Shortlist: The Philippines

Eileen Legaspi-Ramirez, Assistant Professor of Art Studies, College of Arts and Letters, University of the Philippines
October 2012

Overview

MINDING THE GAPS

Researchers making fledgling attempts to acquaint themselves with Philippine contemporary art will very quickly realise their biggest initial challenge has to do with contending with a dispersed body of uneven documentation, critical scholarship on Philippine modernism not having come into its own until the nascent years of post-WW II  writing visibly flourished in the decade of the 70s onward. Without totally discounting early attempts at comprehensive surveys such as Winfield Scott Smith’s editorship of the 1958 volume The Art of the Philippines and Dominador Castañeda’s 1964 tome Art in the Philippines, along with later, more thematised works such as Alice Coseteng’s Philippine Modern Art and its Critics (1973), I cite this difficulty in locating the contours of Philippine contemporary art through its sparse literature and near inaccessibility of primary and secondary references to further contextualise the relative paucity of writing amidst the volatile grounds upon which modernist and contemporary practice and discourse are feebly anchored. This state of affairs is further complicated by the rise of diasporic art practices birthed beyond the country’s political borders even as these find their way into the global artworld under heuristic labels unreflective of Philippine nuance (i.e. expatriate work coming under categories determined by host/second-third cultures rather than country of origin such as in the case of Manuel Ocampo while he was then based in the United States of America/Europe, or in regard to the work of Honolulu-born, Visayas-reared, but now US-based Paul Pfeiffer, as well as Lani Maestro who is currently more generally associated with two countries of long-term residence—Canada and France). These are, of course, problems unevenly shared but undeniably common across the charged nomenclature of Asian studies, and this is further complicated by market mechanisms put in place to buoy transactions of art coming out of the region through a knowledge infrastructure that occasionally conscripts the same set of scholars and specialists who could be writing for less-compromised publications if these were at all sustainable to produce amidst a situation of weak cultural institutions vis-à-vis comparatively strong commercial interests. 

This skewed flexing of verbal muscle is seen in expectedly lavishly packaged, often under-researched tomes delivering conflicted accounts overtly authored by dealers and collectors themselves. And since precisely these are the materials that get much more efficiently circulated and strategically ‘placed’, these easily become the de facto introductory if not only literature on art from the Philippines that potentially lull public/s into thinking that this is indeed what accurately constitutes the field. Given the present state of affairs, researchers have no recourse but to actively work inter-textually lest they succumb to facile, either-or renderings of the narratives of Philippine art: conservative-modern, social realist-conceptual, etc. Another stark problematique for instance that results from this data dearth is that artists actively producing work during non-market boom periods or those doing work that does not adhere to prevailing critical nor commercial trends are effectively off-radar unless the rare confluence comes to pass: that of crusading publisher/s encountering scrupulous researchers intent on writing about previously unexplored or understudied practices or what may have already been dismissed as inconsequential or uncharacteristic of this country’s art. Such failings are of course also a function of the dynamics between artists, art historian-researcher-curators, market and state players, but moreso of the extent to which the critical infrastructure is mature and enabled enough to stand as foil to purely instrumentalist agents. Yet the dramatic lag time between the circulation of critical texts vis-à-vis the quick churn of promotional materials will presumably be a long-standing challenge for the serious researcher, not just of contemporary Philippine art but of contemporary art in general since it is essentially a ‘moving target’, the locus of which remains highly contested among those savvy enough to trade upon the exchange value of gained validation within this domain. Needless to say, the abovementioned convergence of obstacles demonstrates how the dilemma can become acute and compounded, leading to the daunting question: if and when one is able to get access to material, how does one develop the smarts to sieve spin from earnest writing/reportage/critique? This is one of the tactical considerations for including in this shortlist a sizeable amount of writing on Philippine art from elsewhere, as perhaps, a modest strategy to round out country-generated critical literature and to conscript a polyphony of voices to produce multiple as opposed to tunnel-vision views. That being said, we note how the global art trade has made physical sites of operation mean less and less, and that publishing as a capital-intensive industry works against the idea that writing can be wholly inoculated from self-investment. Yet some redress continues to be in sight—given the simultaneous possibilities and problems present in the democratising thrust of web 2.0++ and online publishing, on top of increased capacities of artists to self-organise, produce, and manage their own archives, knowledge streams have the potential to broaden with cross-checks becoming predictably more possible. None of this, however, takes the load off scholars and reputable critics in playing catch-up with the increasingly expanding research arena. What this simply underscores is that productive narratives are more likely to be crafted from triangulated sources.

