Third Time’s a Charm

Manila, The Philippines
02.24.15

Left: Art Fair Philippines cofounder Trickie C. Lopa and Bonhams deputy chairman Magnus Renfrew. Right: Artist Christina “Ling” Quisumbing Ramilo in her studio. (All photos: Cristina Sanchez-Kozyreva)


“REMEMBER LAST YEAR, the people dancing on the first night?” asked dealer Edouard Malingue as we stood in a car park in Makati, the wealthiest of the cities composing metro Manila. “Of course I had to come back.”

For one week earlier this month the car park doubled as the grounds for Art Fair Philippines, at which Malingue was showing Jeremy Everett’s pastel-decayed blanket canvases. Except for a few galleries like Malingue’s who brought non-Filipino artists, the fair mostly surveys the local scene. Highlights included special projects such as Roberto Feleo’s large installation of earth-toned, humanoid sculptures referencing early-nineteenth-century anticolonial revolts and Geraldine Javier’s Let’s Talk About Art, a participatory wall drawing featuring croquis of dealers she knows. The preview was quiet—“A lot has been pre-sold,” complained an advisor from Singapore—but the mood lifted for the upbeat free-rum-cocktails vernissage. “People buy stuff and expect to take it home right away,” laughed a dealer. “And this year they take credit cards.”

“We even have shopping carts!” jested Fatima Avila of Tin-Aw, displaying canister works by more than one hundred artists reenacting a 1996 exhibition inspired by the slogan of then President Ramos, “Yes the Filipino Can!” Each can was discretely QR-coded—“it already looked like a supermarket, we didn’t want people to go straight for the star-names,” said artist and organizer Leo Abaya. The display included forty-four bamboo pieces by Alwin Reamillo portraying forty-four members of the elite police massacred last month during an antiterrorist operation. The Philippines mixes high and low drama quite naturally.

Left: Artist Paul Pfeiffer, curator Joselina Cruz, and collector Rocky David at MCAD. Right: Dealers Michael Janssen and Edouard Malingue.


Reamillo also had a solo presentation at Jia Studio and Hugo Bonzl, a flea-market-like exhibition built out of material from Japanese surplus stores—one of them a rolling cylindrical piano—that paid homage to the late provocateur Santiago Bose, cofounder of the Baguio Arts Guild. More of Bose’s bricolage, installed with the help of former student Kawayan de Guia, was to be seen in the show “Propaganda” at the Lopez Museum, alongside drawings by former activist Nunelucio Alvarado, Joey Cobcobo social-realism-themed thumb-and-woodcut paintings, Alvin Yapan’s video installation denouncing rice cartels, and World War II agitprop posters.

Some of us headed back through Manila’s congested traffic of jeepneys and cars for dinner at Silverlens, where Gabriel Barredo’s mesmerizing installation Opera, in production for more than a year, recalled Da Vinci’s science experiments and Giger’s surrealist narratives. “I am not sure I can eat,” smirked a guest, pointing at the fiberglass defect babies suspended in nylon pouches above the table. “But it’s growing on me.” After dinner we repaired to the home of collectors Gabby and Jia Estrella, where a sunglass-wearing Wawi Navarroza invited me to her book signing and the unpresuming collector Paulino Que softly talked a couple of us through the work of Filipino artists on the walls.

ART IS A GUARRANTY OF SANITY, stated Christina “Ling” Quisumbing Ramilo’s T-shirt on Friday morning. “I reuse everything,” she said, pointing at the organized mess of her studio. I set off for Jigger Cruz’s studio, where he spends his nights painting or playing drums, and bumped into an excitable Matthias Arndt, who was organizing the artist’s Plasticine-esque paintings to show in Hong Kong, Berlin, and New York. Before Paul Pfeiffer’s opening at Manila’s Museum of Contemporary Art and Design—“You have to come back for the sunset!”—we stopped at yet another artist studio, this one belonging to Mark Justiniani and Joy Mallari. Justiniani had just finished one of his mirrored cabinets, while Mallari told us about her upcoming collaboration with the traditional Kalinga weaving community. Abused by a day in traffic, we joined more of our kind in a bar where artist Leeroy New and I managed to gesticulate a little on the dance floor while local couples slow-danced to the live music.

Left: Artists Mark Justiniani and Joy Mallari. Right: Ana Labrador, assistant director of the National Museum of the Philippines, and Jeremy Barnes, director of the National Museum of the Philippines.


Saturday, at Finale Art File, former members of alternative space Surrounded by Water, initiated by Wire Tuazon in the middle of a rice field in 1998, presented a commemorative exhibition and a slide presentation for an eclectic audience of artists, advisers, curators, dealers, collectors and auction house specialists—you know, the art world. Back at the fair, Patrick Flores’s jargony talk on the upcoming Filipino pavilion in Venice (the first since 1965) was greeted by rounds of applauses and head nods.

In the evening, 1335Mabini had a closing party for “bad girl” Jeona Zoleta and an opening for another artist, Tad Ermitaņo, who brought a singular palm-tree log sound installation to the fair that involved cutting it and frying and eating the weevil larvae stuck inside. In the open vestibule of the colonial building surrounded by the red-light district, Ermitano’s former experimental noise band, the Children of Cathode Ray, played to the delight of collector Daisuke Miyatsu, who had been invited to talk about the market for the less plastic arts. “At least auction houses don’t touch sound and video,” someone had said during the exchange. Watching the chilled-out crowd I thought, Who needs the market when you’re having fun?

Cristina Sanchez-Kozyreva

Left: The Children of Cathode Ray: Regiben Romana, Tad Ermitano, Jing Garcia, Magyar Tuason, and Peter Marquez. Right: Artist Gabriel Barredo in front of his installation Opera at Silverlens Manila.


Left: Art Basel VIP Relations Manager Asia Deborah Ehrlich, collector Melani Setiawan, dealer Birgit Zimmermann, and collector Lina Koswara. Right: Artist Derek Tumala and dealer Cesar “Jun” Villalon.


Left: Artist Jigger Cruz in his studio. Right: Artist Alwin Reamillo and collector-dealer Hugo Bunzl.


Left: Artist Leo Abaya and dealer Marya Salang of Tin-aw. Right: Artist Joey Cobcobo and curator Ricky P. Francisco at Lopez Museum.


Left: Artist Michael Alvin R. Adrao. Right: Artist-filmmaker Tad Ermitaņo.


Left: Artist Maria Taniguchi. Right: Artists Annie Cabigting and Nilo Ilarde.


Left: Artists Ronson Culibrina and Camille Quintos. Right: Bazaar Art Jakarta's fair director Leo Silitonga and Christie's Shuyin Yang at Finale Art File.


Left: Artists Marina Cruz and Rodel Tapaya. Right: Dealer Rudolf Kratochwil and artist Poklong Anading at 1335 Mabini.


Left: Mercedes L. Vargas, executive director at the Lopez Museum, and artist Nunelucio Alvarado. Right: Singapore Art Museum curator Joyce Toh and artist Kawayan de Guia.


Left: Collector Gabby Estrella and Jia Estrella. Right: Yael A. Buencamino, managing curator of Ateneo Art Gallery, and art historian Ambeth R. Ocampo.


Left: Dealers Deddy Irianto and Nunu Hung. Right: Dealer Laksamana Tirtadji “Jun” of Roh Projects.


Left: Curator Patrick D. Flores. Right: Dealer Silvana A. Diaz and artist Elmer Borlongan.