People have a love-hate relationship with The Link every time it transforms into an art market each February. Some art-watchers appreciate the location for its convenience; others complain about the limited elevators, the air-con, the parking.
Still, people show up. And they’ve been showing up since 2013, back when the three ladies from the Museum Foundation of the Philippines: Trickie Lopa, Dindin Araneta, and Lisa Periquet, premiered what would become the biggest annual art event in the country.
Art Fair Philippines is gearing up for its 10th edition this February, and Lopa recently shared her recollections with ANCX about putting the whole thing together in the beginning, specifically finding the perfect venue for such an ambitious undertaking, one inspired obviously by the huge art fairs in the region. The ladies knew they wanted a central location—accessible to many, “a place where you can just go,” said Lopa. “Where you can come in during lunch.”
The three were at that time working with Ayala Land and scouring options from its property catalogue. Recalled Lopa: “It was actually Fernando Zobel who suggested, ‘Why don’t you check out this car park? It’s kind of newish, it has nice bathrooms. Look at it.’” Which they did. And they saw the possibilities. And just to confirm their hunch, they invited the noted architect Andy Locsin to survey the space. “Oh, this is definitely workable!” And that’s how it all started. For the interiors, they even got extra help from global design star Kenneth Cobonpue.
On that first February, the fair had 24 galleries for each of the floors it occupied, which included all the top-tier art spaces in Manila. “We had 6,000 visitors in that first year and we were super happy already,” said Lopa, laughing at the memory. “That meant we can do another year, and that’s pretty much how it’s been.”
The Art Fair audience has no doubt grown over the years. The highest turnout was in 2017, at 40,000 visitors which, judging from Lopa’s reaction, was already quite overwhelming. In 2020, their last live event before the pandemic, the fair hit a more manageable 30,000 visitors.
Lopa takes pride in these numbers. To her they represent the results the fair wanted to accomplish from the beginning. When asked how she thinks Art Fair Philippines impacted the local contemporary art scene, Lopa told ANCX: “I think something we set out to do and I think we really achieved is to expand the audience for contemporary art. That was really our goal.
“When we started it 10 years ago, if you remember, there were art fairs in Hong Kong and Singapore, which still are the biggest art fairs in Asia, and which always has Filipino artists and galleries showing there. At that time it just felt a bit of a pity that the Filipino audience didn’t know these artists, and that’s what we really set out to do. We always remind ourselves our point is to expand the audience for contemporary artists and I think our numbers have proven that.”
This year’s Art Fair Philippines is happening from February 17 to 19, and its back at Ayala Center’s The Link, following last year’s outdoor and much smaller incarnation at the Ayala Stock Exchange. For what to expect, click on this link.