Installation view of PACITA ABAD’s “A Million Things to Say” at the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, Manila, 2018. Courtesy Museum of Contemporary Art and Design.


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In his third year in office, President Rodrigo Duterte, infamous for his unstatesmanlike behavior, continued to disregard judicial processes in his war against drugs that has led to thousands of deaths, including those of political figures. Critics of the extrajudicial killings and the government’s policies face censorship. On January 16, the government revoked the operating license of independent news website Rappler. On October 3, the military labeled 18 Metro Manila universities enemies of the state for showing films about the martial law-era, arguing that the screenings could incite student rebellions. Artists, filmmakers and academics decried the attempt to limit their freedom of expression at a public conference and protests.

Meanwhile, Duterte upheld the tradition of recognizing the country’s eminent creative practitioners by conferring the National Artists order—first instituted as an award in 1972 by Ferdinand Marcos. The 2018 National Artists include filmmaker Kidlat Tahimik, known for his critiques of neocolonialism. The prize is administered through the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), which also oversees artist grants, and the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP). At its gallery in Intramuros, the NCCA hosted “And the World Thickens with Texture Instead of History” (11/8–29), featuring Christian Tablazon. 

The CCP mounted “Tirada: 50 Years of Philippine Printmaking 1968–2018” (5/19–7/15) in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Association of Pinoyprintmakers, featuring more than 100 artists and 300 prints. The CCP also presented the 17th edition of the triennial Thirteen Artists Awards (TAA). Among the awardees who created new works for the TAA exhibition (10/18–12/23) were Bea Camacho, Cian Dayrit, Eisa Jocson and Shireen Seno.  

To close the 50th anniversary celebration of the founding of Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Metropolitan Museum of Manila, Yuchengco Museum and Vargas Museum presented “Ties of History: Art in Southeast Asia” (8/8–10/6), curated by Patrick D. Flores, with works showing the region’s interwoven cultural history by ten contemporary artists from different generations, each representing one of the ASEAN member states. 

Private museums support modern and contemporary art, including the Metropolitan Museum of Manila, which presented Elmer Borlongan’s “An Extraordinary Eye for the Ordinary” (1/22–3/28), of over 200 drawings and paintings depicting the everyday lives of Filipinos. The museum also held the parallel shows “Fascination with Filipiniana: The Vargas Museum Collection” and “In the Wake of War and the Modern: Manila, 1941 to 1961” (4/21–7/21), which explored Jorge B. Vargas’s place in Philippine history as both government official and art collector. At the Ayala Museum, painter Rodel Tapaya showcased new works portraying the complexities of urban life (2/24–4/15) using mythological themes. The Lopez Museum & Library was closed in preparation for its relocation to Makati City.

Three universities boast excellent contemporary art galleries. The Vargas Museum at the University of the Philippines presented “Project Island Hopping – Reversing Imperialism: Lander” (10/13–11/30), examining post-colonialism in Taiwan and the Philippines. In the adjacent room, Spanish artist Marta Moreno Muñoz’s multi-screen video installation, “Lost Paradise” (10/13–11/30), filmed in Mindanao, explored human-animal coexistence. 

De La Salle – College of Saint Benilde is home to the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design (MCAD), which held Pacita Abad’s first posthumous solo exhibition in the country, showcasing her trapunto paintings (4/12–7/1). In “The Extra Extra Ordinary” (9/21–11/18), curators Joselina Cruz and Esther Lu probed contemporary material conditions through installations by Tromarama, Chou Yu-Cheng and Gary-Ross Pastrana. 

At Ateneo de Manila University, Ateneo Art Gallery (AAG) opened its new space in February at the university’s new creative hub, Areté, with three inaugural shows: “Love It and Leave It: A Legacy of Gifts to the Ateneo Art Gallery” (2/18–1/19/19), featuring the permanent collection of the AAG; “Elmer Borlongan Draws the Line” (2/18–5/13), selected pen, ink and brush drawings by the graphic artist; and “The 70s: Objects, Photographs and Documents” (2/18–7/2), highlighting experimental art projects by conceptual artists of the period in a show curated by Ringo Bunoan. The coveted annual Ateneo Art Awards, now in its 15th year, was given to painters Ronson Culibrina and Johanna Helmuth, and anonymous street art collective KoloWn. The AAG later staged Alfredo Esquillo’s retrospective, “Continuing Spirit” (11/18–1/20/19), showing the artist’s major works about historical, cultural and religious themes.

