Rising above the tree line of the Ateneo de Manila University campus, along Katipunan Avenue, Quezon City, stands the Areté. Completed in 2017, the Areté is home to the Ateneo Art Gallery (AAG) as well as the Department of Fine Arts and the Ateneo-Cordon Bleu Institute. The Ateneo Art Gallery started in the 1960s, when artist and educator, Fernando Montojo Zóbel de Ayala(1924–1984), donated more than 200 artworks from his personal collection to the Ateneo, since then the collect has grown and the AAG is now touted as the premier museum of modern and contemporary art in the Philippines.
Modern Art in the Philippines started 60 years after its initial introduction in Europe, which the Impressionists causing scandal in the galleries of Paris. Yet since its introduction by Victorio Edades in 1928, it would take another 20 years before modern art would be fully accepted by collectors and critics. During the early decades of Philippine modernism, the prevalent styles that artists would employ were Expressionism, Cubism, Surrealism, and Impressionism; as seen in Lyd Arguilla’s light drenched “Still Life.”
Lydia “Lyd” Cendron Villanueva-Arguilla (1914-1969) is a writer, painter, curator, and gallery owner, from Manila, who helped promote Philippine modern art in the 1950s. A graduate in journalism from the University of the Philippines (U.P.) and the Columbia University in NYC, Villanueva first worked with the writer’s organization, the Veronicans; as well as worked as the editor of the Philippines Herald. Through her interactions with her fellow writers, Villanueva met and later married the fictionist, Manuel Arguilla, but he would later be killed as a guerilla fighting the Japanese, in World War II. After the war, Villanueva-Arguilla would leave for the USA, and would return by 1949, to open an advertising agency, Promotions Inc., with fellow writers. The Promotions office, along Azcarraga Street in Manila, became a showcase of the partners’ collection of Philippine Modern Art; and in 1951, Villanueva-Arguilla would open the Philippine Art Gallery (PAG) in the very same building. The PAG would be the first art gallery that would promote solely Philippine modern art, and would be crucial to the development and acceptance of modernism in the country. In less than a year, the PAG collection was growing significantly, with 50 artists in its roster, and in 1952, the PAG moved to its new home at the Petrona Apartments on Taft Avenue. As a curator, Villanueva-Arguilla would organize exhibitions to promote Philippine modern art locally and internationally; such as Philippine Cultural Exhibition to New York City and Washington DC, the 1962 Southeast Asian wide Cultural Exposition of the Republic of the Philippines, and the 1964 Philippine Pavilion of the New York World’s Fair. Due to her tireless work in promoting Philippine art, Villanueva-Arguilla was appointed as the cultural attaché and then vice-consul to Geneva. As a visual artist, Villanueva-Arguilla only started painting in 1950, and she developed various styles of painting, and would soon win several local art and criticism competitions.
Modern art has had many movements that introduced new styles that challenged how viewers looked at their world; Impressionism challenged capturing the likeness of an image and focused of the subtle nuances in a glance; Expressionism focuses on the emotional content of an image by using distortion and strong brushwork; Cubism looked at objects from different angles and fragmented these views into a single visual plane; Surrealism looked into what the subconscious mind saw through dreams; and Abstraction drew to the very essence of an image that could be shape and color, raw abstract emotion, or even movement is space. However, a new breed of artists questioned the very essence of art and art making, as well as the business that revolved around the art world. These were the Dadaists (1915-1930s), who started creating what they called “anti-art” and “ugly art” that tested what is acceptable imagery in art as well what are the media used in art making. This protest started as a reaction to the madness that emerged in World War I (1914-1918), and the bourgeoisie that were behind the war. This new movement was led by artists such as Henri-Robert-Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) who used found objects to create hi “ready-made” sculptures, and Kurt Hermann Eduard Karl Julius Schwitters (1887-1948) who cut up newspapers and magazines to create the first art collages. In the 1960s Philippines, the effects of the Communism versus Capitalism’s Cold War and the eminent threat of Nuclear War rang similar sense of fear and disenchantment with society among the artists, and they also took to challenge the norms with their works. In Fred Liongoren’s mixed media “Worn Dreams,” the artist mounts a worn and dirty canvas onto another painting, to reveal a hint of what may beneath. In “Cavite,” the artist Mars Galang makes a commentary, of how the government attempts to whitewash the shanty towns of the Province of Cavite, by presenting shoes that he had collected from the dispersed protests and exposes them from a tear in a white canvas that represents the attempts to hide the squatters.
