In a dynamic time for Philippine art, can ManilArt keep up?

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A visitor looks at a painting by Justin "Tiny" Nuyda, exhibited at the booth of Artes Orientes gallery at the 8th ManilArt at SM Aura. Photo by MARZ AGLIPAY

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — The rise of Filipino artists in the international art scene through active participation in art fairs abroad, coupled with a demand for works in international auction houses, has made the Philippine art scene one of Asia’s most prolific. Locally, ManilArt hoped to capture this vibrant period of our visual art scene in its 8th edition, themed “Ushering in a New Golden Age of Filipino Art.”

ManilArt 2016, which ran from October 6 to 9, at the SMX Convention Center in SM Aura, is an art fair that aims to showcase Filipino art. It featured 27 exhibitors, two of which are foreign galleries from Korea and Israel.

This year’s fairgoers saw a range of works by Filipino artists, from Fernando Amorsolo to Edwin Wilwayco. Non-traditional art forms were present, such as Secret Fresh’s art toy renditions of Onib Olmedo’s works, or the kinetic art of Cris Eguaras. Interesting exhibitions were also seen, such as Gallery Nine’s Mad Tinker’s Tea-Party exhibit that thematically incorporated a variety of art forms, as well as Migs Villanueva’s clever use of space between her paintings to tell a story.

The sculptures of Daniel Dela Cruz at the booth of 371 Art Space. Photo by MARZ AGLIPAY

The gala night felt less lively than in previous years, when the halls would be packed with celebrity guests and collectors. The horrible traffic situation and bad weather might have factored in its slow start, but the crowd grew much later in the evening.

During its run, the fair took over 900 students on art tours and saw art enthusiasts sharing their art finds on social media, apart from the attendance of collectors and celebrities. Organizers say that exhibitors gave positive feedback on sales and students were also pleased with the art tours. They are confident that the foot traffic would surpass last year’s 15,000 guests.

The question now is how ManilArt can sustain itself and stay relevant in the face of other fairs. Its future remains uncertain in the advent of the changes to the national budget allocation by the Duterte administration, particularly the budget of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), given that ManilArt is one of the flagship projects of the NCCA, funded through the Sub-commission on Cultural Heritage.

The works of Mark Andy Garcia, exhibited at 1335 Mabini's space at the SMX Convention Center. Photo by MARZ AGLIPAY

Reformatted fair

Earlier editions of ManilArt were largely seen as backroom selling events that mostly attracted art collectors. This, however, changed in recent years when the organizers pushed for curated exhibits. The organizers required participating galleries to submit an exhibition proposal, which was then vetted by a committee that decided which galleries participated.

In its first year (2009), ManilArt had 40 exhibitors. This has steadily declined to this year’s 27. By contrast, Art Fair Philippines, which started with 24 in 2013, climbed to 40 exhibitors by its third year. The numbers show an exodus of galleries such as Silverlens and Finale Art File — both of which exhibited at ManilArt in the past and have since moved to Art Fair Philippines. ManilArt attempted to make up for the absence of these better-known galleries with foreign galleries that hope to introduce new art practices to the Philippine market.

With this, ManilArt has to create a strong showing for local and regional galleries as well, considering that Filipino artworks are its unique selling point. The sole Cavite-based exhibitor, Shambala Living Museum, which had a non-selling exhibit of indigenous folk art, felt shy of augmenting the fair’s effort to include regional art, apart from galleries which carried a few works by regional artists. Other art events such as Art in The Park had participating galleries from this year’s Visayas Islands Visual Arts Exhibit Conference (VIVA ExCon) and Orange Gallery from Bacolod participated at Art Fair Philippines earlier this year.

Tess Rayos del Sol, ManilArt Fair director, said ManilArt needs more regional galleries to participate, but this still depends on the regional gallery’s capacity to finance its participation in the fair. The fair’s curator Danny Rayos del Sol said that regional galleries are hindered by logistics and financial factors, and that support from LGUs would have enabled regional galleries to participate in the fair.

The sole Cavite-based exhibitor, Shambala Living Museum, which had a non-selling exhibit of indigenous folk art, felt shy of augmenting the fair’s effort to include regional art, apart from galleries which carried a few works by regional artists. Photo by MARZ AGLIPAY

Measure of success

The measurement of a successful art fair depends on the feedback of the crowd, said Tess Rayos del Sol. Nonetheless, one cannot discount the fact that ManilArt has been a catalyst for other fairs to do better. “We’ve not really seen them [Art Fair Philippines] as a competitor,” said Amy Loste, a member of the ManilArt committee. “As a matter of fact, when it first came out, we didn’t know what to expect. We sort of like felt it was [...] maybe an offshoot of our efforts to stimulate the local scene.”

Art fairs make it easier for the public to survey art in the convenience of one venue. Over the years, the public has become more discerning over the quality of art presented in fairs, regardless of the number of galleries exhibiting. The challenge for ManilArt is to address this increase in expectations. In light of this year’s event, however, it seems they are content in staying put.