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Bigger and better
"SO, is this is still available or is it already sold?" asked an interested buyer, pointing to the sole Mike Adrao piece at Galerie Michael Jannsen's booth at Art Fair Philippines (AFP). To his disappointment, it has already been sold.
Ten minutes later, Mr Jannsen had to disappoint yet another enquirer, prompting the question of why display a painting that's already been sold.
So that art aficionados can view it, he says, adding that demand for Adrao is high as the artist, in his mid-20s, produces only eight to 10 paintings a year. This one sold for US$7,500, and is going to a European collector who had already been interested in Adrao's work for some time. Mr Janssen himself only started following the artist a couple of years back, before getting hold of this piece.
The VIP viewing on Wednesday had barely started at 2pm, but a decent percentage of work by established and even emerging Filipino and international artists had already pre-sold or flew off the walls within the hour.
For a fair with a reputation of being "fun" and "relaxed", the buying can still be described as frenzied, as the art market in the Philippines bucks the trend of slowing art sales in Asia.
The fourth edition of AFP - in its quirky location on the top floors of a parking garage in upscale Makati - is an invitation-only fair which is described as "bigger and better" with 40 galleries taking part this year. Seven new galleries are taking part, while foreign galleries have grown to make up about 20 per cent of the fair participants.
"There's now a buying frenzy among art collectors," declares art dealer Rocky David. "The shift is towards the art market now in the Philippines, unlike in Indonesia which is down, or Singapore and Hong Kong which is getting more selective."
Everyone is dying to get their hands on art and prices are skyrocketing as well, as expected to be seen in Saturday's auction by the Asian Cultural Council Philippines conducted at Leon Gallery, he says.
Local Filipino galleries provide the bulk of the content of the fair as it's dominated by local collectors. But the presence of foreign galleries is a good sign as they see it as a lower-pressure environment to take part in, get to know the market and also expand their collectors' base.
"This is a place where you can buy quality art for under US$5,000, so it means more sales and more fun as well," quips Mr Janssen, comparing it to Art Stage Singapore earlier in the year where "people were not enquiring" about works and there was no energy to buy. "It's also about the size of the fair - as this is a very nice size with under 100 galleries," he adds.
Gajah Gallery's founder Jasdeep Sandhu echoes the sentiment, saying there's much less pressure here than say, Art Stage Singapore or Art Basel Hong Kong. "Everyone was also tense at the beginning of the year because they weren't sure about the economy, which affected buying," he relates, although he adds that the gallery enjoyed its best performance in three years at the Singapore event.
By the end of Wednesday's VIP preview, Mr Sandhu had already sold an Ashley Bickerton piece for a six-figure sum (in US dollars) and also a Yunizar for five figures. "That was the collector's first Yunizar, and that's a very good feeling - knowing that you're widening your customer base," he adds.
Singapore-based Yavuz Gallery, another newcomer to AFP, staged a solo of US-based Winner Jumalon's works and sold all the eight to 10 paintings by the first day. "We wanted to bring him back to his base of local collectors, and we think it's important to make new contacts and maintain good relationships with clients. We also made an effort to keep his prices suited to the local market," explains founder Can Yavuz. Jumalon's works are priced from 38,000 pesos (S$1,120) to 450,000 pesos.
Fair organiser Trickie Lopa and her partners, Dindin Araneta and Lisa Periquet, says that this year's fair is definitely bigger, with extra carpark space allocated for art talks which take place at least twice a day. To maintain the quality of the fair, the modus operandi remains the same as when it started - only invited galleries can take part.
"What we've found is that galleries look at what others are doing, and they strive hard to match or outdo one another - which naturally raises the overall level of the fair," says Ms Lopa.
Meanwhile, another trend taking place is that of Filipino collectors being more exposed to regional artists, as both foreign and local galleries bring in artists from other countries.
Local gallery Tin Aw is making a bold experiment - by featuring two Malaysian artists in a group of five this year. Each day, they will show only one work by the artists, which is paired with a video they made, asking Filipinos questions related to art.
One of them is by top Malaysian artist Chang Fee Ming, whose work is priced at US$58,000.
"As we found out last year, locals are still new to abstract art, which is why we brought in a selection of different artists this year," says Lorraine Malingue of Hong Kong's Edouard Malingue Gallery.
Vinyl on Vinyl, a young Filipino gallery, saw 100 per cent sales last year when they participated for the first time, and are thrilled to get a bigger space to feature the works of Japanese artists.
If foreign artists sell well, then this fair's ambition to be the world's window to Filipino art will do double duty as the local collector's gateway to non-local art.
