Something on art
A SPIRITED SOUL - Jeannie E. Javelosa (The Philippine Star) - July 21, 2013 - 12:00am

It was a blast from the past... or perhaps the past caught up with me to be part of the future. When I decided to go check out the latest in contemporary art at the recent Art Basel in Hong Kong, it was with a lot of effort to remain open, with no critical judgment as was my way in the past.

After I got out of graduate school in my thirties, I involved my professional life in the local and regional contemporary art scene. Not only was I churning out painting and print exhibitions, I was also churning out art criticism and reviews of the latest in the scene (before the Internet was around!) and speaking in art conferences in the ASEAN region. I was involved as the youngest member of the Art Critics Circle, which we were trying to revive. On top of all these, I was running the museum galleries of the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

Then, a coffee table book Art Philippines was my concluding project of that phase of my life, in my attempt to bring together in one book the top critics for a commentary on the state of Philippine Art. Until I burnt out. I was criticized by those who didn’t know me, and was hurt as my life — public and private — was food for talk and gossip. Cutting strings, I turned my back on the local art scene and left for Paris. Not even my publisher-friend’s long distance congratulation that we won the Manila Critics Circle prize for our coffee table book brought consolation. I guess, in hindsight, it was the challenge of being young, outspoken and idealistic to try to bring a sense of professionalism to the contemporary scene that did me in.

For the past 20 years, I had kept away from contemporary art; the cynic inside me stating that the art market had taken over and art was a game to be played. My trip to Hong Kong to see Art Basel was actually the very first time I had stepped into a gallery to once more look at contemporary art. I walked around with a critic’s and curator’s trained eye, understanding and appreciating the artist’s level of consciousness for I myself am one. Suddenly, I felt the stirrings of the deep appreciation of what the artistic expression can once more move in a viewer. How art has the great capacity to inspire, awe, repulse even; how artists will always strive to reach their highest expression even in compromise to survive the pains of physical survival, living and sustaining body.

From past art and art market trends in the ‘70s to the mid-‘80s, the Philippine art scene was a leading and vibrant force in Southeast Asia. These were the heydays when Imelda Marcos pushed our artists to the global stage, and markets opened. The decentralization of the arts after the 1986 People Power redefined the arts versus craft issue, slowly killing the presence of Filipino artists in the global stage and market. I can only identify the Baguio Arts Festival of the late ‘80s, and some artists participating in Australian-sponsored biennales as highpoints of creating some kind of international presence during the post-EDSA revolution.

It is approximately five years back that a new wave of Filipino contemporary art started to aggressively try to make itself felt in the international scene, via the international auction houses. So the market led, and the scene followed. Such is the case of art fairs where collectors, museum and gallery representatives, artists and lovers of art troop to appreciate, trade and talk art.

I was happy to see Filipino artists’ works being appreciated by an international crowd at Art Basel. Also present were four of our local galleries — Manila Contemporary, Silver Lens, The Drawing Room and Art Informal. At the Christie’s auction, both younger and senior Filipino artists’ works were also present. The Philippines is in an upswing, with the art industry lifting visual artists to be present in a global platform.

Here are my observations on the works (and no names in this article as this is not meant to be an art review): Our young Filipino artists were speaking in two directions: one grouping, clearly seen as “Filipino” art, is still caught in incorporating religious iconography and themes, highlighting the hold of our religious Catholicism issues still prevalent. Our society clearly hasn’t risen from this issue. These works are local, insular and Philippine histo-centric.

Then there is another grouping whose members attempt to define themselves through artistic skill and dexterity, highly personal, using the global context of images and themes as part of their work. Local versus the attempt to be global. In the Art Basel experience, I could point out two Filipino artists who had captured the essence of being timeless, who have broken the “ceiling” of being called Filipino artists as one forgets being Filipino. Their works: masterful with strong clear statements and universal in appeal.

Through my years of experience in looking at art in international museums, at masterpieces of cultures, at the march of artists through world art history, I have come to conclude: masterpieces are defined by timelessness and universality. Where the work has the ability to touch the human spirit-intellect for appreciation and perhaps questioning. And present too, artistry and skill of material manipulation. No matter it be a traditional, archaic, classical, modern, contemporary, multi-media or conceptual art piece  — these same qualities can be identified. When the work can touch viewers regardless of geography, nationality and age, then the work stands out. And the artist is someone to watch out for. But reserve judgement of the artist from one mere work — for the art and the artist is judged by a body of work, through time and their own personal evolution of their craft and expression. 

  So why do I write this? Perhaps for my own personal healing, making the move to consciously embrace once more, something I had always loved; something that is a part of me that cannot be denied, either as practitioner, critic, curator or manager. It is art — the appreciation of it, and its transformative quality that it possesses in highlighting worldviews, both personal and collective. The contemporary scene reflects the consciousness of the artists, the vision and divisions they see within themselves vis-à-vis society. In an era where we have profoundly disconnected from the essential spiritual and humanistic values, art attempts to reconnect us to the most fundamentals. Either through expressions pointing out challenges of our world today, or creating signposts that allow us to journey into our own psyches.

Despite all our connectivity through technology’s social media phenomenon and travel making our world really “one world,” the deeper isolation of man becomes apparent. And here the artist speaks: to search within imagery that can be imbued with meaning; to give meaning to what the artist is personally struggling for or against; imbued with meaning for viewers to react to and be drawn — or repelled by what the artist is trying to say.

Today, art appreciation, which is the most intimate and subjective relationship between artist and viewer, is exposed most obviously first, in the art market; second, in museums; third, in the social media.

In these spaces, we will play, appreciate, intellectualize, learn depth, appreciate superficiality, see good art and acknowledge, know bad art and react. Through the process, all of us will learn something about ourselves!

(Follow the writer on Twitter @jeanniejavelosa and on Facebook: Jeannie Javelosa.)

AFTER I ART ART BASEL ARTIST ARTISTS CONTEMPORARY FILIPINO HONG KONG SCENE
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