(Spoiler alert: If you’re looking forward to being totally surprised by the offerings in this year’s Art Fair Philippines, read no further.)
It’s the Big Pinipig Crunch,” says visual artist Jose Tence Ruiz of the massive chocolate-brown cast fiberglass construction looming in the center of his home workshop.
It’s in the shape of a giant tongue arching over the aforementioned ice cream bar, but on the crest, growing like a tumor, is a familiar profile, and just under where the tonsils would be, another, more amorphous but just as recognizable, profile.
Hence the title of the piece: “The Langue Lounge,” langue being French for “tongue.”
“It’s about the cult of the tongue, the cult of the talker, the cult of the glib—and the comfort of death,” he adds.
For the last nine months, Tence Ruiz and a crew of six assistants have been working nearly nonstop—eight hours a day, seven days a week—on the massive installation, which will be the centerpiece of Art Fair Philippines 2017, which opens Feb. 16 at The Link carpark, Ayala Center, Makati.
It will take three trucks and several days to assemble the final installation, the artist reckons.
“The Langue Lounge” is of a piece with “Shoal,” Tence Ruiz’s installation for the 2015 Venice Biennale, with which it shares the red velvet motif.
But where “Shoal” expressed the artist’s views on the dispute in the South China Sea, “The Langue Lounge” hits much closer to home, and the burning issues of the day.
Hard to believe, then, that when Tence Ruiz initially conceived it, Rodrigo Duterte had yet to be proclaimed winner of the 2016 presidential election, let alone unleashed his bloody war on drugs.
This apparent clairvoyance is even more impressive when one considers the artist’s conception.
When installed, “The Langue Lounge” will occupy 80 square meters on the fifth floor of the Link carpark building.
The Big Pinipig Crunch will be surrounded by 14 high-backed chairs covered in red velvet and other luxe fabrics, evoking, says Tence Ruiz, both the Stations of the Cross and “the proto-masterpiece of Philippine art,” Esteban Pichay Villanueva’s 14 paintings depicting the long-ago bloodletting of the Basi Revolt.
The installation will be interactive, says Tence Ruiz. Onlookers will be invited to take a load off their feet after a long day of art appreciation, and strap themselves in for the ride.
“They can take selfies,” he says.
Apart from “The Langue Lounge”, the artist—who seems to have become more prolific with age—will also exhibit a suite of paintings at the Artinformal booth.
Titled “Libangan ng Mga Bayani,” the panels depict the heads of heroes past, Rizal and Bonifacio as well as the five martyrs of martial law (Macli-ing Dulag, Dr. Bobby de la Paz, Edgar Jopson, Dr. Juan Escandor and Ninoy Aquino), but deconstructed and with the ghost of the arch antihero “photobombing” the viewer’s mind’s eye.
While Tence Ruiz has the centerpiece spot, the visitors will also see a formidable lineup of this year’s Art Fair Philippines.
The other artists commissioned for this year’s art fair are Agnes Arellano, Elmer Borlongan, Patricia Perez Eustaqio, Emmanuel Garibay, Dex Fernandez, Mark Justiniani, Maria Jeona Zoleta, the WSK (pronounced “wasak”) group of sound artists, and ceramic artist Mark Valenzuela, who is this year’s recipient of the Karen H. Montinola grant.
The 46 galleries participating in Art Fair Philippines 2017 are: 1335 Mabini, Altro Mondo Arté Contemporanea, Archivo 1984, ARNDT, Art Cube Gallery, Artinformal, ART LAB, Art Underground, Art Verite’, Artesan Gallery + Studio, Avellana Art Gallery, Blanc, Boston Art Gallery, CANVAS, Edouard Malingue Gallery, Finale Art File, Gajah Gallery, Galería Cayón, Galerie Anna, Galerie Michael Janssen, Galerie Stephanie, Galleria Duemila, Gallery Kogure, Gallery Orange, J Studio, Kaida Contemporary, Asian Cultural Council/Leon Gallery, MO_Space, Nunu Fine Art, Paseo Art Gallery, Pinto Art Gallery, ROH Projects, Salcedo Private View, Secret Fresh, Silverlens, TAKSU, The Crucible Gallery, The Drawing Room, Tin-aw Gallery, Underground Gallery, Vinyl on Vinyl, West Gallery, XuArtspace, Yavuz Gallery, Ysobel Art Gallery and YOD Gallery.
Also joining is a wider roster of galleries from Southeast Asia, Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan to showcase curated exhibitions from local and foreign visual artists.
To complement the fair, Art Fair Philippines launches 10 Days of Art, from Feb. 9 to 19, a series of events around Makati and BGC that will involve galleries, museum, bars, restaurants and retail establishments. The idea is for the celebration of art to spread beyond the fair’s venue in the run-up to the opening.
Highlighting the public art installations around the city is the Asian premiere of “Street,” by British-born painter and filmmaker James Nares. The film, which has been shown at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, will play at Ayala Triangle Gardens in the evenings of Feb. 15-19.
Over the years, the annual event has grown into the premier destination for contemporary Philippine art.
“That was our aim from the start,” says Lisa Ongpin Periquet, who started the annual art fair in 2013 with her friends Trickie Lopa and Dindin Araneta.
“To make sure it would eventually be on the art calendar, an event that people looked forward to.”
The first art fair drew 6,000 visitors, but the audience has grown each year. Last year it drew a record 22,000 visitors over five days, and if the pattern holds, this year’s attendance may top even that.
For local art galleries, the fair is their biggest selling opportunity for the year, since it draws not only local collectors but also buyers from other countries in the region, where contemporary Philippine art has been gaining in popularity.
“It’s basically a trade fair, but it’s also a cultural platform,” says Lopa. “For a lot of our visitors, specially the students, it’s their first encounter with art. Hopefully it will lead them to start exploring the museums and the galleries.”
To beef up the fair’s educational component, art talks by recognized experts have become a regular component.
This year’s speakers will include Canadian writer and sociologist Dr. Sarah Thornton, Filipino historian Ambeth Ocampo, and teacher, writer and curator Tony Godfrey.
The growing international participation in the art fair, as well as competition among themselves, has also raised the bar for local galleries, says Periquet.
“They really prepare now,” she says. “Their exhibits are better curated, and more cohesive.”
Art Fair Philippines 2017 runs Feb. 16-19 at The Link carpark, Ayala Center, Makati.
For more information, please visit www.artfairphilippines.com, www.facebook/artfairph, @artfairph on Instagram and Twitter.
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