Renewed courage in art

Giorgio Guglielmino - The Philippine Star

It was obvious that I would remain connected to the Filipino art scene that I had known and attended for four years. Now – from a more distant perspective – I feel freer, certainly not to criticize but perhaps to provide some unsolicited advice to ensure that Filipino art is able to break through the complex and difficult global contemporary art market.

I would like to start with the three “Fairies” of Art Fair Philippines – Lisa, Trickie and Din Din. Art Fair Philippines has been an essential tool to catalyze local and regional public attention on Filipino art. Now that major fairs in Europe (Art Basel, Frieze London) and in the United States (Armory New York) have reopened their doors to the public, Art Fair Philippines – possibly positioning itself temporally ahead in the course of 2022 – should be encouraged to do the same.

Now it no longer makes any sense to organize online fairs (the art public is saturated and fed up with such events) or even hybrid events. Lisa, Trickie, Din Din, please turn off your computers and find a physical location! Maybe a space more open than the traditional parking lot. A space where you have circulation of air and circulation of people too. Believe me, collectors are bored to death with virtual events that many of them do not even care about opening the links provided by galleries and fairs. My dear Fairies, a little bit of courage therefore!

To increase its international reach, the fair should also choose a foreign country every year – starting with a country in Southeast Asia – and name it “guest country,” providing financial and public relations incentives to galleries from that country.

And the Manila galleries? I hope they leave behind the little misunderstandings and participate all together in a single, great fair. To gallery owners: Don’t be jealous of those who do better than you and have international visibility, simply raise the standard and the results will come for you too.

I am very attached to the Ateneo Art Awards also because soon after my arrival in Manila I created the Embassy of Italy Award in the framework of Ateneo, an award which consists of the acquisition by the Italian embassy of a work by one of the 12 finalists with a view to constituting a small but significant collection of Filipino art inside the Italian embassy.

Perhaps because Ateneo is eager to widen the pool of possible finalists and to choose an inclusion policy, the selectors leave out some of the most significant exhibitions of the year in the desire to include galleries and artists never selected or awarded before. I may understand the principle, but awards are not a charity issue. Quality should always be the principle and allow me to say that the 2021 edition of the awards left me (and many other people) puzzled for the choices made. Art scene is a tough place and quality is the only way ahead. I am sorry but there must be no space for amateurs. It would be necessary to have a little more courage to bring out those artists who really deserve to have a chance on the international scene and – sorry! – to leave out the others.

The same courage should apply in choosing who is to represent the Philippines at international events of great importance such as the Venice Biennale. If I had to choose who to entrust the Philippine pavilion to at a future Biennale, I would make a bet on a young or even very young artist (a name? Martha Atienza, for example) who would stake his/her reputation. Maybe he/she would lose the bet but perhaps he/she would make critics widen their eyes and visitors finally say “Wow!” Let us remember that the 1964 Biennale grand award was won by American artist Robert Rauschenberg when he was less than 40 years old.

One last piece of advice to my collector friends from Manila.

Devote a little courage (and a very small part of the financial resources you have available to buy international works) and support the works of young talented Filipino artists. Have the courage to help them and make them grow also through your criticisms. Have the courage to tell them “These works are not up to par.” Be bold and tell them “You have to work harder.” Encourage them to work in their studios every day and not just if they have to prepare for an exhibition (this is a crazy attitude).

The results will come. For the artists, for the collectors and, more in general, for Filipino contemporary art in the world.

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Giorgio Guglielmino is the former ambassador of Italy to the Philippines.

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