Avellana ArtGallery at 25 remains a home for artists 2
The house on 2680 F.B. Harrison Street is a postwar clapboard house which has seen the launch of many art careers. Photo courtesy of Albert Avellana.
Culture

It’s not the house that art built but it’s art that keeps it standing

Pasay’s art-space-within-a-home is celebrating its 25th year, and the man behind its staying power looks back on his early years
ANCX Staff | Mar 19 2022

For lifestyle and culture journalists who came around during the early 2000s, just before the local art market boomed, there were two kinds of galleries: there was the kind with pristine white walls usually located in malls, and then there was Avellana ArtGallery. 

The Avellana space came in the form of a two-story clapboard home in 2680 F.B. Harrison Street in Pasay. Built after the war, it was one among similar structures in the enclave that now also counts The Henry Hotel Manila as its neighbor. Unlike most galleries, the allure of Avellana was that it didn’t have the stuffy atmosphere that usually kept the art circle outsider at bay. It was a welcoming home for artists, collectors, and the rest of the art crowd, where openings usually turned into parties that last till the wee hours. 

Albert Avellana
Albert Avellana, the gallery’s founder, says the gallery is a continuously evolving space. “I think it’s this way because it’s a living space.”

Avellana ArtGallery’s history goes way back, according to its founder Albert Avellana. “My interest in art started when I was still in school,” says the gallerist who began as an art broker in the late 1970s. “Tinulungan ako ni Jun Pablo, who had a gallery at Pasong Tamo. That’s where I got artworks to sell. Ang first client ko was ang tita ko, who bought a painting. That was my first selling experience—and this was supported by my father, na natuwa na na-involve ako sa art.” 

While the guy was already dealing art, having a permanent space eluded him. “Wala akong gallery space throughout the early 70s to 80s,” recalls Albert. “So I was doing shows in different spaces, collaborating with institutions and hotels to convert their public spaces as exhibit spaces…such as the Philamlife Lobby, the Hotel Intercon lobby gallery, and even restos at that time like Penguin.” 
Albert would eventually be tapped by Alliance Francaise as its curator and partner for their exhibits. This was before he moved to the local Instituto Cervantes in the 1990s to help the organization establish themselves in the Philippine cultural scene. By 1991, he had set up a proper brokerage office for trading art, and officially registered it as Arts and Associates. 

ferdinand doctolero tray
Ferdinand Doctolero used these serving trays as playful canvases.

Before finally settling in its present FB Harrison address, Albert’s nomadic operations would find a proper exhibit space at San Juan Apartments (now demolished) along Roxas Boulevard in 1997, and then at the designer Rusty Lopez’s house at Fresno in 2001 where he would put up shows by Eugene Jarque, Lynyrd Paras, Antonio Ingco, and Rosario Sanchez.

“In 2003, I suddenly had to move and was looking for a space. My friend Marivic Vasquez helped me look for one, knowing na ayoko ng the usual mall space for a gallery. Tinulungan nya ako and tinuro niya ito, yung 2680 FB Harrison,” says Albert. “Noon, this was purely residential, puro mga families ang nakatira dito sa compound. Pero noong binuksan nila ang red gate, and nakita ko lahat ang mga malalaking puno at magandang bahay, I knew this was it!” 

The vision for Avellana ArtGallery, a name he came up with during his San Juan Apartments stopover, is that it’s a home for artists, and it’s HQ is literally a home. “Kaya nabubuhay tayo, kasi may bahay tayo, happy tayo doon; naitatawid natin dahil meron tayong inuuwian na bahay at buo tayo,” says the veteran gallerist. 

pandy aviado wall collages
Pandy Aviado wall collages and room screen can be used as room dividers.

Avellana ArtGallery recently marked its 25th year as a legit art space. Albert’s original vision for it has remained the same—to keep the gallery a home for the creative spirit. This, says Albert, is the reason why the space still stands up to now. “The reason why spaces become successful is dahil consistent ang vision nila; it doesn’t change. Kailangan itawid mo yang vision, no matter what.” 

Meanwhile, the gallery has remained open to discovering new and young artists, “oftentimes without commercial viability in mind,” says Albert. “Yes, we have to earn, but being commercial is not top in the priority list.” 

On its 25th year, Avellana ArtGallery has decided to make smart use of its Pasay space for Art Fair Philippines’ return to live exhibitions. It has not one but four shows: “A Tribute to Ting Ping Lay,” “Art for Everyday”, and “XOP: eXtraOrdinaryPeople,” which are physical exhibits at the gallery, while “Slideshow/Sideshow” can be accessed online.

gary custodio headboard
Gary Custodio headboard reflects the linear qualities of the artist’s abstract paintings.

The most fitting of the four in terms of the FB Harrison address is “Art for Everyday” in which Albert asked 13 Filipino artists to come up with pieces that would be functional at home. “The piece should also be related, in some way, to the artistic style that they do,” he says. Albert installed the works at the ground floor of his gallery which, as we’ve established earlier, is part of a postwar home. The end result of this art “exercise” is literally a living space full of artworks that double as useful household objects.

Albert divided the ground floor of his gallery into rooms that integrate all 13 artists’ pieces as furniture, décor, and tableware. In the foyer, a chandelier made out of Benjie Torrado Cabrera’s engraved polycarbonate sheets welcome guests. The living room, near the entrance, is framed by master printer and artist Pandy Aviado’s collage abstract screens that can be used as room dividers. Perched on the coffee table, meanwhile, are serving trays that Ferdinand Doctolero turned into dynamic and playful canvases.

Moving beyond Aviado’s screens, one will enter the bedroom, dominated by a Gary Custodio headboard that reflects the linear qualities of the artist’s abstract paintings. Other pieces in the bedroom are Francesca Balaguer Mercado’s woven shawl, Pidge Reyes’s Béton Brut concrete clock, and sofa upholstery upcycled into a garment by one of FAB Creative’s fashion students Dee Javier.

dan raralio coffee table
Dan Raralio's interactive coffee table of found wood and stainless-steel spheres.

The dining room is a visual feast of art pieces, beginning with Noell El Farol’s delicately engraved stemware, with each set of wine glasses telling a different mythical story. Ivi Avellana-Cosio’s unfired terracotta vase acts as centerpiece of a round dining table, while pottery artist Joey de Castro serves up a setting for eight made up of his dramatic stoneware.

“Art for Everyday” ends in an ante room composed of Dan Raralio’s interactive coffee table of found wood and stainless-steel spheres that guests can play parlor games with, and chairs constructed out of Joey Cobcobo’s woodcuts, still marked with the ink from which he made prints from. The focal point of this room is a wall of umbrellas painted by young artist Arden Mopera, whose signature whimsical parasol theme is repeated in this installation.

Arden Mopera
 A wall of umbrellas painted by Arden Mopera.

Overall, Albert reveals that the artists enjoyed the challenge and liked the outcome. “If you’re a collector and you’re following them, it’s nice to see other things; conversely, it’s good for the artists to create things that they would not usually do.”

The works also no doubt give new life to the gallery—one that has seen many unforgettable, happy gatherings and countless works of the imagination over the years. “It’s still a continuously evolving space. I think it’s this way because it’s a living space,” says Albert. “Natutuwa ako na nag-survive siya through the years. It’s still growing and moving and moving. Kaya hindi ko naramdaman ang 25 years.” 

Avellana Art Gallery is at 2680 FB Harrison, Pasay City. Contact: 88338357 or visit their Facebook page (facebook.com/avellana.albert) and Instagram (@avellana_artgallery). The shows can also be accessed online at artfairphilippines.com. Art Fair Philippines will run from March 23 to April 1, 2022.