PAUL PFEIFFER, Justin Bieber Torso, 2018, gmelina wood and paint, 62.4 × 48.7 × 23.2 cm. Photo by At Maculangan. Courtesy the artist and Bellas Artes Projects, Manila.

The contemporary gallery scene in Metro Manila is buzzing with exhibition spaces along the Chino Roces Extension in Makati: at Makati Cinema Square, Karrivin Plaza and La Fuerza Compound. In Makati Cinema Square are the galleries Underground, Eskinita and Kanto. At the Alley in Karrivin Plaza is The Drawing Room, which showcased Aze Ong’s sculptural crochet works in “Liwanag” (4/14–5/8), and Derek Tumala and Jose Tong’s speculations about the development of local urban spaces in “2069” (5/12–6/5). In the same complex is the Manila space of the Bataan-based organization Bellas Artes Projects, which hosted the first survey of multimedia artist Bruce Conner, “Out of Body” (2/24–6/3). Paul Pfeiffer shared the results of his six-month residency investigating the production of Catholic icons and celebrity culture in “Incarnator” (7/7–10/6). At the same compound is 1335 Mabini, which hosted the group show “Imagining Memory: Between Anaesthesia and Amnesia” (3/22–4/21) with works by artists including Cian Dayrit and Hu Yun, who explore the impact of power on the writing of history, and later showed installations by Nikki Luna depicting the struggles of women in “This Is How to Be a Woman of the World” (11/24–12/22). Artinformal, in the Greenhills shopping center, also opened a branch at the Karrivin Plaza, and inaugurated the space with three concurrent solo shows featuring women artists: “Slow Painting” by Brisa Amir, “A Corner of Nature Seen Through a Temperament” by Tosha Albor, and Christina Dy’s “Press and Float” (2/15–3/10).

Also on Chino Roces Extension, Silverlens gallery exhibited Norberto Roldan’s “How Can You Jump Over Your Shadow When You Don’t Have One Anymore?” (9/18–10/13), which featured assemblages that dissect colonial abuses of power. In Malate, the owners of Silverlens opened the art house Calle Wright for exhibitions and short-term residencies of midcareer and established practitioners, beginning with Heman Chong and Gary-Ross Pastrana, and followed by conceptual and performance artist Judy Freya Sibayan, who was spotlighted in “Moving House, Unpacking a Life of Critical Art Making” (8/3–11/11), and poet-artist Lani Maestro’s “The School of Love” (12/7–3/3/19).

In the warehouse complex La Fuerza, Finale Art File presented “Back to Nature” (7/4–28) by multimedia artist Oscar Villamiel, and “Untitled Pantone” (9/11–29) by photographer and painter MM Yu. Vinyl on Vinyl had the group show “Composite Circuits” (6/7–30) featuring sound-emitting mechanical objects by eight emerging artists including Lesley Cao and Datu Arellano. Archivo 1984 exhibited the works of conceptual photographer Nap Jamir II in “Images 1974–2015” (9/19–10/10) and archival materials in “Documents for Performance Art” (11/14–12/5).

In Fort Bonifacio, the artist-run MO_Space presented “no title (umbrellas)” (7/21–9/16), comprising Roberto Chabet’s installation of black umbrellas, stones and wood planks hung from the ceiling. In the adjacent space was Lani Maestro’s “Strange Thirst” (7/21–9/16), featuring framed drawings. For “What Is to Be Done?” (9/29–10/28) Nilo Ilarde packed dried-up pigments into four hollowed-out walls. 

Located in Quezon City, Blanc Gallery showed Buen Calubayan’s reconstructions of his household environment (9/15–10/6) and the mixed-media works of Arturo Sanchez Junior (11/10–12/1). West Gallery screened Cocoy Lumbao’s dense, multilayered video installations of public spaces (6/7–7/7), and Maria Cruz displayed her abstractions, referencing coins (11/10–12/29) at Galleria Duemila in Pasay.

KAWAYAN DE GUIA, Lady Liberty, 2014/2018, fiberglass, wood and scrap materials, dimensions variable. Photo by Rache Go. Courtesy Manila Biennale.

