Viva Visayans

LOOKING ASKANCE - Joseph Gonzales - The Freeman

Art is in the air.


It is the fourth year of Art Fair Philippines and the artsy crowds have descended upon what is normally a parking lot building, the Link. Politicians, actresses, and businessmen mingle with students, budding artists, and national artists. Commerce and ideals clash and marry. What’s new?

More international galleries have opted to come and show, featuring unknown (to the Philippine market) but certainly supremely talented visionaries. Boteros are on display, and the astronomical prices leaves no doubt as to why some artists are diligently plugging away at their own shot at fame and fortune.

Fair mainstay Orange Gallery featured four Bacolod artists, injecting the sole Visayan representation in the event. (Although, Vinyl on Vinyl gallery tapped Cebu artist Wyndelle Remonde to come in on the third day to introduce his limited edition carabao sculptures, dramatically offset by his graffiti wall).

Orange's Junjun Montelibano, Faye Abantao, Roderick Tijing, and Raymond Legaspi produced works centered around the theme of the altar. Titled “Altar Obsessions,” the mini-show attracted regular supplicants and new converts to the Orange booth. But, the question was, where were the offerings of Orange's main priest, Charlie Co?

While having no pieces on display, Charlie was visible, entertaining the faithful and fielding prayers for available pieces left back home in Negros. And when asked to lecture acolytes, Charlie deigned to share his vision for the Visayan art scene.

Even this early, Charlie is thinking ahead. VIVA Excon, a bi-annual art event for Visayan artists, will be in 2020. It will be the 30th anniversary of the fair, reminding us that Art Fair Philippines is a babe in the woods compared to the VIVA shindig. For VIVA, Charlie is confident he has the talent to showcase, and the appropriate venue to house it. But he is worried about the collectors crucial to support any art fair.

Will the collectors bother to come from their comfortable homes in Manila, and fly to sugarlandia? That's certainly hoped! And as early as now, Charlie is trumpeting the call and rallying crowds. Charlie regaled me with his efforts to link with other Manila galleries, and even Jaime Laya and BenCab, who have, in one form or another, pledged to help.

Which is sad. It is our government that should be leading this exercise and delivering critical support, instead of allowing appointees to just enrich themselves with taxpayers’ money.

Who should support and guide young artists? Who should create venues that bridge the artist and the audience? Who should be funding meaningful international internships and residency programs?

It should be our government, which fails at delivering even basic services. So, instead, it is private citizens that worry about and deliver support. Logistics, media, collateral, visibility. Donated artworks to enable seed money. Creative individuals like Charlie should be left alone to create, instead of spending time lobbying for support and seeking to spark inspiration.

Charlie pontificates on artists mingling and forming lifelong bonds at Excon, and unleashing joint artistic forces. He exclaims: “We are creating history now!” His enthusiasm is evident, and he is literally bouncing off his stool as he maps out his vision.

I rib Charlie that he should be renamed “Catalyst Co.” And why not? Many Visayan artists owe their careers to him and his mentorship. He has carved a popular and very respectable niche in Manila. And with VIVA, he is stamping their mark on Philippine history, whether the rest of the country cares or not. A catalyzer, indeed.


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