Sunday daze

LOOKING ASKANCE - Joseph T. Gonzales - The Freeman

Some Sundays, I cannot help but find myself making my way to Antipolo.  Over there is not the church, nor the semi-polluted waterfalls, but a gargantuan art temple called Pinto.

It is a bit hard to find, and the traffic can get horrendous even on a weekend, as road construction seems to want to inconvenience everybody. But once one makes the turn off to the quiet residential subdivision that hosts Pinto, the hush of the trees and the fresher than normal air are enough to start soothing frazzled nerves.

Then, wonder.  As one walks inside the small arch, the enormity of the potential hits the visitor. Big vast gardens, multiple halls, and innumerable works of art lie patiently inside, waiting to enamor the casual visitor.  What more an art lover?

This whole place is a testament to contemporary art.  The brainchild of Dr. Joven Cuanang, the existence of Pinto is probably enough to have named Philippine hero.  Here, waiting to delight the Filipino public, are striking sculptures by schoolmate from UP Diliman Daniel de la Cruz, a winged chair from Leeroy New, a metal rocking horse that kids and petite males (ahem) can clamber on, and even a spectacular life-size replica of those oxen carts that in the 70s and 80s made their laborious way from Pangasinan to Manila, peddling rattan furniture and home made brooms. (Where are they now?)

No matter how conceptual, the doctor seems to have made space for it.  One room is a permanent installation of bamboo stalks, dimly lit in green, and the only thing audible is the quiet splish-splash of drops of water falling erratically onto pools.  The effect is eerie, it is unsettling.  Time stands still, and terror starts unfolding.  I can stand maybe a couple of minutes exposure, and then I start thinking of fungal and bacterial infections thriving in the dim atmosphere.  That ends the experience for me.

I walk to the chamber directly across, which is slightly risque.  This is an adults only section, although no prominent warning signs are posted.  Kiko Escora, whom I admire, has some lascivious pieces here.  Nude figures abound, with overt or implicit sexual messages. For example, we see a grandmother locked in the arms of her young dance partner, an obvious reference to the matrons who hire dance instructors.  Around her are the judgmental faces of other matronly ladies, and she has been led to an unflattering position. In fact, we belatedly realize, we can see her knickers already.  How deliciously shocking, at least for the grandma's contemporaries.

One entire building has been dedicated to the fabrics and textiles of traditional tribes, and native wooden godlets adorn the walls, a collection to rival BenCab's museum in Baguio.  Another building has Elmer Borlongan galore, as well as Garibay, Riel Hilario, and numerous Philippine art scene mainstays.

There is a small section dedicated to that Bacolod wunderkind, Mark Justiniani, who is now impossible to find.  Most of the representative works found here are mostly dark blue oil hues painted on wood which, while undeniably talented, really fail to represent him, especially knowing where his career has taken him.  After having branched out to other inventive manifestations, the Justiniani collection may be dated, and it would be refreshing to see his newer works featured in the gallery.

 I was delighted to see a piece by the elusive Parial (the fille, not the pere.  In fact, there are no works by Mario Parial in here, which is puzzling, unless the criteria to be included here is birth before 1965).  Mikel Parial's style is so distinctive, yet he seems to have stopped painting and delighting fans.  I wonder where he is right now.

One building is the work of art itself, as brainlike tumors bubble out of cement walls.  Another wall has multiple Daniel de la Cruz angels falling from grace, tumbling onto a pool.  A reflecting pool has a mossy Euripedes gazing at his reflection.  Turn into any corner, there is art to literally bump into.

After wandering around for hours, an open air cafe awaits visitors. Heaven.  The brewing coffee or the cold juices scent the air with the right garden ambience, and how can one not choose to sit and wistfully contemplate the beauty of life, the genius of creation and the lack of funds to buy more art.

There is a new mood in the capital, a renewed interest in the fine arts.  Auction houses have started driving the local prices to a range approaching a million dollars. (A BenCab rendition of his trademark Sabel just sold for P40 million two weeks ago.) The scene is vibrant, and some of the excitement is trickling into Cebu, with Qube Gallery leading the charge.

Where do we go from here? Pinto literally opened doors.

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