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Philippine contemporary art’s growth spurt at Hong Kong International art fair

When an international art collector from Turkey visits Hong Kong in order to attend Asia’s leading contemporary art fair and finds that the two Filipino paintings he wanted to purchase are already sold, a few things are clear: The lines of the art world are starting to form a circle, and Filipino art has started to take its place in this new shape.

ART HK 11, a four-year-old art fair recently purchased by Swiss MCH Group, the owners of Art Basel and Art Basel Miami, plays a crucial role in allowing such transnational art exchanges to take place.

Clearly the demand for such opportunities to converse is only growing. A record 63,000 art lovers, collectors, gallery directors, artists, critics and curators—from Asia, Europe and the USA—came to view works brought to Hong Kong from 260 galleries and 38 countries. This represents a 37-percent increase from last year’s fair and almost equals the number of visitors to 2010’s Art Basel.

Having firmly established its place on the global art circuit, the five-day Hong Kong International Art Fair offered unparalleled diversity and an incredible opportunity to network. Not only did it provide access to a wide array of Asian art, it also brought together the world’s most prestigious galleries and emerging artists.

And for the 18 Filipino artists showcased at ART HK 11 by galleries from Milan, Korea, Hong Kong and Manila, this bridging together of East and West provided the Filipino art world with a chance to connect to the international art world more broadly than ever.

ART HK 11 was held on two floors of the enormous Hong Kong Convention and Visitors Center and was organized into three sections. Visitors to the Galleries section found “name brands” of the art world. Art Futures consisted of 45 of the world’s best new galleries showcasing the work of emerging artists under the age of 35. A new section, Asia One, was dedicated to solo presentations by Asian galleries ranging from Turkey and the Middle East to Australia and Southeast Asia.

‘Art must be beautiful’

For those who wanted to reflect upon art as well as look at it, there were many events organized which provoked discussion and analysis. Intelligence2Asia, a group that organizes debates, brought together a panel of respected artists and critics to debate the idea “Art must be beautiful.” The Asian Cultural Council’s booth featured a lightbox-turned-game installation, by artist Amy Cheung, which asked “Can You Put a Price Tag on Value?”
Manila-based gallery Drawing Room featured a selection of sculpture, paintings and installation by Alfredo Aquilizan, Diokno Pasilan, Mark Salvatus, Roderico José Daroy, Kawayan de Guia, Riel Hilario and Troy Ignacio.

Owner Cesar Villalon Jr. explained why he feels galleries should regularly participate in art fairs: ” It’s the exposure—thousands of people from different countries will see Philippine contemporary art in this small space of a booth so people get to know us much faster. ” Rachel Rillo of Manila’s Silverlens Gallery added: “Also we should know where we stand next to everyone else. This kind of place is a cross-section of that.”

Over a dozen Filipino collectors also attended ART HK 11, taking advantage of the opportunity to be further exposed to what is happening in the international and regional art scenes. “There is a big world of artists just an hour away from us and to be able to see so many big galleries and new artists in a matter of days is wonderful,” Rillo said. “This is Disneyland for art lovers.”

Silverlens featured the work of Patricia Eustaquio, Mariano Ching, Elaine Navas, Nona Garcia, Luis Lorenzana and Frankie Callaghan. By the end of the fair, 75 percent of all the works had been bought.

Some international galleries which have traditionally carried the work of Chinese or Korean artists are now looking at the burgeoning Southeast Asian market as a source of new talent, and Philippine art has caught their attention.

Local but global


Italian art gallery Primo Marella has galleries in Milan and Beijing and devoted their space solely to Ronald Ventura’s paintings, sculptures and installations. Gallery curator Elena Micheletti credits the international success of Ventura to his ability to have strong local roots but speak globally.

“Much of his work starts from a religious departure but somehow he can speak to those who are not Christian as he achieves a language that is totally universal and touches what is at the base of humankind,” she said.

Gallery owner Primo Marella believes the international success of artists such as Ventura will help further open the door for other Filipino artists.

He explained why he is now committed to promoting Filipino and Indonesian art: “After many years, Asian art is coming gradually to the center of the art world and it’s about the time of art from the Philippines. They are quite fresh but have good academic basis—in my opinion some of the best painters in the world.”

Korea’s Arario gallery has galleries in Seoul and Beijing, and has been working for years to educate the Korean collector about Filipino artists, such as Leslie de Chavez and Geraldine Javier.

Curator Junghwa Ryu said, “Philippine art is more figurative and painterly, which is new for us.”

Ryu explained why they chose to include Javier at their ART HK 11 booth: “This artist in particular is interested in human fear and obsession and expresses powerful and strong violent emotion in her work. Korean art is more conservative, so we like it.”

Hong Kong’s Osage Gallery has been trying to strengthen the understanding of Filipino art in Hong Kong, and decided to show the work of Alvin Zafra, Poklong Anading and Louie Cordero at its booth.

Ethnic and cultural references

Gallery director David Chan points out that, compared to art from countries such as Indonesia or Thailand, Filipino art tends to be less constrained by ethnic or cultural references.

“Filipino artists not so bound in one place so how they perceive art is much more global,” he said. “You don’t see many cultural icons.”

Rillo said, “It used to be that people asked what made the art we have distinctly Filipino and it was hard to answer. Nowadays it’s not a disadvantage because it’s about the artist, not so much where he is from.”

Chan has noticed an important change in the mind-set of collectors, one of which perhaps is fueling the worldwide interest in international art fairs.

“People used to just buy art from their own countries but now the more mature collectors collect whatever they like,” he said. “There are more choices out there. It’s a good change because art has no boundaries and is happening everywhere.”

For many gallery owners such as Magnus Edensvard, of London-based Ibid Projects, ART HK 11 was their first Asian art fair and first taste of what Asia has to offer the art world.

Impressed with the possibilities, Edensvard said: “The way people engaged with the artist’s work not just on a commercial level but on intellectual level-—they really got it. And the fact that we met so many curators is very positive. When you go back, you don’t want to just report sales to an artist but critics, press and curators interest in their work. The fact that we can deliver on all levels to artists is very rewarding.”

It was also dedicated Asian art collector Patrick Reyno’s first time at ART HK 11. Although impressed by the amount of European and American galleries who joined, he was especially excited to see the interest in Philippine art growing, and to see the country well-represented at the fair.

“By the mere presence at the fair they are helping increase awareness of Philippine art and expanding the market globally so the whole Filipino art community benefits from a gallery’s efforts,” said Reyno.

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July 4, 2011
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