Starweek Magazine

Thirteen Artists and an Award

- Sid Gomez Hildawa -
Awards are not necessary to the production of art. In fact, awards and recognition could be counter-productive, as when we forget that self-esteem and self-worth cannot be found outside the self. The artist’s primary obligation when producing an artwork is not to a target audience or market, much less to critics or judges; only to the self as creator in society. For this reason, a number of artists do not join competitions, do not run after university degrees, do not aim for awards.

On the other hand, like encouraging pats on the shoulder, awards are welcome bonuses along the often thankless road of art practice. I refer to the kind of recognition reflective of an artistic support system where feedback is integral to the creative process, providing inspiration while raising questions, and contributing to the overall development of a critical discourse. This is the kind of award the CCP Thirteen Artists is, periodically conferred by the Cultural Center of the Philippines to progressive young artists.

Our country boasts of having one of the longest traditions of Modern Art in Asia, thanks to our early links with America, and to the pioneering achievements of Filipino artists who broke away from the classical conventions that dominated pre-war painting and sculpture. Art historians would later refer to this group as the Thirteen Moderns: Arsenio Capili, Bonifacio Cristobal, Demetrio Diego, Victorio Edades, Carlos "Botong" Francisco, Cesar Legaspi, Diosdado Lorenzo, Anita Magsaysay, Vicente Manansala, Galo Ocampo, Hernando Ocampo, Jose Pardo and Ricarte Puruganan.

It was in honor of these artists that the CCP Museum with Roberto Chabet as Director in 1970 began an exhibition series called the Thirteen Artists, to feature among the artists of that time those who showed "a recentness, a turning away from past, familiar models of art making, a movement towards possibilities and discoveries."

This series of exhibitions eventually developed into an institutional awards program with a token prize and distinction that have been coveted, built on a growing roster of awardees, many of whom have fulfilled their potential of being prime movers in the contemporary art scene. Among them, from the first batch in 1970, for example, are Ray Albano, Angelito Antonio, Virgilio Aviado, Eduardo Castrillo, BenCab, Mars Galang, Jaime de Guzman, Manuel Rodriguez, Jr. and Antonio Austria. Since yesterday’s avant-garde often moves on to become today’s mainstream, younger artists exploring yet more radical ideas have emerged through the years to advance the cause of new art.

Although this award was not conferred on a regular basis– there were years when it was almost scrapped altogether– it managed to keep what art critic Patrick Flores called a "hovering presence" in the art community, so that its revival in 2000 was warmly received, together with its recipients that year: Ronald Achacoso, Juan Alcazaren, Sari Lluch Dalena, Alfredo Esquillo, Jr., Karen Flores, Emmanuel Garibay, Gerry Leonardo, Neil Manalo, Bernardo Pacquing, Jr., Claro Ramirez, Jr., John Frank Sabado, Jose Santos III and Katti Sta. Ana.

This year’s batch establishes the CCP Thirteen Artists Awards as a triennial conferment, as it continues to adopt the 2000 criteria that has evolved through eleven batches: a body of work characterized by artistic integrity, innovativeness and cogency of ideas, sustained artistic activity and responsiveness to contemporary realities. An age limit of 39 has been set to keep the youthful nature of the award, and to exclude more mature artists suited for other forms of recognition. There is also a move towards more focus on the visual arts, as compared to previous batches that included a sprinkling of film and theater practitioners.

Each of the three judges this year–Prof. Alice Guillermo, 1988 awardee Jose Tence Ruiz, and myself–separately reviewed files of the candidates and made our own shortlist of 15 names from a pool of 40 qualified nominees. These shortlists were tallied in time for an en banc meeting where we deliberated on the merits of finalists, paring down the selection to thirteen. We were unanimous in our final choices: Leonard Aguinaldo, Andres Barrioquinto, Ringo Bunoan, Mideo Cruz, Kiko Escora, Nona Garcia, Dennis Gonzales, Geraldine Javier, Ronaldo Ruiz, Wire Rommel Tuazon, Ronald Ventura, Reginald Yuson and Eric Zamuco. Their new and recent works will be featured in a group exhibition at the CCP main gallery from September 17 to October 26, to open on its first evening with awarding ceremonies at the CCP Main Lobby.

Eric Florentino, young art writer for the exhibit catalogue, notes, "These thirteen comprise arguably the strongest batch ever, with over 450 local and international gallery exposures already between them, plus over a dozen international commendations, five national gold medals, three Biennale exposures, and even one Asean Art Award Grand Prize (the first woman winner ever, the youngest so far and the second Filipino)."

In addition to a modest cash grant and art trophy designed by 1988 awardee Dan Raralio, each of this year’s winners will receive a citation from the Cultural Center of the Philippines, made possible by support from the Metrobank Foundation and ArtPetron, two private agencies sympathetic to young talents. As usual, this year’s batch of CCP Thirteen Artists awardees is expected to attract public attention, admiration, intrigue and some criticism. Their works, after all, challenge conventional modes of practice and perception, and even defy establishments. More important, however, is the continuing spirit that engaging art embodies: the imagination, vigor, critical disposition and restlessness of young artists working to expand the definition of art in relation to contemporary realities.

The author is the Director of the CCP Cultural Resource Department. The CCP main gallery,
Bulwagang Juan Luna, is located at the third level of the CCP main building along Roxas Boulevard. Gallery hours are from 10am to 6pm daily except Mondays. Admission is free. For particulars, call 832-3702.

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