No duct-taped fresh bananas here. Arts month is off to a compelling start with “Arte Povera: Italian Landscape,” an exhibition highlighting some of the best of the Italian contemporary art movement. Which opened Saturday, February 8 at the Metropolitan Museum in Manila.
“It is the most important exhibition of contemporary art from Italy ever presented not only in the Philippines but in Asia,” says its organizer, Italian Ambassador Giorgio Guglielmino.
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A stark contrast to the gilded, angelic figures from the Renaissance that are typically associated with Italian art, the Arte Povera movement is differentiated by the qualities of what the phrase translates to. It means “impoverished art.” The use of commonplace materials and everyday objects as the medium broke the boundaries of traditional art-making from when it started at the end of the 1960s.
“Twelve artists that made history in art are presented, each one with a major sculpture or installation work thus giving birth to a real ‘landscape’ of art. Some of these artists became very important reference points to the following generations,” Guglielmino describes the traveling exhibition.
Curated by Italian art critic Danilo Eccher (known for his work as the former director of the Macro-Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Roma), Guglielmino singles out three pieces: “a wonderful ‘igloo’ by Mario Merz, a poetic and touching work named ‘Oltremare’ (‘Beyond the Sea’) by Giovanni Anselmo, and a tapestry more than 14 meters long by Alighiero Boetti.”
What’s the Filipino connection to his efforts? “Italy and Philippines share a common feeling of passion. And there cannot be any appreciation of art without passion. Passion is the thread that immediately links the work with the viewer through the eyes,” says the ambassador.
Contemporary art, aside from diplomacy, is his life’s work. “Everything probably began with my mother taking me to museums, concerts and dance performances,” he reminisces.
His first order of business when he arrived in Manila over two years ago was to go to all the art galleries in the metro, starting with one outside of the usual expat confines, West Gallery in Quezon City. Every six months, the art world’s diplomat invites from Italy an art personality who deals with contemporary art—such as a curator, an art critic, or the director of a gallery—to show the multiform and growing reality of the Philippines. In 2018, he started a new category in the Ateneo Art Awards, called Embassy of Italy Purchase Prize.
He explains the importance of fostering art appreciation: “The best way to train your eyes is to look at as many galleries, exhibitions, works as possible. Each one has different sensibilities but nobody was born with knowledge and a fully developed taste. Even when we see a bad exhibition, there is something useful in it. The eyes of the viewer need patient training and continuous tests.”
An art provocateur himself, he is also a writer. He has published four books on his passion. His most recent work is especially relevant this month for artists and collectors. In Anvil Publishing’s The Originals: 30 Artists That Shaped Contemporary Art, two essays and a conversation with the collector Marcel Crespo bookend his reintroduction of 30 artists across generations from all around the world who best represent the coveted quality of originality in the context of contemporary art.
But is anything still original anymore? “Absolutely yes! Art is and will always be full of surprises! Just imagine that when photography was invented, a lot of people predicted the end of painting!”
One Flipino artist made it to the book. “A very beautiful surprise here in the Philippines was the discovery of choreographer Eisa Jocson,” he says. Jocson’s work, “Macho Dancer (2015),” a video accompanied by Peaches’ “How You Like My Cut” is in the book, despite being of a genre, he writes in the book, that he is usually indifferent to. “I am ready to discover other Filipino artists that are giving an original contribution to art.”
“Arte Povera: Italian Landscape” runs until April 30, 2020 at the Tall Galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Manila, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, Roxas Boulevard, Manila. RSVP at [email protected] or [email protected]