Asia Art Archive’s indexed entries on Philippine art to date constitute approximately 4,000 items and it must be noted at the outset that, particularly in relation to the segment of the collection that is online, this is predominantly made up of materials coming out of the Roberto Chabet Archive, an AAA Special Collection that effectively overshadows accounts of other streams of Philippine art either directly opposed or unaligned with this influential conceptualist’s curatorial and artistic-pedagogic practice. Having articulated this, and rather than belabouring the question of whether the contemporary ought to be associated with a break with, or should be instead construed as mere continuum of, the modern, this overview takes the position that overt references to and traces of critical appreciation of the problematiques of engaging with a global/internationalist practice help define a workable period of study. Taking a cue for instance from earlier Filipino critics themselves such as the late Leonidas Benesa, we posit that post-WWII accounts through to current writing on Philippine art constitute a productive delineation. While this in effect still dodges the issue of when and how contemporaneity operates as a problematically time-based indicator, the marked-off period hopefully presents a manageable scope of material for the entry-level student of Philippine art to grapple with.

Most authors of traditional art historical texts do indeed identify the ominous schism between conservatives and modernists which broke out prior to the second World War as constituting a seminal break with classicism and a turning against an aesthetic predilection for romanticised pastoralism. Archival newspaper accounts in Philippine libraries recount how these animosities picked up steam after post-war reconstruction began to ebb and attempts at normalcy again re-occupied the minds of artists and critics living and working through this period. Key physical and social sites in which this schism played out are the Art Association of the Philippines and the Philippine Art Gallery (PAG), two artist-initiated formations not so accidentally headed by two women artist-managers, Purita Kalaw Ledesma and Lyd Arguilla respectively. Thus the accounts on the Art Association of the Philippines’ beginnings as articulated in Kalaw Ledema’s book The Struggle for Philippine Art and her post-mortem rendering of the Philippine Art Gallery’s story in The Biggest Little Room are logical introductory texts for readers wishing to get a grasp of the dynamics between artists, writer-gallerist-critics, the publics of art, and the birthing of cultural institutions under the Marcoses who continue to hold the distinction of having presided over the longest-running post-war Philippine government. Apart from state institutions such as the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) and government-commissioned art for civil buildings (e.g. the Philippine International Convention Center and the Heart Center for Asia), the exhibition/art circulation infrastructure which took shape under the Marcoses dramatically broadened and invariably took a more privatised character. With the waning of the PAG in the mid-60s, newer commercial galleries became variably party to gentrification efforts that shifted converging points around art from Manila to Makati, and onwards to the greater Metropolitan Manila area. It was these galleries which became the core of a respectably-sized art market kick-started by state patronage from the 70s onward. Over time, counterpoints to this latter consumerist mainstream could be perceived in the experimental art practice hosted in spaces such as Shop 6/Sining Kamalig and Pinaglabanan Gallery as well as in then still underground work of social-realists shuttered out of the state infrastructure during martial law, this latter body of work being best documented within the writing of Alice Guillermo. The inclusion of a category of institution-based literature in the Shortlist invokes the charged landscape of production as recounted through competing as well as parallel counter-narratives of Philippine art woven within physical cores of activity, whether state-sanctioned or artist-initiated (thus the suggested combing through texts from the CCP, Pinaglabanan Gallery, the Aquino-instituted National Commission for Culture and the Arts, and broader regional interests represented by the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum).