It's an idea which Gajah Gallery's Mr Sandhu certainly hopes will take root, as he's convinced that gallerists in Asia have much more to gain from working with one another and widening one another's collector base.
"At the start of the art boom in 2007, people were looking outside Asia, but I think now gallerists are re-thinking plans to expand internationally. Once you spread yourself too thin, you'll move too far from your home base so activity is quite difficult. I'd rather have collectors from the Philippines or China for a Yunizar rather than someone from halfway across the world," he says.
"I'm very happy at this fair, as I've come to realise it's going to be Jakarta, Manila, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur for us. Internationalisation of art isn't so much about art production - since an artist produces about 20 works a year, on average -- but about the international standardisation of gallery practices," he concludes.
And with this, art fairs such as this homegrown one in the Philippines can only continue to grow stronger as it provides regional collectors a way to understand and take part in the local art market.
- Art Fair Philippines is on from now until Feb 22 at The Link Carpark, Makati, Manila. For more information, please go to artfairphilippines.com.
A strong sense of identity
FOR the past four years, Art Fair Philippines (AFP) has been the place to be for anyone wanting a crash course on the country's contemporary art scene. What sets it apart is that it's an invitation-only fair with space for commissioned works. At the same time, local galleries give a strong sense of identity with their range of works.
One of the commissioned works is Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan's Mabini Art Project "booth", which turns the spotlight and conversation on "souvenir" or "tourist" art - you know, the type sold to tourists when they visit a place.
The Brisbane artists' project took eight years to put together and features a full recreation of Mabini artist Antonio Calma's stall and workshop, and a detailed timeline of Mabini art and the Aquilizans' own practice, against the backdrop of major art developments in the Philippines. The main installation sees paintings of sunsets framed by coconut trees to even Bencab (one of the Philippines' top artists)-inspired work.
The project studies the genre of Mabini art and questions the notion of "high" and "low" art, pricing and status given to artists working in the tourist belt of downtown Manila. What's fun is that all the art in the booth is also for sale, even as contemporary art collectors grapple with the low-brow subject of tourist art, it begs the question if this in turn raises its status among collectors.
In another booth, Boston Art Gallery carries the work of the Salingpusa group, a collective of about 18 artists formed in 1985. They were graduates from University of Philippines Diliman who grew up in the Marcos era, and at the impressionable age of 20, saw and were part of the People Power Revolution in 1986. At that time, most of their art was socio-political. Some members later formed the influential Abay and Sanggawa groups and were known for their collaborative wall murals in the 1990s.
Interestingly, they kept logbooks which circulated among the members, forming the "Facebook" of that time, says artist Mark Justiniani. This exhibition at AFP then is "Salingpusa at 30", which marks the first time the group is collaborating again after a long time. "We haven't done a project as a group in a while, so it'll be interesting to see how we evolve and who knows, we might continue this series, as we've another eight logbooks worth of documentation we can work on," explains Justiniani.
Group shows are also prominent this year. West Gallery asked more than a dozen artists - from emerging to established ones - to create A4 sized works which they displayed on three walls.
Gallery Orange features 26 Negrenses artists from the Island of Negros, asking them to paint their versions of "Kilas" which literally means "sharp eye" or a heightened sense of danger.
J Gallery also tasked 40 artists to draw paintings inspired by a garden chair. The artists also paint the chair, and the paintings are sold with them. Finale Art Gallery, meanwhile, tasked a group of artists to paint and also create a sculpture that extends from the painting's theme, or vice versa.
There is always one artist whose work carries the richness of Filipino culture and heritage and this year's citation goes to sculptor Daniel de la Cruz's The Cathedral Collection where every sculpture is themed around the practice of Catholicism in the Philippines. The works are housed like an installation, and visitors walk into a church-like atmosphere, complete with religious chanting and music played inside the darkened room.
Besides handmade, detailed depictions of religious figures, the centrepiece is a cathedral inspired by the Quaipo Church and real-life scenes on the streets leading to the church - which see devotees or merchants selling potions and herbs.
This is his most complete series yet, shares the 50-year-old legally-trained artist who only ventured into fine art nine years ago and who has a successful business manufacturing and exporting decorative accessories, as well as Christmas items.
Galleria Duemila, one of Manila's longest-operating galleries, put up an exhibition featuring Josephine Turalba's work shown at the European Cultural Centre in conjunction with the Venice Biennale last year. Scandals III: Walk With Me features handmade sandals made from bullets and bullet casings.
Meanwhile, for a bit of a retrospective, Salcedo Private View has put up a non-selling show of Alfonso Ossorio, a Filipino abstract expressionist who trained at Harvard in the 1930s and was deeply influenced by Jackson Pollock and Jean Dubuffet.