I’ve had a few stimulating discussions with friends about this year’s Art Fair, and I’ve noticed that our discussion would eventually lead to trying to answer the question “For whom really is Art Fair?” And it’s a question that I’ve been trying to answer myself by thinking about the people in the fair.
For people in media like me, i’m in it for content. From the top of my head, what other publications have possible done are: interviews with the exhibiting artists; a story on what to look out for, what you can’t miss out on, listicles like that; thought pieces on the art fair itself. It’s content directed at the participants, content that we would benefit from, content that we would move on soon after and would probably revisit in next year’s art fair. I’d also like to add that we distribute copies of our latest issue in this year’s event, and that’s a benefit for us too.
For the people working in the galleries, it’s exposure and sales. I was talking to a friend who worked for one of the galleries, and I asked her about the presence of green and red dots, sometimes two green dots, sometimes just one. It works differently for each gallery, she said, but it generally meant that someone was interested in it and that the piece was purchased or on hold. So in a way the galleries are displaying items to be sold, and that the art fair is also a market.
Who buys the art? For the attendees, we could probably divide them into two: people who can afford the art, and people who can’t. For the people who buy the art, the motivation is simple: they aim to purchase. They are patrons of the art scene present in the art fair. They keep the art fair alive. I am not knowledgeable about the prices of the individual pieces but I saw a piece with the price scribbled by hand below the name of the artist and the title of the work. It cost P520,000 if I remember correctly. The benchmark then would probably be five to seven figures which is too much for me to afford.
I am part of what I would assume are the majority of attendees who can’t afford the pieces at the art fair. Why are we here, if not to buy the art? From my observations from this year and last year’s art fair, we’re here to take pictures. Let’s not kid ourselves. In fact, I remember seeing a brand-endorsed poster endorsing people to use a certain hashtag when posting on Instagram. With this, the organizers are aware of this fact. “The primary aim is to to expose the best of Philippine contemporary art to as wide an audience as possible,” says the message from the organizers in this year’s catalog.Taking photos and sharing it on social media is our prime method of experiencing the art fair and everyone knows it.
Not that it’s a bad thing. We weren’t really taught how to appreciate art in all our years in school; at least I wasn’t. I myself fall into the trap of taking photos of people taking photos of art and looking back I find in myself a very deeply rooted prejudice towards people who, in my head, desecrate what is sacred by rendering art into a backdrop for their own use. But what are we to do when art is rendered inaccessible, condensed into one single event that only happens once a year? Why is Art Fair capitalized?
For the artists exhibiting their work, what do they have to gain? When their names are not present in the Instagram posts where their art is on display? When their work sits on a wall beside a dozen others, rendered into mere decoration for the walls? I wonder how much money the artist earns after cash is exchanged between higher parties, whoever they may be. Again, I am not knowledgeable about the inner comings and goings of the art scene, but I do know one thing: the art and the artist aren’t the foci of the Art Fair. And that is why I find Art Fair problematic.
That said, I took some time observing the photography of Kawayan De Guia and Geloy Concepcion: I have a soft spot for photographs of my hometown Baguio, and I’m forever a fan of Geloy’s work. I find Lyra Garcellano and Nilo Ilarde‘s work as interesting since I see them as interrogations about the framework of the art world: Lyca Garcellano’s neon sign as a critique on the limiting identity and framework assigned to Southeast Asian artists, while Nilo Ilarde contextualizes Art Fair’s residence in a car park by making me feel anxious about the large and fragile presence of his work in the space. How weird is it that tens of millions worth of art are on display in a car park?
Lastly, I will forever be a fan of Kidlat Tahimik‘s work, art fair or no art fair. He is a big influence to me and I can’t help but mention him.
Photo courtesy of Art Fair PH
One of my favorites from Art Fair this year was definitely Plet Bolipata’s Impromptu “(Little Red Riding hood in Central Park Tableau).” I’ve always loved contemporary interpretations and retellings of Little Red Riding Hood (coming-of-age fairy tales are bomb, and apparently the artist herself is also obsessed with the famous story), and Bolipata’s work was so charming to take in. I adored the aspects of multimedia in the installation, including a hilarious short film as well as an interactive doll house that used smartphone screens to show various scenarios in the windows. Her exhibit was very personal and I liked how you got to have an idea about Bolipata’s personality through the work she put out.
Photo courtesy of Kat Crisostomo
One of my favorites from this year’s Art Fair was this a painting by Marina Cruz–“Yellow & White on Deep Blue.” I’m always amazed with how people create hyper real paintings because of the patience, dedication, and time spent to make them. When I saw this one, I already thought it was real fabric that was used in making the piece. I guess that’s one of the reasons why I liked it and also because of how the textures of the different fabrics felt even down to the stitching patterns. It’s just so satisfying to observe and look at it in detail.
“Everyday Impunity: Ang Mga Walang Pangalan” a collaboration by Carlo Gabuco, Juan Miguel Sobrepeña, Lye Sacris, and Mark Laccay (as curated by Erwin Romulo)–my Art Fair 2018 favorite is a no-brainer. I can’t remember the last time I was this shaken by a piece of art, but “Everyday Impunity” really took viewers directly into the bottle neck of the Philippines’ war on drugs. I remember coming out of that room feeling a massive weight on my chest, which has stayed with me until now, and will probably continue to do so. Descriptions will never be able to do it enough justice, but if you were lucky enough to experience “the chair,” then you know exactly what I mean.