Alfredo Aritcheta Liongoren (born 1944) is a noted abstractionist painter, who was born in Hiba-iyo, in the municipality of Guihulngan, province of Negros Oriental. Short after his birth, Liongoren ‘s family transferred to the province of South Cotabato, in which he met his first art mentor, a local sign painter. Despite the limited exposure to the arts, Liongoren was able to enter the University of the Philippines (U.P.) College of Fine Arts, and was able to continue his studies through the Jose Joya Sr. Memorial Foundation and the Purita Kalaw-Ledesma scholarships. As a student, and later a young artist, Liongoren was winning several art competitions, and his experimentations of incorporating materials such as burlap and rope into his explosive abstract painting were garnering critical acclaim. This frightened the quite Liongoren, who withdrew back to his home in Cotobato. After five years in hiatus, Liongoren returned in 1971, with a more subtle yet still invoking abstract style, with religious undertones. In his return, he met and married Norma Crisologo (1946-2016), with whom he put up the Liongoren Art Gallery in 1981, which would be a launching pad for many a young artist. Liongoren would continue to exhibit locally and internationally, and even study abroad with a British Council Scholarship to the United Kingdom in 1979. In 1972, Liongoren received the Thirteen Artists Award from the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).
Marciano “Mars” B. Galang,aka Mars B. Cabusao (born 1945) is a painter and mixed-media artist, originally from the Province of Camarines Sur. Exhibiting his talent in art, Galang was awarded a M.M. Castro Scholarship to take is formal studies at the University of the Philippines (U.P.) College of Fine Arts. Early in his career, Galang has participated in many local and international exhibitions; with the notable events as the 1965 travelling exhibit Contemporary Art in Asia, the 1967 the Philippine Contemporary Prints Show in Geneva, the 1968 First Indian Triennale, and the 1971 Seventh Paris Biennale. Of the many awards and citations that Galang has received, the 1970 Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Thirteen Artists award is one of the most significant.
In challenging the conventions of art, the Dadists looked to all media and redefine how we create and see an image. Pioneered by the American, Man Ray (Emmanuel Radnitzky; 1890-1976), who tested the concepts of images in photography and film; from capturing textures, playing with light, distortion, juxtaposition of images, and even tampering with the negative. Architect Lor Calma takes on the same spirit of Man Ray, as he captures the texture and contrast of two rusted out galvanized iron sheets, and presents them in multiple copies of eight.
Arch. Lorenzo “Lor” Licad Calma (born 1928) is an architect and visual artist, who completed his architectural studies at the Mapua Institute of Technology. From architecture, Calma branched out to interior and furniture designs, as well as sculpture. Calma is founding member and past president of the Philippine Institute of Interior Designers, and a member of the first specialty board for interior designers of the Professional Regulation Commission. In 1988 he was conferred the Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan Award as Outstanding Interior Designer, by the City of Manila.
This “anti-art” movement soon became part of the norm in modern art, and works that did not rely on the image at hand and found its merit only on the intent of the artist was now called Conceptual Art. In the Philippines, the main proponent of this cerebral form of art was Bobby Chabet, who has influenced generations of artists to explore this new art form. In one of his earlier works, Chabet abstracts a “Table” to its basic shapes; whereas in his “Black Sea, Deep Sea,” he cuts up a board painted with black and grey texture to evoke the dark claustrophobic world of the ocean’s depths. In Ray Albano’s untitled collagraph, the artist presses a sheet of paper on three clumps of string painted in cyan, magenta, yellow, creating an impression that alludes to the CYMK printing process.
