Preview: Art Fair PH 2017

Duffie Hufana Osental
Here's what to expect at the Art Fair Philippines this 2017!

MARK JUSTINIANI. The artist stands in front of his work at Art Fair Philippines 2016. Photo by Duffie Hufana Osental

February is here, and most people start making reservations at Manila’s most romantic restaurants for that special Valentine’s Day dinner. For art lovers however, February heralds the annual frenzy that is Art Fair Philippines (AFP), which runs from February 16 to 19.

Now on its 5th edition, the ‘little art fair that could’ has evolved into a gateway for the uninitiated into the dynamic world of Philippine visual art. AFP stands in stark contrast to the sterile image of an art fair, and has become something for everyone – from the veteran collector, to the studious researcher.

While nominally still a market event, the fair has steadily increased both its public art offerings, as well as its education programming in a manner that is increasingly becoming reminiscent of an art festival. It helps that the venue has remained both accessible and bleedingly hip – The Link Carpark building in the Glorietta complex of Ayala Center.

If last year’s crowds were any indication, this year promises to be the kind of fun chaos that AFP has become known for. “There is a hunger for quality contemporary art,” says Dawn Atienza, whose Tin Aw Gallery was one of the first galleries to participate in AFP.

Leeroy New's 'Rhizomatic Discord' (fiberglass, epoxy, metal wire, wood, and paint) at Tin Aw Gallery's booth​. Photo provided by Duffie Hufana Osental

Indeed, Tin Aw’s “Contents May Vary” exhibition at the 3rd AFP in 2015 showed how art fair exhibitions can move beyond backroom selling, and really comment on the nature of consumption – a daring theme that AFP seems to encourage. The accessibility of the venue has also enabled galleries to expand their audience outside their collector base. Now covering 4 levels of The Link, the fair has expanded to include the rooftop, where Art Talks will be held.

At its core, exhibits like the one’s from Tin Aw – that really get people into the deeper discourse of art – is what excites me most about AFP. Tin Aw’s exhibit in this edition – a group show entitled Walls, featuring works from the likes of Leo Abaya, Lee Paje, Leroy New, and Riel Hilario – is on my most-anticipated list of exhibits.  

Another exhibit to watch out for is at the Arndt booth, which features works by top crowd-pleasers Ronald Ventura, Rodel Tapaya, and Kawayan de Guia. Arndt is a Berlin and Singapore gallery that has been a platform for Philippine artists to exhibit internationally. “What attracts me about AFP is that it’s a little bit of everything,” says Arndt director Matthias Arndt. “It is very improvised, and it delivers much more than what you expect, in between a festival and an art fair. The viewer who does not buy can get something out of it, while the collector can come and see the best Filipino contemporary art.”

The festival aspect comes from the so-called “10 Days of Art” auxiliary event, that has projects and events scattered around the venue and other spaces. It’s a novel part of AFP that maximizes the increase of interest during the fair week.

Of note is Allison Wong David’s “Refuge” installation in nearby Salcedo Village, which will be on exhibit from February 15 to 19. Curator Ricky Francisco, who worked with the artist on this installation, described it as a “…safehouse, a refuge from the world for a few moments.”

A free-standing two-room structure clad in reflective stainless steel so as to ‘disappear’ from the world, the work was supposed to be part of Allison Wong David’s 2014 exhibit at Vargas Museum, but was too large to be included. “The essence is environmental, a safehouse so to speak,” says Francisco.

Allison Wong David's 'Refuge' at Jaime Velasquez Park in Salcedo Village. Photo by Duffie Hufana Osental

Lately, its similarity to a work by American artist Dan Graham has lit up the discourse on social media, showing how, even in its auxillary events, Art Fair Philippines has the power to pull people into discussion. Artist Mark Justiniani, whose large “Infinity” work last year made it into my list of must-sees of AFP 2016, also has works in and around this year’s event. (READ: 10 artworks to see at Art Fair Philippines 2016)

What is exciting is the unveiling of the large mural he has done in collaboration with fellow Salingpusa artists and activists Elmer Borlongan and Manny Garibay. “I haven’t collaborated with the three in a long time,” says Justiniani. The political art practices of his group notwithstanding, he describes the mural as more circumspect. “There’s a political message there,” he says. “But it’s more reflective of this in-between state of wait-and-see.” The mural is a bit of a treat, not only because of the salivating collaboration between three of the most well-known contemporary artists in the country, but also because of the return of Justiniani to painting – something he rarely does these days.

Justiniani also has a special exhibition outside Ayala Museum called “The Settlement,” his largest Infinity work to date, which tackles notions of history and political power in the Philippines.

​Mark Justiniani in front of his installation outside Ayala Museum. Photo provided by Duffie Hufana Osental

Holding everything together is a wide offering of art talks that serve to enhance the public’s understanding of visual art. The talks I highly recommend everyone attend are of Ferran Barenblit (16 February at 3:00PM), the Director of Spain’s Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA), who will speak about the role of museums in critical engagement, and the presentation of art sociologist Dr. Sarah Thornton (17 February at 5:00PM), and her thoughts on a globalized art world. I would also attend the talk of Singapore Art Museum’s Joyce Toh and Venice Biennale Philippine Pavilion curator Yeyey Cruz (19 February at 5:00PM) on how Philippine art is selected and presented in international biennales. – Rappler.com

Duffie Hufana Osental is a Palanca Award-winning art writer and editor. He is currently the Editor-in-Chief of Art+ (Contemporary Art Philippines) Magazine.