Work by Poklong Anading for ArtFairPH/Photo
From the carpark and beyond
Lisa Ongpin-Periquet (The Philippine Star) - February 17, 2020 - 12:00am

Art fair Philippines 2020 from feb. 21 TO 23

As we come to the eighth edition of Art Fair Philippines in 2020, it’s become timely to reflect on how the art fair grew to become what it is today. Starting in 2013 as a one-floor affair inside a car park that managed to attract 6,000 visitors in its first year; it experienced exponential growth in terms of visitor numbers and floor area and has now settled into a comfortable space utilizing five floors of the car park and welcoming, on average, 25,000 visitors in the past four years. Aside from the expected art enthusiasts, professionals, artists and collectors, the art fair includes a significant number of millennials, students, as well as overseas visitors in its audience base.

Our lofty goal then was simple: to widen the audience for contemporary art in the Philippines.

Choosing the car park. Choosing to establish a contemporary art fair in a car park was the most significant curatorial decision my partners Dindin Araneta, Trickie Lopa and I made when we founded Art Fair Philippines in 2013. It sent a message that signaled: unexpected, urban, edgy, gritty, inventive and daring, among others. All these adjectives could conceivably apply to contemporary art itself. The venue suited the art it intended to highlight and vice versa. The car park space became the core of the fair’s identity.

Crafting the space. Annually, we build, in six to eight weeks, what is essentially a temporary, air-conditioned gallery space with exhibition panels limited by the nine-foot-high ceiling and bare cement floors that reveal the art fair’s inner carpark-self. Crafting the physical space of the fair is a constant challenge, taking into account the limitations of a venue that was designed primarily for vehicle parking rather than a multi-day art event. The floorplan is continually tweaked and has developed from an early, relatively uniform grid plan to a more compelling layout of variously-sized dynamic spaces in response to gallery requests as well as the fair’s growing popularity and wider reach. 

The content of the fair. Building the space is one thing, but deciding what goes in it is key to the character of the fair. Essentially, galleries make up the core of the fair, and we prefer those with consistent and quality programming over a period of time. To anchor the curatorial outlook of the fair each year, we invite a selection of up and coming, mid-career and established artists — as wide a spectrum as we seek in our audience — to show their work in the Projects space. In the past, we have had the unforgettable kinetic tableaux of “Asphalt” by the late sculptor Gabby Barredo; the engaging set of ping-pong tables with accompanying tournament schedule of Louie Cordero, a fondly-remembered audience favorite; and the interactive memory work of internationally-recognized Fiipino artist David Medalla. For 2020, we invited curatorial consultant Norman Crisologo to give a twist to the Projects space, and he has come up with a multi-layered, color-drenched environment filled with works by off-the-radar artists.

Developing new audiences. As we strive to widen the interest in art, we’ve chosen to spotlight over the years lesser-known elements of the contemporary art landscape such as sound art and photography, helping us develop new audiences for these art forms. We introduced a Photography section in 2018 to an enthusiastic reception and it has now become a permanent mini-focus of the fair. For 2020, we are inaugurating a comprehensive Film program, which we hope can become another permanent feature of the fair in the future.

The education program. The education program is an important component of a world-class art fair. We always aim for a full Talks program that includes lectures and panel discussions related to the art on show. We’ve had international speakers such as Sarah Thornton, author of Seven Days in the Art World, the best-selling seminal guide to the art world. In 2020, aside from talks, we are initiating a series of workshops and demos by respected practitioners in the field to add depth to the understanding of the creative process. A watercolor demo by Claude Tayag, furniture-making and woodcarving by master woodsmith Benjie Reyes, printmaking by the Association of Pinoyprintmakers, a pottery workshop by Rita Gudiño of Tahanan Pottery, as well as photography workshops by Paco Guerrero, Mark Nicdao, Neal Oshima and Boy Yñiguez are on offer.

Beyond the car park. Each year, we build up interest and anticipation for the Art Fair by installing art beyond the confines of the car park. Last year’s glowing pierced metal vessel by Japanese artist Shinji Ohmaki sitting atop the Ayala Tower One reflecting pool is a case in point.  This year, The Link, the car park building, which hosts the fair, will be lit up by projections of artwork on its facade. Three years ago, we developed “10 Days of Art,” a pre-art fair program of parallel exhibitions, art events, art installations, and F&B offerings in the city.

International exposure. One aspect of the fair that we did not immediately anticipate when we started was the developing interest from beyond the confines of the Philippines. Interest from our regional neighbors grew over the years as gallerists, collectors, artists, curators and the art press visited the art fair to check out the scene for themselves. Foreign galleries began to take an interest and joined the art fair, at first selling works mostly by Filipino artists. Then, as the local audience grew more knowledgeable about art in general and open to learning more about works by non-Filipino artists, foreign galleries recognized a new market. In 2020, 30 percent of the galleries in the fair are from outside the Philippines.

Global giants of art. The ability to attract a large and wide audience has been a factor in enabling us to introduce an international, global element to the art we show in the fair. In 2020, we are fortunate to have been given permission by the estate of the American artist Sol LeWitt, a giant in the world of minimalist and conceptual art, to reproduce two of his vaunted wall drawings within the fair venue. In the past, we have had galleries exhibit works by famous names in modern art such as Yves Klein, Viktor Vasarely and Fernando Botero. Recognizing the importance of cultural exchange in the art world, the Italian Embassy has also partnered with us to bring in a contemporary art gallery from Italy to join the fair this year.

Looking back to where we started, I realize that as we have gone through the years carefully crafting the car park art fair space, honing its content, refining its operations, and developing new audiences; the fair has unarguably helped to build a community of networks among galleries, collectors, museum and other cultural institutions — all interacting with an ever-widening audience for the arts. We are especially grateful to all those who have sustained us through the years and persevered alongside: the artists and galleries who have stayed the course and, our longtime event partners and sponsors who have been with us from the outset, and most especially, our loyal audience.


It’s been a challenging yet thrilling ride shaping Art Fair Philippines these past eight years, but it’s always been worth striving towards the creation of an art-going public in our country.

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