Art in the time of the virus

LOOKING ASKANCE - Joseph T. Gonzales (The Freeman) - March 29, 2020 - 12:00am

One would think that with the coronavirus crisis now sweeping the world, shuttering businesses and squeezing income dry, art would be the last thing on anyone’s mind. That it should take a back seat to other, more urgent matters (like food security and access to medical care). That art, in fact, has become irrelevant.

Well, not quite yet. There’s a great initiative coming from artists who want to help medical frontliners in the most logical way they can: selling artworks, with the proceeds intended to go to producing urgent medical protective gear.

This is “Art in the Front”, an online auction that was the brainchild of Cebu artists and art lovers like Pia Mercado, Golda King, Jean “Govinda” Marquesto, and Uzi Emperado. Nope, this wasn’t thought of as a gimmick by profit-minded galleries, or an idle play-ploy by wealthy collectors. This fundraiser is artist-led, and what a laudable initiative it is.

This auction (started last Friday night, and running until April 3) will direct the proceeds to the UP Foundation (I love my alma mater) to support UP Fablab. Fablab will, in turn, produce face shields, scrub suits, intubation kits and 3D-printed ventilation valves (I actually don’t know what the second half of the items listed is, but they sound pretty impressive).

Despite the many choices available to me in curfew-capital Manila (not), I planted myself in front of my computer and started checking out the artworks for sale. I was elated to learn that Cebu favorites like pop-artist Kenichi Wani, contemporary media artists Happy Garaje, and of course, ideators Golda King and company, had pitched in with collectible pieces not normally found in the art market.

I was also delighted to see fashion designer Oj Hofer contributing a sketch, a vivid red slash, just a few strokes capturing perfectly a stylish fashion plate. I would have thought that perhaps, Oj could have donated one of his sculptural dresses that so elegantly robes his muses. That was before I realized that this sketch was the perfect essence of Oj, as it marries his zen-Japanese obsession with his fashion design roots, as well as his UP Fine Arts background. Anyone want a one-of-a-kind sketch by Oj?

(I recall seeing Karl Lagerfeld sketches of dresses on display two years ago at Art Basel Hong Kong, so collecting designer sketches isn’t that strange).

Photographer Joseph Ong had a bouffant-coiffured model up for sale, and Wyndelle Remonde offered up a self-portrait at a bargain. Even a Manila favorite, the street artist Distortmonsters, had contributed a winsome piece titled “Girl Scout Cookies” with a starting bid of half his usual prices.

I’m actually hoping more artists from all over will pitch in and toss over more works to the pot, so that my insatiable hunger for encountering artists and artworks gets fed. Sort of. For example, scrolling through the choices, I chanced upon watercolorist Aliver Escano’s ‘scapes of beach and city, Marianne Guinto’s still lifes, and Guido Lubanga’s pen and ink sketches. Gorgeous discoveries!

What a great, guilt-free excuse to purchase art. For starters, and just to get things rolling, I placed bids on a couple of works by perennial favorite Kenichi Wani the very night that bidding opened. Come Saturday morning the next day, I was gratified to see that I had already been outbid by other well-meaning citizens. Happy to concede, fellow bidders!

So while Cebu and the rest of the country hunker down for the province-wide lockdown, my immediate request is for more art lovers to get online and start outbidding each other. No need to even get off your butts - stay planted on your couch! Might as well do good from the comfort of our homes - while we can!


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