A watershed moment in Philippine corporate art is the acquisition by Banco de Oro of David Medalla’s “Cloud Canyons No. 31”, for display in its Ortigas headquarters.
The artist himself was guest of honor at the unveiling last August 31 at the Banco de Oro Corporate Center in Ortigas, where the kinetic sculpture will be on permanent display in the lobby.
Medalla is acknowledged in the international contemporary art scene as a leading figure in conceptual, performance and participatory art. Although he has spent most of his creative life in Britain, he returned to his native land earlier this year.
Art has become an increasingly important means of corporate image building. Traditionally, companies have preferred its public art to be more “monumental,” carved in stone or forged from steel, their static mass communicating stature and permanence.
Meanwhile, corporate collections tend to be defined by the tastes of its top executives, although many companies now hire art consultants to vet their acquisitions.
If one were to hazard a guess, BDO’s decision to go in a more avant-garde direction might have something to do with Mara Coson now overseeing its art collection.
Though better known in hip circles as a writer, the Sy scion is apparently as plugged into the global contemporary art scene as her visual artist sister, Nicole.
“Cloud Canyons No. 31” is essentially a bubble machine, though hardly anything like the ones you see at children’s parties or a nightclub floor show.
Six clear plexiglass columns on a white Formica platform, containing the mechanism for generating a continuous volume of white foam, is the medium, but the foam itself is the sculpture, as it cascades down the tubes, forming a constantly morphing mass of shapes, changing and evolving from moment to moment.
Medalla has said he was inspired by childhood memories— of his mother cooking guinataan, the bloody foam from the mouth of a dying guerrilla during the Japanese occupation, beer foam from a vat in a Scottish brewery, and clouds viewed during a Manila sunset.
When Medalla made the first in the series in 1961, it was lauded as the first “auto-creative” sculpture, drawing praise from no less than Marcel Duchamp, who created a series of sculptures he called “Medallic Object” in honor of the Filipino artist.
Now considered a landmark in contemporary art, “Cloud Canyons” has become Medalla’s signature work. Variations have been exhibited in museums and galleries throughout the world.
First exhibited in London in 1964, “Cloud Canyons No. 3” has since been acquired by the Tate Modern.
Other works in the series have been acquired by the National Gallery of Singapore and other museums.
Acquiring such a historic and significant piece is quite a coup for Banco de Oro.
“The most important thing is to give life to materials so that instead of finding ourselves separate from them, we find a complete dialogue with the material,” Medalla was quoted as saying in 1968.
Even from his wheelchair, the 77-year-old artist cut a striking sartorial figure with a brightly-colored Nordic ski hat, a vest of indigenous weave over a barong Tagalog, Mondrian socks and a pair of white Crocs.
Accompanied by his constant companion, Adam Nankervis, Medalla apologized for his hoarse voice, which made most of his short speech incomprehensible.
In any case, he said it all with a couple of artistic gestures: taking a handful of white foam and blowing into the air, and playfully blowing air through a straw into a glass of soda.