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Buzz for Pinoy art

Detail of Elmer Borlongan’s “PBA Icons vs. The Church”

Our title above is part of a quote from Trickie Lopa, organizer of a couple of recent art display triumphs in the Makati business district: the Art Fair Philippines and Art in the Park.

We must credit writer Jasmine T. Cruz for initiating a kind of forum by e-mail that drew salient responses from those in the know with regard Pinoy visual arts  which we’ve noted to have been experiencing a boom in all its aspects: quality and quantity, international merit, salability, what-have-you… 

Ms. Cruz’s feature piece, which appeared in Business World, Weekender section dated Feb. 22-23, was titled “Are we in a Golden Age of Philippine Art?” That question proceeded to gain positive responses from art critic Cid Reyes, Metropolitan Museum of Manila president Tina Colayco, National Museum assistant director Ana Labrador, UP Vargas Museum curator and art critic Dr. Patrick Flores, the outspoken artist-curator Manuel Ocampo, and Ms. Lopa. 

The last interviewee affirms that there’s been increasing regional interest in our artists, “particularly among our Southeast Asian and North Asian neighbors…” She cites how Philippine art galleries have opened in Singapore, and how Pinoy artists have been exhibiting there as well as in KL, Jakarta, Tokyo and Taiwan.

Trickie Lopa adds: “The Singapore Art Museum acquiring Philippine art for their permanent collection, and the two big auction houses (Christies and Sothebys) continually featuring Filipino artists  you can feel the buzz for Pinoy art.”

Indeed, we’ve felt that buzz for sometime now. A long time now, in fact. As far back as a couple of decades ago, we’d known that the reputable SAM had been storing up on Pinoy paintings. We even heard how nearly half of its collection  built on wherewithal and good taste  was Philippine art.

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Well, that may have been apocryphal or much exaggerated. But we knew enough of our Singaporean friends in the arts and culture vocation to appreciate their taste as well as far-sighted approach to art collection  whether as a business investment or for the sheer pleasure of partaking in excellence.

Only recently, our friend John Silva let on that he had once contemplated on acquiring an important work by Santi Bose, now dearly departed, but that he took his time and SAM beat him to it, alas!

Now here’s where losing our patrimony to neighbors or other foreign lands doesn’t quite hurt as much as it make us proud  that our creative works are much admired and desired beyond our shores. In fact, in many instances, we even lend our terrific artists to foreign capitals, where they entrench themselves as a sort of primus inter pares, first among equals  such artists as Dengcoy Miel in Singapore, Ding Roces and Edd Aragon in Sydney, John Altomonte in Darwin, and so many more spread out in the USA, such as Rod Samonte, Vics Magsaysay, Mel Vera Cruz, Jun-Jun Sta. Ana, Mario Mercado, Ernest Concepcion, et al, et glorious al.

All over the planet, our seamen are tops, our musicians and nurses much in demand, and now our visual artists conducting such a terrific and varied contribution to aesthetic appreciation, thus worldwide gratification.

That recent Art Fair Philippines held at The Link car park in Ayala Center, billed as “The Best in Philippine Contemporary Art” and linking up two dozen art galleries and their featured artists within one unlikely floor space (that of a car park level), proved to be an eye-opener, at least for those who hadn’t had the pleasure of keeping tabs on the boom and buzz. Word of mouth propelled families to come visit and be awed by the offerings over a brief four-day period.

Major artists featured in special, individual spaces were Gabriel Barredo, Ronald Ventura and Norberto S. Roldan  all geniuses, we daresay, with each one exhibiting masterful works of such originality and near-epic scope, all at the forefront of our art renaissance.        

Exhilaration over all the exhibits couldn’t be limited to half a day. We thought we could do it in a quick couple of hours; we stayed for five or six, and wished we could go back another day. Not a single gallery had paltry stuff. Each one we could have picked up from, we thought, had our Lotto aspirations bounded up from dreamland. But it was no frustration at all, simply enjoying memorable pieces and montages if only for the hour.

What still stands in memory were the collections displayed in Bureau of Artistic Rehab (B.A.R.) with its fevered mélange as tribute to the Pinoy’s sense of horror vacui; Canvas (theme-featuring superb paintings on basketball, like Elmer Borlongan’s “PBA Icons vs. The Church” and Manny Garibay’s “Jambol”); Manila Contemporary (inclusive of a chat with Valentine Willie who’s been doing so much for the promotion of Pinoy art, and where I picked up an idea I’m appropriating, thanks to artist MM Yu); Mo_Space with its small sculptural works; Secret Fresh with Charlie Co’s toys and Chinoy busts); Habitus with poet Marc Gaba’s cut-through abstractions…

Also appreciated the following: Mark Justiniani’s incredible “light works” (our term) and optical illusions;, Pandy Aviado’s prints in lapads (our term), Pablo Baen Santos’ “Mga Dios-Diosan,” Ramon Diaz’s “Untitled” (of two sumo wrestlers), and of course Gabriel Barredo’s monumental “Asphalt” assemblage.

My word, our visual artists constantly go over the top. And we will not tire of saying that they are outdoing even our musicians when it comes to sheer excitement of excellence, volume, and variance.

Even our public art has thankfully veered away from the preponderant kitsch that attends town plazas and boundaries. We failed to check out “Urban Art Makati” which ended on Feb. 28, but the photos alone tell us that our sculptors and installation artists  Ventura, Co, and Leeroy New among them  are world-class.

In any case, such vibrancy and vitality continue to bless us, thanks to our visual artists.

Yet another recent manifestation that our creative cup runneth over with inspiration and zeal is the recent opening of Art Lab, a family atelier that’s more than just a thriving extension of the Syjuco residence on Country Club Drive in Ayala Alabang Village.

It’s a unique and arresting structure, to begin with: three apparently cantilevered levels of space with high ceilings and excellent illumination, framed by a façade of glass that compels drive-by distraction, or for passers-by to pause and take an awed second or third look at the glowing interiors.

It’s all art, and it’s uncommon art  as uncommonly produced by Cesare A.X. Syjuco, Jean Marie Syjuco, and their brilliant daughters (lovely pa!) Michelline, Trix and Maxine.

Well, our readers would know that this delightfully creative family that makes art together has often been a recipient of our expressed admiration. It has nothing to do with familiarity, intimacy, or kinship that has lasted for decades now. Or even the fact that Jean Marie and Cesare are our comadre y compadre.

But having said that, we should desist perhaps from sharing more accolades for their continuing creativity of the first water. Just go there, or arrange for a visit and tour. Many pieces will astound you. They are not ordinary art. They’re extraordinary art from an extraordinary family of Pinoy artists.

And again it overjoys us to be part of that extended family  even as just a vicarious observer  of Pinoy artists that continue to elicit the wonderful extended buzz on the boom boom boom that is their collective creativity.

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