Roberto “Bobby” Rodríguez Chabet (1937-2013) is acknowledged as the father of Philippine conceptual art. Taking on his mother’s maiden name, Chabet first took his collegiate architectural studies at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) College of Architecture and Fine Arts (CAFA), but his interactions with the fine arts students brought on his own experiments in the visual arts. While regularly exhibiting, Chabet first taught architecture at the UST-CAFA, but transferred to the University of the Philippines (U.P.) College of Fine Arts (CFA) in 1970, where he would be influential in the development of several generations of artists. In 1967, Chabet became the first curator of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), and help expand the collection of the institution, during his three years of service. At the CCP, Chabet would institute the Thirteen Artist Award, which would honor the achievements of outstanding young artists, by exhibiting their works at the CCP. After his stint at the CCP, Cahbet would go on to curate many significant exhibitions locally and internationally. For his body of works and influence in the art scene, Chabet was honored with the 1972 Republic Cultural Heritage Award, the 1972 Araw ng Maynila Award for the Visual Arts, and the 1998 Centennial Honor for the Arts.
Raymundo Pidad Albano, aka Ray B. Bacarra (1947-1985), is an abstract painter, printmaker and conceptual artist, from Manila. Albano took his collegiate studies at the Ateneo de Manila University, taking English literature. However, his frequent interactions with Roberto Chabet (1937-2013) led to his own foray into the visual arts. In 1970, Albano started working at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), where he would design the sets, lights and posters for the Bulwagang Gantimpala theater productions. Albano would later serve as the director of the Visual Arts Department of the CCP, where he would curate and promote conceptual art in many major exhibitions. While as director, Albano would launch the bimonthly CCP art publication, the Philippine Art Supplement. As a writer, Albano wrote for several publications, and was honored with the John Mulry award for Literary Excellence by the Ateneo. As an artist, Albano was focused on the process of art making, and not the final image; which would build an eclectic body of diverse works and media, and garner him the CCP’s Thirteen Artists award, in 1970.
Conceptual Art may deal with meaninglessness of an image, and can confuse the viewer as ugly and unacceptable as art. Often the common public can see no difference between a child playing with random brush strokes and the works exhibited in galleries. Yet this ugliness is the purpose of Conceptual Art, which aims to challenge what is acceptable in art, and the very concept and its application is what would matter most. In Jonathan Olazo’s series of untitled panels, the artist presents 5 large panels of stained and splattered crumpled paper that is spread over a canvas. Olazo is not concerned with the emotional content of the colors and brushstrokes, like that of Abstract Expressionism, rather he is focused on the random processes that have transformed his visual plane by the folding, crumpling, and staining of the medium.
Jonathan Emmanuel Olazo (born 1969) is a conceptual artist of various media, from Manila, and is the son of the renowned abstractionist Romulo Olazo (1934-2015). Influenced by his father, Olazo took up fine arts at the University of the Philippines (U.P.) in Diliman, Quezon City in 1992. As a student, Olazo was actively participating and winning in art competitions, and even garnering the 1987 Grand Prize for the Philippine Association of Printmakers (PA) Open Graphic Arts Competition. These experiences allowed Olazo to take risks in his art, and he was soon getting critical praise for his body of work, which he has exhibited locally and internationally. In 1994, Olazo was honored with the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Thirteen Artists Award; and in 2003, he was voted as the Artist of the Year in the 2003 Art Manila newspaper Arts Awards.