In light of post-EDSA I distancing from the ‘high art’ frame associated with the Marcoses and the re-emergence of social realist-cultural workers exhibiting as well as administering mainstream venues for art, the 80s-mid 90s became the stage for converging global developments similarly present in other post-colonial nations in Asia. An inward impetus became increasingly apparent in the initial efforts to constitute an Asia-Pacific exchange circuit through institutions such as the Queensland Art Gallery’s Asia-Pacific Triennale and the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum’s Asian Art Shows with a palpable skew in the selections toward art that mined and foraged across indigenous and folk expression to assert specificity, or a claim to a degree of difference amidst the homogenising tendencies of transnational politico-socio-cultural forces. It is in this sub-context that looking at Philippine art as it was put across the above mentioned international platforms becomes pertinent, thus the inclusion in this Shortlist of publications produced from Australia and Japan along with those from institutions such as The Japan Foundation, ASEAN, The Asia Society, ARX and later on, the Singapore Art Museum. The Shortlist thus is premised on the assertion that it was this nascent discourse generated from within a region essentially constituting itself which continues to influence the tug and pull toward a notion of rootedness amidst a desire to access the pregnant possibilities of the new and unfamiliar that comes from being open to change and a distancing from the known. This perhaps creative anxiety continues to be patent, albeit in visibly much more individuated and arguably dystopic modes in the explorations of Filipino artists to date.

It has been this ambivalence toward lineage and the perceived privileged stature of a nebulous avant-garde which informs much of the work of artists from the late 90s through the present, the erratically attenuated polarities between conceptualist and social realist work further nuanced by the rise of artist-initiated projects and spaces, and with younger generations of artists training their energies toward a cosmopolitanism unshackled of easy identitarian ticks and patronising didacticism. It is this perceptibly unstable scape, consisting of a much more complex alignment of artworld agents than was the case at the end of WWII Philippines, which makes it incumbent upon the researcher to mentally map a ‘pre-history’ of the contemporaneity that current Philippine art aspires to, lest one emerges with a perilously superficial view of what confounds and drives artists to do what they do today as they inescapably participate in re-writing narratives of a continuing past, and openly contested present.

Recommended Readings

The Nation and Its Localities: General Reference/Survey Texts (The Philippines in Context)

Camagay, Ma. Luisa, et al., Philippine Cultural and Artistic Landmarks of the Past Millennium, National Commission for Culture and the Arts, Manila, 2001
Canete, Reuben, ed., Ginto: 50 Years of the AAP, Art Association of the Philippines, Manila, 1999
Ewington, Julie, ed., ART and AsiaPacific, Fine Arts Press, Sydney, December 1993
Guardiola, Juan, Filipiniana, Casa Asia, Barcelona, 2006
Shaw, Angel V., Luis H. Francia, eds., Vestiges of War: The Philippine–American War and the Aftermath of an Imperial Dream 1899–1999, New York University Press, New York, 2002
Tiongson, Nicanor, ed., CCP Encyclopaedia of Philippine Art, Cultural Center of the Philippines, Manila, 1998

