Freeman Cebu Lifestyle

First Philippine Art Fair Sizzles

JT Gonzales - The Freeman

CEBU, Philippines - The buzz was electric as the 1st Philippine Art Fair unfolded at The Links structure in Makati City.  At first, the Manila public was wary about the announced venue.  An art fair within a parking lot?  Talk about unconventional. But those doubts were quickly dispelled as soon as one stepped out of the express elevator, and into the dramatically decked out foyer.

Dead center of the action were huge black sculptures by the current darling of Philippine contemporary art, Ronald Ventura.  In various poses and sizes and conveying various messages, the assemblage seemed like a play on the collection of giant native Ifugao bululs that BenCab has on display at his museum in Baguio.  However, these were anything but rudimentary, as the smooth contours of the glossy figures were offset by the black on ecru faux ceiling installed on top.

That amazing sight set the tone for the rest of the exhibits by the 22 select galleries that had been invited to the fair.  Contemporary old guards such as Charlie Co and Kiko Escora went toe to toe with samples of the dearly departed Onib Olmido’s genius.  Fresh graduates of fine arts institutions were displayed together with their mentors and professors.

Canvas Gallery decided to exhibit artists based on a theme well-beloved by Filipinos: basketball.  The artistic temperaments of guest artists including Elmer Borlongan were harnessed towards depicting that sport so ubiquitous in Philippine daily lives, and this decision turned out to be a hit with the Instagrammers.

There were two clear stand outs during this fair:  the softspoken Negrense Mark Justiniani, with his infinity inspired installations, and Gabby Barredo, with his jaw-dropping masterpiece of mechanical moving parts entitled ‘Asphalt.’  Both delivered (and how!), setting the bar extremely high for the next fair.

Justiniani showed another side to his artistry with devilishly clever trompe l’oile pieces that relied on two way mirrors to astound viewers.  His centerpiece was a box the size of a dining table less than two feet thick, but peering into its stage-lit contents plummets the viewer into miles of elevator shaft.

Barredo, on the other hand, snared art lovers with Asphalt, a phantasmagoric clockwork collection built from both found and metallic objects.  There are dolls and angel wings and puppets and toy soldiers installed on trays and grills and stands, a dizzying collection that requires hours of contemplation before any sort of comprehension can be achieved.  The piece was so sensational that the rumors flew thick on opening night that the Louis Vuitton museum had snapped up the piece.

The art bigwigs and afficonadoes were out in full force, including Paulino Que and the Zobel de Ayalas.  Artists like BenCab and Charlie Co held court, together with gallery owners Gigo Alampay, Jun Villalon of the Drawing Room and Issa Lorenzo of Silverlens.

There was room for legs to stretch, glowing cubes cum chairs that dotted the halls so weary feet could rest, and plenty of space for private tete a tete conversations to be held.  There was none of the cramped feeling that unfortunately attends some art fairs, so the crowds could soak in the art in relative (and airconditioned) comfort.

Off to one side was the VIP area, where comfortable Cobonpue Bloom chairs were spotlit by Luisa Robinson’s Dragon’s Tail lamps.  Kenneth Cobonpue had been given the daunting task of editing the entire space for the fair, and his choice arrangement of the various galleries and stand alone exhibits were widely appreciated by the discerning crowd.

At the end of the easy circular loop, one realizes that more than an hour has passed, and yet not everything has been assimilated or even given their proper due.  The big moments have overpowered the more quiet, well-thought out works, and yet more time needs to be devoted to contemplative pieces.  With the curnocopia of contemporary art on display, this fair was a resounding success.

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