Another manifest of Conceptual Art was Installation Art, where art artist would create temporary “sculptures” that would transform the space where the artwork was exhibited. One of the top proponents of Installation Art in the Philippines is the husband and wife team of Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan. In their piece “Mabini Art Project: 100 Paintings,” where the Aquilizans collected 100 paintings from the low cost art galleries on Mabini Street, in Manila. This installation is a commentary of the history of Mabini Art, which grew from the infamous 1955 AAP Walk Out, where traditionalists walked out of the competition exhibit of the Art Association of the Philippines (AAP), in protest of modernists garnering all the major prizes. The artists pulled their works from the gallery walls, and posted on Mabini Street. Since then, a booming industry of mass produced painting galleries rose in the area, often copying styles of other traditional and modern masters. The collection of landscape paintings were done in coordination with the Mabini artist, Antonio Calma (born 1954), who
Alfredo “Freddie” Juan Aquilizan(born 1962) and Isabel Gaudinez Aquilizan (born 1965) are a husband and wife team of conceptual and installation artists, who migrated from Manila to Brisbane, Australia. Born in the Province of Cagayan, Freddie’s arts educational background started with a fine arts degree at the Philippine Women’s University (PWU), then he took some education units at the University of the Philippines, and continued his fine arts studies with the Art Student League of New York in NYC, completing a master in fine arts degree at the Anglia Polytechnic University and Norwich School of Arts and Design in the UK, and finally a doctorate in visual arts at the Queensland College of Art at the Griffith University in Australia. Isabel, who was born in Manila, took up Theatre Arts Production at the Assumption College in Makati City. During his solo career, Freddie taught at the Philippine High School of the Arts in Laguna, where he met Isabel. Collectively, the Aquilizans have created numerous installations that commented on environment, population expansion, human displacement and migration, and other social issues. Their works have garnered critical reviews all around the world, and Aquilizans have been invited to participate is prestigious international art events such as the 1999 and 2009 Asia Pacific Triennale of Contemporary Art in Australia, the 2002 Pusan Biennale in South Korea, the 2003 La Biennale de Venecia in Italy, the 2004 Gwangju Biennale in Korea, the 2006 Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale in Japan, the 2006 Biennale of Sydney in Australia, the 2008 Adelaide Biennale in Australia, the 2008 Singapore Biennale, the 2009 Biennale Cuvée in Austria, the 2009 Dojima River Biennale in Japan, and the 2013 Sharjah Biennale in the United Arab Emirates. In 2012, the Aquilizans purchased a large lot in the Province of Laguna, where the opened their atelier called Fruitjuice Factory Studio.
When Duchamp created his first “ready-made” sculptures, he took everyday objects and repositions and slightly modified these pieces to create art. One of his most scandalous and now highly celebrated artwork is an inverted urinal, which he entitled “Fountain.” This use of the found object as an art medium gave rise to Junk Art. In Leeroy New’s piece for his 2009 VAC-La Trobe residency program in Australia, the artist fashioned “Grotto” from discarded car lights, hub caps, and other found objects from Bendigo and Castlemaine, and created a cave that evoke a meditative enclosure within a vehicle, while stuck in the three to four hour commute in Australia.
Jan Leeroy C. New (born 1986) is a visual artist and designer, whose works are experimentations that mix theater, film, fashion, product design, installation and painting. New first graduated from the Philippine High School for the Arts (PHSA), and continued his studies at the University of the Philippines(U.P.) College of Fine Arts (CFA). Focusing first on his paintings and installations, New has had many solo and group exhibitions in the Philippines and abroad, with the most notable are the Singapore Biennale in 2008, the Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale in 2009. As an artist, New has been honored with the 2009 Ateneo Art Awards, 13 Artists Award in 2012 by the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), and the 2014 Metrobank Foundation Award for Continuing Excellence and Service. As a fashion and costume designer, New garnered accolades with his designs for Tanghalang Pilipino’s Ibalong with the 2013 Philstage Gawad Buhay! award for Outstanding Costume Design, and he has also featured his works in the 2013 Istanbul Forum Fashion Week, the 2013 Design Philippines pavilion in the Salone Internazionale del Mobile in Milan, and the 2014 International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York. New collaborates with the designer, Kermit Tesoro (born 1988), and both have worked together on Lady Gaga’s muscle dress, for her music video “Marry the Night”.
