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Art Fair Philippines 2017: Just as crazy as it should be

Ferdie Montemayor, “Go!” at Pinto Art Museum's booth. Photos by JOEY VIDUYA

Art Fair Philippines (AFP) once again attracted its host of hungry art aficionados, with works ranging from the oeuvres to the offbeat, from the hidden gems for collectors to works that made a commentary on collecting. Take for example, Joy Mallari’s red stickers forming the word “Rebel” on Tin-aw Gallery’s wall.

“This piece can’t be bought,” advised gallery manager Eya Beldia. As wide-ranging a fair could be, AFP gathered the industry’s roster of rousing artworks: some valuable, some thought-provoking, or others just profoundly weird.

By the numbers, AFP is a tradition begun by Lisa Periquet, Trickie Lopa, and Dindin Araneta in 2013. The latest fair, which ran from Feb. 16 to 19, was AFP’s fifth installment, and the first under a new political administration. It housed 34 local and 12 international galleries in its 7,848.08 sqm space, showing artworks that ranged from free postcards to a million-peso painting by Jigger Cruz and Manuel Ocampo. 

Keeping a corner for Ronald Ventura’s art exhibit, the fifth floor of The Link was similarly turned into a venue of imaginative objects by sponsors like Bench, Volkswagen, and Don Papa Rum. The sixth and seventh floors featured galleries and solo shows, while talks were held on the carpark’s rooftop.

Initially conceived as a venue to showcase the cream of the crop in Philippine contemporary art, AFP now draws its horde of patrons and galleries worldwide.

“This is the first time we are participating in AFP,” said David Boggs of XuArtspace. Their gallery based in New York and Shanghai were exhibiting Cuban paintings alongside photogravures from the early 1900s, some of which were by known surrealist photographer Man Ray. “We came last year, we really liked the environment and the vibe. It’s different from other fairs which are a bit stuck up or snooty.”

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Nikolai Kleist Burkal, the exhibition manager of Berlin-based gallery Michael Janssen, added, “It’s still staying true to its nature of being a punk art fair.”

While this year highlighted Filipino contemporary artists like Patty Eustaquio exhibiting monochromatic tapestries and Maria Jeona Zoleta delivering her neon freak show, to name a few, the 46 participating galleries varied in their methods and reasons for presenting. For Galerie Michael Janssen, Burkal explained, “It’s very different exhibiting at an art fair and at a gallery. In terms of curation, it’s less restrictive. There’s rarely a thematic or conceptual idea behind it. It’s not so strict, thematically.”



Other booths, held by local galleries in particular, were more direct and thematic. For instance, there was the Metropolis-themed show by Canvas with a decidedly socio-cultural bent. “What pushed Canvas to really go for these exhibits is our stand for human rights,” said Canvas art director Kevin Candelaria. “It’s not just art for art’s sake. It’s art for social development.”

Tin-aw’s “Wall,” prodding viewers to contemplate within a busy market, drew attention to the structures, dividers, and enclosures that formed the fair. “We’re constantly within walls,” said Beldia, a comment pertinent to Tin-Aw’s exhibit, to the fair, or to multiple other things. “More than just things we see on the wall, more than commodities, these are installations and sculptures, pieces of art that come out at us.”

Exhibitions by Dex Fernandez and the WSK Sound artists were decidedly more experiential and interactive, populating Instagram feeds all over with viewers’ drawings within Fernandez’s infamous garapata. WSK’s booth demanded audience engagement with a riotous miscellany of machines and metal sheets. Refreshingly, some collectives cared less about selling than about making a roaring statement.

AFP 2017 was just as crazy and as democratic as it should be, with endless art pieces offering something more provocative than their price tags. Endless exhibits launched their narratives urging viewers to look, interact, or even to post on social media — encouraging various levels of engagement as the three organizers planned five years ago.

As Dans of Artesan told us, “I’ve been to different art fairs, like Hong Kong Art Basel. When I see them, I just think, I wish every art fair was as organic as this (one in the Philippines). I really hope the organizers don’t lose the vision, but keep to their original motivation when they started.”

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