We still need art

DIPLOMATIC POUCH - Giorgio Guglielmino - The Philippine Star

Museums are closed, art galleries too, prestigious awards are suspended, artists are in lockdown, auction houses are not operational, shops selling materials for artists are closed, collectors wait at their windows.

Yet just in a situation like this it makes sense to wonder about the world of art and how the various protagonists of what until two months ago was a world made of events, drinks, acquisitions, beautiful life could start again, perhaps with a different and greater awareness than before.

The first step that I would take is the reopening – albeit with every precaution – of the museums. I say it a little “pro domo mea” because I would like the exhibition “Arte Povera. Italian landscape” in progress at the Metropolitan Museum to be visited by many more people. But I say this more generally first of all because museums are not places of excessive crowding and above all because people need beauty. Being able to go to a safe place to admire objects and works of art is a medicine for the spirit, and since one of the effects of isolation can be depression, museums are an effective medicine for the mind.

The galleries will have to abandon crowded openings for some time (but maybe we won’t miss them) and focus on a new relationship between visitors / collectors and works of art. Many years ago the brilliant Neapolitan gallerist Lucio Amelio (he was the one who brought together in Naples the two giants of contemporary art Andy Warhol and Joseph Beuys) opened a gallery in Paris called “Pièce unique”, unique piece. The gallery had its own beautiful and surprising feature: it exhibited only one work of art at a time. I certainly don’t envisage that all the galleries in Manila should start exhibiting a single work! However, perhaps limiting the number of works and limiting the number of admitted people to the gallery will lead to a greater concentration from few people at the same time on each individual work, on its beauty and its actual value. Focus attention to enjoy the beauty of the works, without the confusion of chatter, glasses of wine, gossip, overcrowding of works and people.

Still on the subject of art galleries with regard to online viewing rooms, a nice initiative was launched by David Zwirner’s gallery (London and New York) by making available part of its website in favor of small emerging galleries. Each gallery – large or small – has its own site. The difference is that David Zwirner’s site has thousands of visitors every day, thus exponentially increasing the visibility of young artists from small galleries. In its website the initiative is titled “Platform New York” and “Platform London.” I think that a similar experiment could be done in Manila by Silverlens which has an excellent website and national as well as  international visibility. Isa Lorenzo, why don’t you  create “Platform Manila” similarly to what Zwirner does?

Due to the difficulties associated with holding events during this period, the prestigious Ateneo Art Awards have been suspended and the 2020 edition will not take place. But the Ateneo Gallery did not give up and recently launched an initiative – also with the support of the embassy of Italy – which consists of a call to submit works on paper 14 of which will then be acquired: 12 by the Ateneo Art Gallery, two by the Italian embassy. A total of 14 artists will therefore benefit from an amount deriving from the sale of a work during these times of  locked galleries.

The artists could use this imposed confinement to focus on their work and not on the work of the other artists to be replicated, on their original works and on the concept of tradition and originality (a theme that I dealt with in my book “The Originals - 30 artists that shaped contemporary art” published last February in Manila by Anvil Publishing).

Regarding the creativity and responses of the artists to the global emergency of these months, I suggest everyone (artists, collectors, etc.) to look on the website of the art gallery Hauser & Wirth their viewing room with the works on paper by Rashid Johnson, among the strongest and most amazing pieces that I’ve seen in recent months, all titled “Untitled anxious red drawings.”

And what about the collectors who after all are the engine of the whole art world? Staying indoors for weeks will perhaps make them see the works of their collection with a different eye. Some will keep them company like the best of friends. Others will make collectors wonder “Why did I buy this painting??!!.” These weeks might refine the collectors’ taste and lead them to consider that it makes no sense to run after the fashion names. It might also become a small pleasure to wait until they can go to collect in the gallery their next acquisition, take it home and hang it on the wall the day that the quarantine will finally be over for everyone.

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(Giorgio Guglielmino is Ambassador of Italy to the Philippines)

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