Expanding from the film art created by Dadaist, such as Man Ray, Video Art developed outside the confines of the cinematic disciplines and experiences. Breaking off from the limitations of 2-Dimensional art, Video Art explores the aesthetic experience of images in relation to time and sound, while often devoid of any linear narrative. In Maria Taniguchi’s video piece called “Celestial Motors,” the celebrates the history and construction of jeepney, which she shot at the Celestial Motors factory in the Province of Laguna.
Maria Taniguchi (born 1981)is a painter, sculptor and video artist, who originally hailed Dumaguete City. Taniguchi first experiences in art making were under her mother Kitty, a noted artist herself. Afterwards, Taniguchi would move to Quezon City, where she would take her formal studies at the University of the Philippines (U.P.) College of Fine Arts. After several local exhibitions, Taniguchi would continue her studies at Goldsmiths, the University of London, and would use her international experience to exhibit her works in critically acclaimed shows in Australia, Belgium, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Portugal, New Zealand, Thailand, and the United Kingdom. Taniguchi’s works are colorful abstract mixed media works, with subtle undertones of socio-political commentaries, which would earn her the Hugo Boss Asian Art Award in 2015.
The range of expressions in Conceptual Art are quite broad as the media used to create these pieces. This can range from painting, sculpture, print making, collage, photography, installation art, video art, and even performance art, where the artist’s body is used to convey the concept. Contemporary Conceptual Art may be sensory ugly, or entertaining, confusing, or intriguing. Whatever the appearance, the intent of the artist dominates its creation, which is often relayed through the artist’s statement. In Mark Salvatus’ whimsical “Model City,” the artist has cut up many images of buildings from brochures of real estate companies. And he put together these cut-outs to create a rotating city, which is simultaneously projected onto a screen. Salvatus’s work is a word play on the scale model that he has crafted, and a commentary on how these real estate companies present their buildings as a utopia of modern living.
Mark Salvatus (born 1980) is a multi-media artist, who works with both physical and digital media. Graduating cum laude from the University of Santo Tomas (UST), with a degree in Advertising Arts, but immediately pursued a career in the exhibiting arts after graduation. Salvatus’s installations employ a wide array of materials, composed works that at commentaries on the effects of rapid growth of urban centers. Salvatus also has utilized video and digital art, which illustrate his strong influences from pop culture, advertising, and the internet. Salvatus has showcased his works in many prestigious international exhibitions, such as the 2010 Next Wave Festival in Australia, the 2011 Guangzhou Triennale in China, the 2011 Singapore Biennale, the 2011 and 2015 Jakarta Biennale in Indonesia, the 2014 Honolulu Biennial in Hawaii, the 2014 Cyberfest, International Cyber Arts Festival in Russia, and the 2017 Sunshower: Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia 1980’s to Now in Japan. For his critically acclaimed body of work, Salvatus has been honored with the 2012 Thirteen Artists Award by the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP); Sovereign-Schoeni Art Prize, Hong Kong (2012) and Ateneo Art Awards (2010). Salvatus currently lives and works between the cities of Manila and Osaka, Japan.
Whatever the visual presentation is of a Conceptual Art piece, each work is a commentary on the art world and society as a whole. Whether it is an installation exposing the religious hypocrisy of the masses, or a painting of a cut up macro view of the Chiragra spider conch (Harpago chiragra) that may speak of the endangerment of an animal species; Conceptual Art’s oftentimes misunderstood and confusing imagery cannot separate itself from its need to be relevant to society. This social critique of Conceptual Art has its roots in a movement older than the Dadaists of the 1920s, and traces it back to the 1850s Realist Movement in France. This would later be known as Social Realism, which will be the subject of the next article.