News From:The Business Timesposted on 31 March at 4:24 PM
31 March at 4:24 PM

Filipino picture of diversity

by Cheah Ui-Hoon

Awareness of Filipino art has been building over the years, especially in Singapore, with no fewer than six galleries with current and upcoming exhibitions.

Filipino art collectors from Manila and the region have even been flying to Singapore to view exhibitions and buy the works, say gallerists, because artists are exhibiting new works here outside of Manila.

"So if they want a work from the artist's current series, they have to buy it in Singapore," explains Jean Tsai, who helps manage Artesan Gallery + Studio at Raffles Hotel Arcade.

Manila-based galleries also made a strong showing at Art Stage Singapore earlier this year, with glowing reports of good sales and pledges to return the following year. It certainly seems that ever since the Singapore Art Museum threw a spotlight on the art of the Philippines in 2009, Filipino art has gained a much wider appreciation among collectors in Singapore.

Taksu has been showing Filipino artists since 2003, and director Suherwan Abu notes that Filipino art moved quite fast in 2005. "In 2008, Filipino artist Ronald Ventura's work was the highlight of the Sotheby's auction in Hong Kong, just before the financial crisis in the West," Mr Suherwan points out.

In April, the gallery will put up a group exhibition by its stable of Filipino artists: Nolet Soliven, Raul Rodriguez, Jigger Cruz, Juni Salvador, Ronald Achacoso, Jojo Serrano and Zean Cabangis.

The artists are both veterans and emerging luminaries in the Philippine art scene covering about 30 years of development among them, says Mr Suherwan.

"The Philippines has amazing artists waiting to be discovered. Singaporeans are more familiar with Indonesian artists but the Philippines actually have the second biggest art scene in Asia. They have been keeping it to themselves and not many Filipino artists have shown abroad," he explains.

That scenario is set to change in Singapore - with Manila as well as Singapore gallerists looking to cater to the diversity of collectors here.

Because the works by the Filipino artists are high in quality, collectors don't mind paying extra for them in Singapore, says Mr Suherwan. That's also one reason Manila art galleries such as Silverlens and the Drawing Room have set up shop in Singapore, with a focus on Filipino art.

Artesan Gallery is one of the early galleries to feature Filipino artists and they're now reaping the rewards of their early educational efforts, says owner Roberta Dans. "It was an uphill climb in the beginning because very few people knew about Filipino art, and we had started with more decorative works."

Artesan organised roadshows in 2006, taking Filipino artists on tour to clubs like Tanglin Club, Fort Canning Club and Raffles Town Club, where the exhibitions raised the profile of Filipino art. In 2007, the gallery partnered with Larasati auction house to sell the works of 14 established and emerging artists.

"Awareness has been growing, and I'm lucky I started the gallery in the mid-2000s," she adds. Manila-born, Ms Dans has been living in Singapore for over 30 years, and her mother is an artist herself.

The art that she carries now is very contemporary - a combination of social realism and conceptual art. The gallery show is now a solo by Marina Cruz, celebrating recollection. There is an old-world and larger-than-life feel of the works with oversized drawers, priced between $8,800 tp $11,000 which most ably demonstrate her painting techniques. Two galleries have also chosen emerging Filipino artists for their solo shows. Yafuz Art Gallery spotted Paulo Vinluan's art in the Philippines about two years ago and has been patiently courting the US-trained and based artist.

This is his first solo in Singapore. "There is a growing group of collectors in Singapore who really like Filipino art and we're seeing good artists who are technically and conceptually strong," says Stella Chang, the gallery manager.

"South-east Asian art on the whole is on the rise, and the Philippines is one of the prominent countries producing good art. For a long time, it's been under the radar but it's getting more international attention now," she adds. Vinluan's works at the gallery are priced between $1,500 and $9,000 for the diptychs, and the gallery decided to give him a solo because the whole collection does better justice to the theme of bi-continental and cross-cultural disconnect as he shuttles between the US and the Philippines.

Michele Goh, the owner of the Road, is betting on self-taught artist Reynold De la Cruz. This is the first Filipino artist she has carried and she decided to make it a solo because the last time he exhibited was two to three years ago.

"I wanted to give him good exposure here because he's pretty impressive as a self-taught artist and has been recognised by a number of awards," says Ms Goh. The figurative paintings also have surrealistic features as the artist seeks to describe his own life and experiences. "Filipino artists are very good in figurative art but they also think out of the box, and portray deeper thoughts well," she describes, adding that she hopes to carry more artists from the Philippines in the future.

For galleries with spaces in both Manila and Singapore, the key strategy is not to "recycle" artists' works. "We ask artists to make new works for Singapore, and in that, their works tend to show their natural progression or development," says Neli Go, director of Silverlens Singapore.

Hanna Pettyjohn's first solo here features works she created in the US, which is a different series from her upcoming show in Manila in May. For Silverlens, the newly set up gallery is still trying to better understand the tastes of collectors in Singapore, which is more international than in Manila, says Ms Go.

"We have tourists coming as well, and not just the international community living here. But it's great to represent Filipino artists who would benefit from this exposure. Logistically and infrastructurally, Singapore is way better than Manila," she adds.

Conversely, galleries like Taksu are also looking to dip their toes into the Manila art market as one of the first foreign galleries to take part in the Manila Art Fair. "They did well this year. I've been doing art fairs for 10 years now and I'm happy with the organisation as well as response. We get interested collectors coming from Europe and America - many of whom are Filipinos living abroad returning to support their art. And then there are people collecting in the region and internationally," he notes.

As for the quality of artworks from the Philippines, Mr Suherwan says that he looks for unique and original styles and also techniques, while the subject matter can be on anything.

Just taking a quick whizz around the six to seven galleries showing the Filipino artists in town now will give one a better picture of diversity and talent out there.

This article was originally published in The Business Times on Friday, March 29.

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