ABS-CBN: After 50 years, Philippines to join Venice Biennale again
The Philippines will take part in the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015, 50 years since the country joined in the international art exhibition for the first and last time.
In a press release, the Department of Foreign Affairs said the exhibition of the Philippine pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2015 “aims to strengthen the role of the Philippines in the international community as a nation of and destination for contemporary art.”
The agency described the Venice Biennale, which was established in 1895, as “one of the most prestigious cultural institutions in the world, the Olympics of contemporary art that exhibits global trends and engages in critical discourse.”
According to the DFA, the Philippine pavilion at the 2015 exhibition will be curated by contemporary art historian Pearlie Rose Baluyut. Titled “Heterot(r)opic,” the exhibit is said to “revolve around the concept of the Philippines as a tropical heterotopia, a real space of crises where utopia – the myth of civilization and the project of progress – is simultaneously represented, negotiated and/or subverted.”
It added that a panel of five jurors composed of acclaimed local and foreign art professionals will review and select the artists whose works will be included in the pavilion.
Guidelines on how artists of Philippine nationality can submit their works will be announced soon.
The spotlight would be even harsher if they were forced to choose a single artist. There is no doubt that solo exhibitions have the most impact in Venice: it is clear what they are, and simple statements are more likely to be heard and understood in the hubbub of the biennale. Visitors are unlikely to linger over a curated group show unless it is in some way amusingly controversial. But the pressure placed on one person representing a whole nation is enormous.
The art scene in every nation tends to be a collection of cliques and that is more true of the Philippines than most. There are the social realists, a dominant grouping for many years, including leading lights Mark Justiniani (b.1966) and Alfredo Esquillo (b.1972); opposed to them and their figurative paintings, often allegories of Filipino history and politics, are the artists trained by Roberto Chabet (b.1937) at the University of Philippines – who, like their mentor, make conceptual art and installations. There is also a loose grouping associated with the now defunct alternative gallery Surrounded by Water, including Mariano Ching (b.1971), Louie Cordero (b.1978) and Geraldine Javier (b.1970), who studied with Chabet but have re-embraced painting and object-making.
Fourthly, there are a number of young artists who have become associated with Manuel Ocampo (b.1965), who has returned to Manila after years in the US and Europe, where he gained a reputation for rumbustious narrative paintings. Now he could be described as making “bad” paintings – that is to say, paintings imbued with energy but without any apparent taste or purpose. In Manila he has helped initiate exhibitions under the moniker Bastards of Misrepresentation. And of course there are individuals that are more difficult to fit into any box: the current darling of the art market is Ronald Ventura (b.1973) with his hyper-realist paintings; Isabel & Alfredo Aquilizan (b.1965 and 1962) are perennial biennale favourites; and the painter Rodel Tapaya (b.1980) is getting a lot of attention.
Choosing one artist from such a discordant assembly is inevitably invidious. One will be assumed to be saying not only who is the best artist, but also what type of art is most important. Whoever was chosen should also, firstly, have a modicum of home support and, secondly, be likely to interest the audience in Venice. No one artist will receive 100 per cent support from such a fractured art scene; in fact he or she will inevitably be regarded with much envy. The choice of Ventura, given the accusations of plagiarism by other artists and of hype, would be especially unpopular.
There is no point sending someone if nobody is going to understand or be interested in their work. The history of the Philippines is complex: you cannot fully understand the social realist painters without some knowledge of that. Perhaps this is work that can only be exported to a niche audience with a specific interest in politics. Rodel Tapaya, whose paintings are often derived from folk tales and myths, would be seen, unfairly, as too folkloric. Ocampo would no doubt produce a show that was assertive, but he suffers from a problem, one shared by all the others mentioned above: he is a painter.
Painting is now rarely shown in biennales and Venice 2013 will be no exception, but the vast majority of artists in the Philippines paint.
This is partly a result of an image-heavy Catholic culture, partly of the tastes of collectors and partly because, as elsewhere, artists are instinctively painters. As in much of Southeast Asia, Filipino museums are penniless and there are few non-commercial foundations: artists need to make things to survive. Do you therefore bow to the prejudice of international curators who are uninterested in paintings and hence disqualify most of your best artists? In the long term that would be dishonest and divisive.