HONG KONG — A red flag looks like that of a communist party at a distance. It has a sickle and, instead of a hammer, a wine glass. It was the work of London-based Filipino artist Pio Abad.
Modern and contemporary art of Art Basel Hong Kong came in different forms and concepts that without looking at the artists’ names, one would not know which country they represent.
“What makes an artwork Filipino is because the artist is Filipino,” said exhibitor Rachel Rillo of Silverlens galleries of the Philippines and Singapore that featured Abad’s works.
Art is becoming global, she said, adding that the flag was a spoof and a contemporary art dialogue, along with a Hermes scarf painting by the same artist.
Displaying at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre on March 15-17 were over 230 galleries from 37 countries, half of which is found in Asia and the Asia-Pacific region.
Their artworks varied in sizes, from huge canvases hanging from the ceiling to small used paint tube caps scattered like dots on white walls.
Silverlens featured the works of Filipino artists Maria Taniguchi, Leslie De Chavez, Renato Orara, Bernardo Pacquing, Gregory Halili, Patricia Perez, Eustaqiuo Frank Callaghan, and Malaysian Yee I-Lann.
Artinformal, another gallery from the Philippines featured Nilo Ilarde’s “faulty landscape,” a collection of salvaged objects such as small paint tubes, tube caps, and brushes. In its fourth year at the international fair, the gallery chose Ilarde because his work was “highly conceptual with a very strong statement,” said its creative director, Tina Fernandez.
The Drawing Room Gallery of the Philippines displayed Gaston Damag’s “Shadows of civilization,” using wooden sculptures that symbolize an Ifugao rice god called “bulol” as a proposal of art. “There’s no message at all. I don’t pretend. It’s all about art,” he explained.
The gallery tends to work with specific pool of artists, who are critical in the sense that their works are also a part of their daily life and cultural conditions, said its curator Siddharta Perez.
The three galleries have joined the art fair for several years and placed their artists in the map.
But, unlike Rillo, Fernandez cannot say that Filipino artists have reached global standards in terms of quality of works as they need to improve more. “Local artists should read up what’s happening around the world and attend fairs to see what’s out there,” she added.
Typical commercial art fair
On the other hand, an artist does not need to join international events to excel and be known globally, said Gaston Damag, who was on his second time to join the fair. In fact, it can be a disadvantage to be in “a typical commercial art fair,” he said.
“If you’re not careful, you can be eaten like a small piece of meat,” he said, adding that an artist has to hold a strong position to be less eaten by the commercial aspect of the fair.
Galleries from the Western countries aimed to expand their reach in the Asian region, such as the Richard Gray Gallery located in Chicago and New York.
“We made new clients each year,” said Paul Gray, one of the partners of the gallery.
Hong Kong is a sophisticated city, he said, but it does not have some of the things that make up a great art scene in Western cities. “But, it’s obvious that it’s moving in that direction,” he added.
Over 60,000 people from all over the world visited the fair.
Inkling of aesthetics
Citing that most of the visitors were widely exposed to art and galleries, Rillo said Filipino art enthusiasts do not take much to be at par as they have an inkling of aesthetics.
However, Fernandez said Filipinos need more education to have a deep understanding of art, especially the people in the government to give more focus on it.
She hopes that the government will make things easy for the private sector in facilitating and building more venues for art promotion. “Just make things easy for us,” she said, adding that they are being taxed on Philippine artworks brought back from international exhibitions.
First time to see Art Basel Hong Kong, Filipino private art collector Andrew Benedicion expressed his bias with the Art Fair Philippines, a major exhibition of modern and contemporary Philippine visual art.
Although the artworks in Art Basel were nice, he said, it is “very generic looking.” The lighting in the halls was bright and the white walls of every booth drenched the entire space, creating a sense of monotony.
Benedicion likes the gritty effect of the Philippines’ fair that was held inside a carpark with darker lighting.
This also explains why he still wants to collect Filipino artworks besides being a Filipino. It is the raw and gritty feel of Philippines contemporary art that appeals to him.