I never thought I’d wish Manila Contemporary had more space. But when an exhibit like Monumental comes along, even the vast proportions of Metro Manila’s most capacious gallery seems crowded.
The show brings together most of the superstars of the Salingpusa and Sanggawa artist collectives, the group that exhibited regularly in Boston and Hiraya galleries in the late 1990s and early 2000s. They collaborated on several murals, now considered seminal social commentaries of those times. It seems only fitting that Valentine Willie, who first introduced the group to the Southeast Asian market, hosts this exhibit at the Philippine branch of his gallery network.
Elmer Borlongan, Mark Justiniani, Joy Mallari, Ferdie Montemayor, and Jose John Santos III join Plet Bolipata, Antipas Delotavo, Alfredo Esquillo Jr., Maya Muñoz, and Mike Adrao in a show of larger-than-life paintings. Each work measures from 12 to 15 feet long. And while I thought the show would have been tighter if it had been built around a concept other than just scale, I can appreciate the appeal of the works on view. The exhibit celebrates some of our most noted contemporary painters, guaranteed to please a broad segment of the city’s art lovers.
Of the ten pieces on view, I felt that Elmer Borlongan’s Pag-ahon truly rose to the occasion. Emong didn’t settle for simply bringing out a larger version of his everyday vignettes. He understood that a mural necessitates the use of scale, and perhaps a little drama, to make a visual statement. His mannered rendition of a dozen men laboring to pull a boat to shore had to have been this size. His composition makes even more of an impact due to its simplicity. This piece deserves its own wall. If it had been the only piece in the entire exhibit, one could still call the show Monumental.
For Biboy Delotavo, works of this size are the norm rather than the exception. White Lead revisits the false benevolence accorded to Filipinos more than 100 years ago by American invaders, effects of which still plague us today. John Santos proves he is the master of photorealism in Oil Spill, a piece where his gargantuan, precise rendition of a taped photo of a spilt bottle of sardines recalls man-made disasters. This one alludes to last year’s British Petroleum leak in the Gulf of Mexico. The decapitated sliver of fish could very well have been part of the marine life wiped out by the spill. Plexiglass fabricated as a slop of oil on the floor completes the trompe l’oeil effect in 3D.
Alfredo Esquillo delivers a duly terrifying version of Judgement Day, an oil on rubber triptych finished with the superior workmanship that he has made his trademark. Joy Mallari employs a familiar device for Litanya. She combines texts and portraits in the manner of a giant crossword puzzle to complete the lyrics to Lupang Hinirang, our National Anthem. The exhibit notes describe Mark Justiniani’s Mining Mime Fields as a “…composite image on reflective, wavering surface…founded on thoughts about painting’s mimetic nature.”
Ferdie Montemayor and Maya Muñoz both paint imaginary places. Ferdie’s crowded spherical cityscape, Amen, presents a sharp contrast to Maya’s non-figurative evocation of a specific spot on earth. Here On Earth, 14˚ 30.2034’N lat, 121˚ 2.1055’ lon E (32˚C 70% humidity) plots the particular point in which this painting had been made.
Plet Bolipata’s piece showcases her ever-present joie de vivre. My Boat Is Diagonally Parked In A Parallel Universe is composed of an oil on collage diptych and one of her mosaic sculptures. I’ve always enjoyed her three-dimensional mosaics. This one—an embellished true-to-size banca with metal versions of the owl and the pussycat playfully bisected by a see-saw— is one of her best.
Mike Adrao, a relative newbie to the art scene, held his own alongside the more well-known painters. His charcoal on paper triptych Altar (Pyramid Babel, And The Word Is Made Flesh, Tumor) brought out his superb technical skills. By using the details of a dollar bill as a base, he questions faith amidst the presence of material wealth. Although this piece may come off as a tad too complicated, it should be exciting to see where Mike takes his practice from hereon.
MM Yu peppers the walls of the gallery’s secondary space, in the upper floor, with photos documenting the monumental work involved in putting the paintings together. Her photographs make a wonderful show on their own, capturing intimate details and profiling the artists at work as only MM can. Visitors should not miss this part of the show!
Monumental runs from 14 to 29 May 2011 at Manila Contemporary, Whitespace, 3214 Pasong Tamo Extension, Makati City. Phone (632) 8447328 or visit http://www.manilacontemporary.com