I could count the names of local contemporary artists I knew on the fingers of one hand. This was ten years ago, before heading up the steel parking of The Link. Once the elevator opened its doors, I found myself returning every day after school in my uniform, waiting to be transported into this world of art. A few years later interning in college I karate-chopped backpacks away from the iconic ceramic apples of artist Winnie Go. Soon after I entered my first gallery job, high-heeled feet aching, eyes straining, but with a smile, elated at opportunities to listen to the perspectives of art workers, artists, and collectors. From a student scrambling for discounted tickets to entering the backdoor as a gallery assistant, for this 10th anniversary I found myself swerving to the press line as an observer with Lifestyle.INQ.
I ran into a collector who told me one year, “I feel too full of art. I’m leaving!” with a dramatic air. She asked me if I remembered the encounter and said, “This year, I didn’t feel that. Because all the art is so different.”
Moving through the organic biophilic design of Andy Locsin, it’s easy to get lost if you don’t follow the numbered route. This hindrance disappears if you sort of just float. Moving through the bamboo walls in flow, you find surprises at every corner. While it would be impossible to do justice to the exhibits on all floors, here are a few presentations that show how Art Fair Philippines pushed the envelope on its tenth anniversary —
Projects at the Roofdeck
On the first day, someone asked if we had explored the fair from top to bottom, insisting we visit the stunning roof deck Projects first.
Inside cool and carpeted tents, curator Norman Crisologo installed a series of exhibits in his signature choice of vibrant multi-colored walls.
Presented with Gajah Gallery, Indonesian artist Yunizar depicted images of flowers, birds, and mythical creatures. While crude, his work seems to speak to a primal instinct. Yeo Kaa’s exhibit took a distinctly lighter tone with pastel miniature paintings and a towering silver sculpture. Audiences could interact by spraying paint on smaller sculptures surrounding the fountain. The subversive Kiko Escora presented zoomed-in images of faceless bodies in suggestive positions and contortions. We became familiar with the skills of 88-year-old abstract artist Rosario Bitanaga. While Faye Abantao and Raymond Gueverra intrigued viewers with their new media pieces. Other artists include the foliage-filled landscapes of Mark Andy Garcia, ironic pop art images of Pow Martinez, stunning glossy paintings of Peter Zimmerman, and photography by the world-renowned Wawi Navarroza.
Don Salubayba at Tin-aw
Aside from touching homages to gallerists Albert Avellana and Norma Liongoren, there was an exhibit not categorized under the ‘Tributes’ section, yet paying respect to a figure in the art world who has passed on.
‘Abysmal Abound’ exhibited pieces from the family collection of the late Don Salubayba, an artist and educator whose works told stories through painting, sculpture, and multimedia. The walls were painted by his mentees — Henrielle Baltazar Pagkaliwangan, Alynnah Macla-Tadeo, and Brendale Tadeo, adapting their teacher’s paintings to the walls in a way that showed fondness and familiarity.
Mark Inducil’s Digital Exhibit ‘Homecoming’
Behind a curving corner, mysterious sounds echoed from a dark room, indigo light peeking through. Inside was the work of Melbourne-based Filipino Artist Mark Inducil.
Since the pandemic, Art Fair PH has steadily moved in a direction that gives more avenues to digital pieces. This is one of the exhibits curated by CryptoArtPH Founders Jopet Arias and Bjorn Calleja.
In Mark’s digital video and NFT works, the humanoid faces pulse with psychedelic clouds and patterns. While the electric lines may seem futuristic, you can sense the artist’s efforts to deepen one’s understanding of human nature.
On the fifth floor, small framed works exuded a sense of calm against warm walls.
Named ‘Undercurrents’, the exhibit showed various artists with unconventional processes in photography. Less straightforward shots, the photos are more collections, constructions, and transpositions. Twisting our necks, we gazed at photographs that heavily experimented with elements of design, like how reality took strange tones in three fish set up like a Russian tea doll but in the middle of the desert. The surreal presentations of Tarzeer Pictures show consistent growth, with a sophisticated curatorial program that puts photography in a league of its own.
‘The Red Diary’ at Art Verité
One interesting exhibit with striking red walls was ‘The Red Diary’, which shone a spotlight on Filipina artists of Chinese descent. Curated by Carlomar Arcangel Daoana, exhibiting artists included Clairelynn Uy, Tiffany Lafuente, Winna Go, Celine Lee, Kadin Tiu, and Billie Jean.
The show reinvented traditional works with a contemporary approach. Some hybrid pieces include Winna Go’s grid paintings of traditional Chinese dress and piña Baro’t Saya. Celine Lee showed a different take on Chinese painting, capturing the life force of mountain ranges through dramatic, almost dangerous-looking lines.
Eisa Jocson, ‘Corponomy’ Performance Lecture
My first encounter with the work of Eisa Jocson was a video of ‘Macho Dancer’. She moved in such a way that was blatantly masculine and I was both shocked and inspired by this transgression of gender.
When we walked into her ‘Corponomy’ installation, she was wearing a Snow White headdress, extending a hug to a member of the audience.
She pranced on stage in movements typical to Disney Princesses, then suddenly in the provocative manner of a pole dancer.
All the while she chanted, “I’m awfully sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you but you don’t know what I’ve been through. I’m so ashamed. What do you do when things go wrong?”
It was chilling, goosebumps-giving, seeing Jocson’s performative commentary on the politics of the body.
There is something for everyone at Art Fair. From the residencies sponsored by Don Papa Rum, you could find art books, the sturdy woven designs of Rita Nazareno and Gabriel Lichauco, or various designers at Guava Sketches.
The 7th floor was especially exciting with Incubators from provinces out of Manila. Kantina experimental art space from Roxas, Capiz simulated the sea on the walls of their booth lined with banderitas. While Anakbanwa Creative Residency Project painted murals and a sculpture of a bangka.
If you were lucky you caught the spontaneous dance performance of Fifth Wall Fest too.
My favorite gallery this year was Gravity Art Space. They rose to the challenge of totally changing their exhibitions every day with three shows ‘Figurations & Forms’, ‘Materiality & Manipulations’, and ‘Temporality & Techniques’. The work of filmmaker Jet Leyco stood out with his meticulous collage pieces.
At the center of the new experimental work, a few bigwig galleries presented impressive exhibitions by the masters. Leon Gallery exhibited ‘The Internationalists’ with works by Zobel and Joya. While Paseo gallery exhibited an exquisitely preserved Nena Saguil painting and captivating Alcuaz.
Spearheaded by the ‘three wise women’, Trickie Lopa, Lisa Periquet, and Dindin Araneta, Art Fair PH has continued to find ways to innovate, changing the meaning of ‘art fair’ in the Philippines. For example, a few years back it was something of an issue when visitors took selfies with artwork. Today it has transformed into a non-issue, with phones an essential tool to enter an augmented reality with digital works.
Not too long ago, access to these art spaces was reserved for the rich. But now the fair has made it open to everybody – unintimidating through educational talks and new formats for all kinds of artists, from painters to dancers to digital makers. While some may complain the space is tight with bustling crowds, we give credit for maintaining the art fair’s unique structure and accessibility as a public space.
In this tenth edition, after many years of change and transformation, it is clear that Art Fair Philippines continues to bring people together.