The invitation said be there at six, and I thought I’d be fashionably late. I arrived close to seven pm, wondering if I could get away with not strictly following the Filipiniana dress code. I need not have stressed. I got there to find the venue in darkness, tons of people jostling about in the sidelines, trying to get past usherettes standing guard, preventing guests from crossing the red cordon that ringed the venue. Apparently, the ribbon had yet to be cut. Music blared from a stage at the far end where song and dance numbers were going on. Was this an art fair? The crowds could but peer at the pieces on display as tempers flared. Incredibly, this state of affairs continued for an hour and a half, until the last politician had given what sounded like filibuster from a privilege speech. Only then did the lights come on. A surreal, truly chaotic, Only in da Pilipins, tableau unfolded on the vernissage of our city’s sole art fair.
This opening night debacle definitely cast a pall on ManilArt 11. On paper, this fair seemed to have everything going for it. The organizers scaled it down to 24 galleries but set aside bigger spaces for each participant. They chose to mount it at the highly accessible NBC Tent at the Bonifacio Global City in Taguig. And once the lights turned on, I could tell that my favorite galleries prepared new pieces especially for the event. The physical arrangements, though, seemed to diminish their efforts.
Manila Contemporary, for instance, opted for a solo show by Leeroy New. He brought in freestanding hybrid creatures, lit from within hallowed out bellies filled with multi-colored plastic toys. The gallery, however, could not get permission to paint the walls of their booth. Why? Leeroy’s work deserved a proper setting.
Pablo got around this restriction by bringing their own panels to the fair. A wise choice as, once again, they had the best booth. But why would they have to resort to that? They carried works by Dex Fernandez, Jason Moss, and the fantastic duo of Ivan Despi and Pauline Vicencio. The booth’s layout managed to squeeze in a room where Ivan and Pauline’s video, Babel, played. I’d love to see what else these two come up with. Exciting things seem to be in store for this talented twosome.
Dex exhibited his Suspend series, a variation on his manipulated photographs. This time he altered his photos with cut outs—patterns he painted and illustrated then cut and pasted onto his images.
Maria Jeona Zoleta lorded it at Finale’s booth. She made the gallery stand out in neon pink glory. Blanc brought out new pieces by Art Sanchez, an impressive Lao Lianbien, and various Louie Cordero paintings on canvas and on paper. I just love Louie’s kitschy, Pinoy komiks, over the top, slasher aesthetic.
Art Informal had a wonderful new Tatong Recheta Torres. We must really welcome Tatong back into his first life— and never allow him to leave again! Silverlens, the art fair pros, simply knew how to work their booth. Patty Eustaquio’s Diving Bell (Cloud Country) took center stage, a teaser for her upcoming show. They also had pieces by Leslie de Chavez, Ryan Villamael, Chati Coronel, Isa Lorenzo, and pyrographs on wood by Mariano Ching. As always, Nano rocks!
New discoveries: Jacob Lindo at Silverlens with his small graphite works, and Carina Santos at West Gallery. She exhibited Joseph Cornell-like boxed assemblages using sliced books. Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of those.
Speaking of West Gallery, they seem to have been the only ones who came prepared with a handout that detailed their available pieces. It also outlined a schedule of their upcoming shows.
Over at Duemila, a very tame, almost pretty, Mideo Cruz painting hung on one wall.
CANVAS debuted a novel initiative utilizing the iPad. Rizalpabeto borrows from the tradition of Letras Y Figuras, a 19thcentury art form whereby artists rendered letters of the alphabet, usually to spell out a patron’s name, in stylized forms.
This project celebrates Jose Rizal’s 150th birth anniversary. Vim Nadera composed a poem on the National Hero, one verse for each letter of the alphabet. Elmer Borlongan executed a letra for each of the verses, but did this completely on his iPad. A colonial genre has been taken to the 21st century.
My verdict on ManilArt 11? A handful of galleries spent time and effort to bring out new works for collectors to acquire. I found pieces that I did want to take home, more this time than in the last two fairs. Nothing groundbreaking, as the galleries played it safe. They predominantly kept to the two-dimensional and wall-bound. A good number of the participants, though, as in the past, seemed to have simply emptied their backrooms.
The flimsy fixtures gave the fair a shabby air. Unfortunately, the galleries who worked to spruce up their spaces could not overcome this overall impression. It felt like a bazaar. And as much as I preferred the NBC Tent’s accessibility, it probably isn’t suited to this event.
Did the fair mirror our dynamic art scene? Unfortunately not. Neither did it seek to educate and elevate standards. A pity, and a missed opportunity, as judging by the number of people that took the time to drop by, ManilArt 11 captured quite an audience.
ManilArt 11 runs from 24 to 27 August 2011 at the NBC Tent, Fort Bonifacio Global City, Taguig. Visit http://www.manilart.com