scale paintings. Like crowns, the frames have elevated them into the annals of contemporary, i.e., serious, art. Indeed, in this particular instance, the sum of the piece’s parts is worth more than the whole.
The exhibit also includes other pieces that belong to Mabini Art Project, works kept by Freddie and Isabel for their private collection, or those still with The Drawing Room, the gallery that represents them. Just as in 100 Paintings, the other pieces demonstrate how the Aquilizans’ manipulations have altered our perceptions of these pedestrian works. Through the artists’ interference, they have been gentrified.
A magnifying glass held aloft a minute painting invites us to come closer and examine the bull’s eye painted over the original in Target. In Dawn to Dusk and Sunrise to Sunset, the artists have converted these ubiquitous paintings into sculptures simply by arranging them in stacks atop wooden plinths. They have also been made into video art. Seascape takes off from 100 Paintings: another large canvas has been chopped up, the resulting smaller pieces individually framed, then put back together to reform one big piece, albeit one totally different from the original.
Security Bank deserves a big thank you from Manila’s art lovers for this very generous gift. Congratulations to the Ateneo Art Gallery! This should be a good time to remind alumni and other university benefactors: the gallery deserves just as much attention as the basketball team. Its collection is worth more than a dozen championships!
Mabini Art Project may be viewed at the Ateneo Art Gallery, Rizal Library Special Collections Bldg, Ateneo de Manila University, Katipunan Road, Loyola Heights, Quezon City. Phone (632) 426-6488 or visit http://www.ateneoartgallery.org
Thank you to Security Bank, the Ateneo Art Gallery, and to The Drawing Room for the installation photos on this post.