Among independent initiatives, 98B Collaboratory organizes artist talks and runs Hub: Make Lab for designers. Project 20 is an artist-run space in Quezon City formed by Gail Vicente and Robert Langenegger. Artist Playgroundis a performance and art space with its own exhibition area called the District Gallery. Artist-run collective Thousandfold focuses on contemporary photography with workshops and talks. Better Living Through Xeroxography holds an annual independent press expo for writers, musicians and artists. Since 2000, Green Papaya Art Projectsoperates a creative multidisciplinary platform that explores alternative approaches in the arts. Project Space Pilipinas in Lucban, Quezon, is run by artists offering opportunities for exhibits, residencies and collaborations. 

The country’s main art fair, Art Fair Philippines (3/1–4) held its sixth edition with 51 participating galleries from the Philippines and abroad. The organizers also host the annual Art in the Park(6/2–3) with more accessibly priced artworks. 

In Intramuros, the first Manila Biennale kicked off with the theme “Open City” (2/2–3/5) and the installations of 44 artists and collectives.

Outside the business districts, the Pintô Art Museum, in the Silangan Gardens in Antipolo, showcases Filipino contemporary art. In Cebu City, painter Sio Montera presented his distressed abstract paintings in “Un/Painting” (7/14–8/12) at Qube Gallery

Elsewhere in the country, the focus of the Baguio art scene is the BenCab Museum, with other spots for art including Gallery ErGo in the Tam-Awan Village, and restaurant and art gallery Oh my Gulay/VOCAS. In Bacolod, Gallery Orange, run by artist Charlie Co, organized “Unrefining Sugarlandia” (9/1–11/30), hosted at the newly renovated Negros Museum. The exhibition features more than 20 contemporary Negrense artists grappling with the province’s sociopolitical and economic realities. In Roxas City, VIVA ExCon, the country’s longest-running biennial, included talks and the show “Don’t Even Bring Water (Bisan Tubig di Magbalon)” (11/8–1/31/19), involving artists from the Visayas region. 

Installation view of JUDY FREYA SIBAYAN’s “Moving House: Unpacking a Life of Critical Art Making” at Calle Wright, Manila, 2018. Courtesy Geric Cruz and Calle Wright.

Philippine artists left their marks abroad. Maria Taniguchi participated in the 21st Biennale of Sydney (3/16–6/11). The main exhibition at the 12th Gwangju Biennale (9/7–11/11) featured Pio Abad and Maria Taniguchi. As a Gwangju Biennale Pavilion Project, the Philippine Contemporary Art Network held “Hothouse” (9/7–11/11) at the Leekangha Art Museum, with contributions by Indy Paredes, Renz Lee, Dominic Mangila and Mark Salvatus, as well as Korean artists. The Taipei Biennial, “Post-Nature – A Museum as an Ecosystem” (11/17–3/10/19), featured Martha Atienza’s video installation, Our Islands 11°16’58.4”N 123°45’07.0”E (2017). In Brisbane, the 9th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (11/24–4/28/19) included the works of Roberto Chabet, Martha Atienza, Kawayan de Guia and Nona Garcia. Pintô International, an arm of the Pintô Art Museum, organized two international exhibitions. In Tokyo, “Pintôkyo” (6/19–24) highlighted works by 56 Filipino artists, and in New York, “Pintô Manhattan Manila II” (10/4–15) showcased the diverse practices of more than 30 emerging and veteran artists. Yason Banal’s video installation was part of the Philippine Pavilion at the 16th Venice Architecture Biennale. In Lyon, Nikki Luna took part in “Deviations” (9/18–10/23), the 2018 Festival International des Textiles Extra Ordinaires. 

There’s much to look forward to in 2019. The Philippine Pavilion presentation at the 58th Venice Biennale in May will be Mark Justiniani’s “Island Weather.” Curated by Tessa Maria Guazon, the show will investigate the symbol of the island in fiction and reality. The Ateneo Art Gallery will launch the Ignacio B. Gimenez Public Art Program in amphitheater of Areté to encourage artists to pursue outdoor installation projects. Vargas Museum curator Patrick D. Flores will be the artistic director of the 2019 Singapore Biennale, opening in November. 

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Opera Gallery SOTHEBY'S E-flux CHRISTIE"S