More or Less

Cristina Sanchez-Kozyreva at the 4th Art Fair Philippines

Left: Artist Michael Lin and MCAD head of exhibition Fatima Manalili at Bank Bar. Right: Artists Buboy Cañafranca and Kawayan de Guia with filmmaker Kidlat Tahimik at MCAD. (All photos: Cristina Sanchez-Kozyreva)

“IT’S A GREAT IDEA to repurpose a parking lot,” said one of the guests filling the lifts that serviced the Link Carpark in Makati, where the fourth edition of Art Fair Philippines opened last month. “But couldn’t they have invested in a grander entrance?”

On the sixth floor, we were greeted by nascent VIP queues and air-kisses from those who had already snatched their passes and made it inside. On the seventh floor, Nick Buckley Wood from Pearl Lam Hong Kong was running late for the airport and swiftly scanning the more than forty galleries and project spaces. “I came for that opera thing last night,” Wood said, referring to Gabriel Barredo’s Opera at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. “It was crazy, but good.” I spotted Aenon Loo of both White Cube Hong Kong and Gallery Exit lingering at Edouard Malingue’s booth with a good-spirited Lorraine Malingue. A crisp “I loooooove this!” broke out as I entered an exhibition at Crucible Gallery of line drawings and minimal sculptures by Arturo Luz (turning ninety this year). “Oh!” the voice continued. “Did I say that out loud?”

Left: National Gallery Australia curator Melanie Eastburn and dealer Matthias Arndt. Right: Art adviser Amelia Abdullahsani, dealer Michael Janssen, and TV host–nightclub owner Tim Yap at the Palace.

“It’s More Fun in the Philippines,” goes the Tourism Bureau’s official slogan, reminding me of Umberto Eco’s tracking of that supposedly American keyword “more” in his 1973 essay “Travels in Hyperreality.” The slogan is as overused here as “Same, same but different!” is in Thailand—a common conversational fallback. But even though I was braced for hyperbole, I was left aghast by Daniel Dela Cruz’s His Only Son, an installation in a dramatically lit black room featuring dozens of brass sculptures: crucifixes alongside torn and muscular and aging and pregnant (virgin?) bodies. “He’s very devoted,” I was told matter-of-factly. More deliberate garishness was to be found at the booth for Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan Mabini Art Project, a pursuit the enduring couple—thirty-one years and five kids later—kicked off ten years ago with commissions from the street painter Antonio Calma. Named after the postwar Mabini Art Movement, the installation included a convenience store and sculptures made of stacks of paintings to be sold “by the meter,” pressuring the tenuous distance between low and high art. “She has a hat for every event,” said collector Hugo Bunzl, pointing at Tessa Rufino-Prieto Valdes of the prominent Rufino family, who had just joined the vernissage. I ran into Jasdeep Sandhu from Gajah gallery who had brought a couple of works by Ashley Bickerton, and we talked about Bickerton’s home base in Bali. “He is like in the movie The Martian: marooned on a foreign land and wondering ‘HTF will I get home?’ ” Exquisite agony.

On Thursday, the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design opened “Locomotion,” a solo show with the Shanghai-based Taiwanese artist Michael Lin involving local pedicabs. Artist Kawayan De Guia shared tips on when to best visit the mountain town Baguio, and his father, the filmmaker Kidlat Tahimik (rocking the coolest E.T. tee), reminisced about pregentrified Beaubourg in the mid-1970s. “Is this the red light district?” asked one of my fellow travelers as we arrived at 1335 Mabini for the opening of two shows, one by socially engaged Bacolod-based artist Manny Montelibano featuring pole dancers, and the second including dreamy seascape paintings and plastic-wrapped sculptures by Korean artist Hong Soun. I spoke to Poklong Anading and Tad Ermitaño about their upcoming participation with Mark Salvatus in the Philippines pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale. Their subject? The perverse impact of the National Cultural Heritage Act, which has inspired some owners to demolish their buildings just prior to their fiftieth year to avoid rehabilitation costs.

Left: Dealers Aenon Loo and Lorraine Malingue. Right: Globe platinum director Isabel Katrina S. del Carmen and socialite Tessa Prieto-Valdes.

By that time we were due at MCAD’s afterparty at Bank Bar, a speakeasy accessible through the storage room of a 7-Eleven, inside a bank. An elated crowd was raving the night away as I met MCAD’s newish head of exhibitions, Fatima Manalili, recently back in the Philippines after a five-year stint at the Orange County Museum of Art. Soon enough I was distracted exchanging late-night wisdom with TV/radio celebrity and “eventologist” Tim Yap: “In Manila we are like the Smurfs, everyone knows each other, and everyone is super friendly.” We cheerfully followed him to one of his clubs, Revel at the Palace, where he gave us a grand tour of the premises, moving in sync with the music up and down stairs and via back passages to the various DJ decks of his palatial entertainment complex. (More: It had a pool.)

The next night, anticipating Manila’s nightmarish traffic, we gave up on the Wasak! party in Cubao. We missed out on some crazy beats at the artist space–cum–production studio, which features a reproduction of Guernica and a live ostrich. Instead, I lingered at the home of collector Jonathan Matti, where a happy Can Yavuz, whose Singapore-based Yavuz Gallery was exhibiting at the fair for the first time, talked shop with the other guests. “My collection is a collection of ideas,” said Alvaro Pertierra. Everyone nodded. If the fair was anything to measure by, ideas sold very well in Makati that week.

Left: TV host Tim Yap, Art Fair Philippines's Dindin Araneta, Singapore Art Museum curator Joyce Toh, and Fost Gallery's Stephanie Fong at Bank Bar. Right: Dealer Jasdeep Sandhu.

Left: Dealer Jun Tirtadji, artist Hahan, and art adviser Amelia Abdullahsani. Right: Artists Ian Carlo Jaucian, Hong Soun, and Manny Montelibano at 1335.

Left: Artist MM Yu and dealers Isa Lorenzo and Rachel Rillo. Right: Artists Nona Garcia and Poklong Anading at MCAD.

Left: Art consultant Talenia Phua Gajardo and Singapore Tyler Print Institute gallery director Rita Targui. Right: Collectors Hugo Bunzl and Alvaro Pertierra with Dominique Arcenas.

Left: Ateneo Art Gallery's Yael A. Buencamino and auctioneer Ramon E.S. Lerma. Right: Designers Teresa Herrera and Rajo Laurel of Project Runway Philippines with Art Fair Philippines cofounder Trickie C. Lopa.

Left: Dealer Cesar “Jun” Villalon and artists Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan. Right: Dealer Birgit Zimmermann and artist Merv Espina.

Left: Julius Baer's MD Christian Capplli, dealer Michael Janssen, and collection curator Barbara Staubli. Right: Dealer Tomio Koyama, artist Ringo Bunoan, Ruang Gerilya's Wibi Triardi, and critic John Batten.