Although the Art Fair takes place in March, art season in the country began as early as February this year when a wealth of curated shows graced new and old galleries and cultural hubs. This was also the year of the first Manila Biennale, which gathered a small roster of art world luminaries who were tasked to create or showcase work curated around one central idea: Manila as an Open City. Despite history’s dramatic turns, political slights and recorded wars, the exposition wanted to make the case that the city—and by extension, the Filipino—is essentially unbroken in spirit. Fittingly, the exposition was held in Intramuros, the grand dame of Manila, and one of the last great bastions still standing. The place itself smells like history: musty and moldy, with just a lick of varnish.
Apart from art installations and exhibits scattered around the walled city and Fort Santiago, other art-related events also popped up during the exposition—one of which was the launch of Perro Berde, a cultural magazine sponsored by the Spanish Embassy and published in collaboration with Instituto Cervantes. The magazine prides itself in being the only publication of Philippine culture in Spanish. Apart from being a launch, the event was also a platform for local art magazine editors and writers to talk about the place of art magazines in current times. Through eminent art writers, editors, and historians like Ringo Bunoan, Imelda Cajipe Endaya, Tence Ruiz and Duffie Hufana Osental, as well as artists with their own art platforms like Lyra Garcellano, the importance of the art magazine in current times was given a voice and a much-needed discourse.
Ringo Bunoan began the conversation with a short history of the art magazine in the Philippines. The platform made its way to the Filipino mainstream in the 1970’s—a time hailed as one of the darkest periods in Philippine history, as well as one of the golden ages of Philippine art. Thanks to the first lady’s cultural efforts, foremost of which was the CCP, Philippine art flourished—and so did all platforms that supported the arts, barring privately-owned newspapers and glossies. Art magazines may have been used as propaganda to cast the Marcoses in a heroic light, but it also spawned a pop audience, and a thriving art market.
With the fall of the Marcos administration in the 80’s, the art magazine saw a decline in popularity and cultural importance. During this period, and in the decade that followed, there was a noticeable lack of art magazines in local circulation—art writing could mostly be found in the lifestyle sections of all the reliable dailies.
Now that we’re well into the second decade of the new millennium, the art magazine has made a sweeping comeback. We see this in multiple platforms: artbooks.ph, helmed by Ringo Bunoan and Katya Guerrero; Ctrl + P, operated by Judy Freya Sibayan and Art + Magazine, edited by Duffie Hufana Osental—to name only a prominent few.
Guests to the art forum.
The different panelists of the forum including Ringo Bunoan, Imelda Cajipe Endaya, Tence Ruiz, Duffie Hufana Osental and Lyra Garcellano.
Famous provocateur Carlos Celdran who conceptualized the Biennale.
Audience members reading the latest issue of Perro Berde.
Issues of Perro Berde.
The new millennium has also spawned a new, divisive entity: the pop collector. The one with the means and the influence to sway the art market. In no other time in the nation’s history has the visual artist been given such economic independence, not just in the local milieu, but in the international one as well. The Filipino artist commands an asking price from well into the hundreds of thousands to the small millions. This state of affairs is further bolstered by the contemporary art magazine, which caters to the taste of collectors and art impresarios. Though they cater to a mainstream audience, the art magazine also contends with several limiting factors. The newspaper art writer contends with a word count and a looming ad space that limits his discourse. The art magazine writer contends with the need for good critique, and the urgency of economic survival. He must, in short, appeal to a pop audience whatever his market’s tastes and predilections are. He’s a writer on stilts—he has to speak a hybrid language that’s part art theory and part street parlance.
It can be argued that the art magazine primarily has the pop collector and enthusiast in mind. Modern mainstream art magazines may go with trends in the art market, which makes this writer question who the real tastemakers are—are they the art writers and scholars or are they the art patrons? If they are the art patrons, what are their qualifications apart from how much they’re willing to pay for a particular work of art?
These things in mind, is there room for art in its purest form? Talent, as they say, will always out, meaning that no matter what the day’s politics and tastes are, true prowess and skill will always be recognized. These days, I’m not so sure. Leafing through the art magazines, one finds the same big names whose work one would love to own, if only he could afford them. But I’m curious to know the artists whose work can’t be found within the new-ink smell of our popular art glossies. I’d like to sit an art editor down one of these days and ask him whose work he would hang on his walls, far from listening ears, and off the record.