Roots: Questions of Identity, Tradition, and Aesthetics

Benesa, Leo, What is Philippine about Philippine Art? and Other Essays, National Commission for Culture and the Arts, Manila, 2000
Benesa, Leonidas, et al., Ugat-Suri, Asean Institute of Art, Manila, 1984
Desai, Vishakha, et al., Contemporary Art in Asia: Traditions/Tensions, Asia Society Galleries, New York, 1996
Furuichi, Yasuko, ed., The Japan Foundation 30th Anniversary International Symposium 2002 ‘Asia in Transition: Representation and Identity’ Report, The Japan Foundation Asia Center, Tokyo, 2003
Loeschmann, Joerg, ed., Identities versus Globalisation?, Heinrich Boell Foundation Thailand and Southeast Asia Regional Office, Chiang Mai, 2004
Masahiro, Ushiroshoji, Furuichi Yasuko, eds., Tradition, the Source of Inspiration from the First ASEAN Symposium on Aesthetics, Workshop and Exhibition, The Japan Foundation ASEAN Cultural Center, Tokyo, 1990
Ocampo, Manuel, et al., Bastards of Misrepresentation: Doing Time on Filipino Time, Freies Museum Berlin, Berlin, 2010
Rinder, Lawrence, et al., The American Effect: Global Perspectives on the United States, 1990–2003, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2003
Taylor, Nora, ‘Art without History? Southeast Asian Artists and Their Communities in the Face of Geography’, Art Journal, Summer, 2011
Tiongson, Nicanor, Jovenal Velasco, eds., The Aesthetics of Asean Expressions, ASEAN Committee on Culture and Information, Jakarta, 1994
Turner, Caroline, ed., Tradition and Change: Contemporary Art of Asia and the Pacific, University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, 1993

Modernism/s and Contemporaneity

Camnitzer, Luis, et al., eds., Global Conceptualism: Points of Origin, 1950s–1980s, Queens Museum of Art, New York, 1999
Carroll, Alison, The Revolutionary Century: Art in Asia 1900–2000, Macmillan Art Publishing, South Yarra, 2010
Clark, John, ed., Modernity in Asian Art, University of Sydney East Asian Studies, Wild Peony, Broadway, 1993
Furuichi, Yasuko, ed., International Symposium 2005 ‘Cubism in Asia: Unbounded Dialogues’ Report, The Japan Foundation, Tokyo, 2006
Furuichi, Yasuko, ed., International Symposium 2008: Count 10 Before You Say Asia: Asian Art after Postmodernism (Report), The Japan Foundation, Tokyo, 2009
Inhye, Kim, ed., Cubism in Asia: Unbounded Dialogues, The National Museum of Contemporary Art, Korea, Seoul, The Japan Foundation, Tokyo, 2005
Jahnke, Robert, et al., Our Modernities: Positioning Asian Art Now, Asia Research Institute & Department of History, National University of Singapore, Singapore, 2004
Kee, Joan, ed., Positions: east asia cultures critique, special issue-intersections: issues in contemporary art, Duke University Press, North Carolina, Winter 2004
Mami, Kataoka, ed., Under Construction: New Dimensions of Asian Art, The Japan Foundation Asia Center, Tokyo, Tokyo Opera City Cultural Foundation, Tokyo, 2002
Rawanchaikul, Toshiko, Masahiro Ushiroshoji, eds., The Birth of Modern Art in Southeast Asia: Artists and Movements, Fukuoka Art Museum, Fukuoka City, 1997
Sabapathy, T. K., ed., Modernity and Beyond: Themes in Southeast Asian art, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore, 1996
Yasuko, Furuichi, Nakamoto Kazumi, eds., Asian Modernism: Diverse Development in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand, The Japan Foundation Asia Center, Tokyo, 1995

Art and Political/Social Engagement

Davis, Lucy, ed., focas: Forum On Contemporary Art & Society, focas Forum On Contemporary Art & Society, Singapore, 2001–2007
Guillermo, Alice, Protest/ Revolutionary Art in the Philippines 1970–1990, University of the Philippines Press, Quezon City, 2001
Mashadi, Ahmad, et al., Telah Terbit (Out Now): Southeast Asian Contemporary Art Practices During the 1960s to 1980s, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore, 2007
Morrell, Timothy, Fully Exploited Labour, Queensland Art Gallery, South Brisbane, 1996
Reilly, Maura, Linda Nochlin, eds., Global Feminisms: New Directions in Contemporary Art, Merrell Publishers, London, 2007
Tanedo, Rochit, ed., Who Owns Women’s Bodies 2000–2004, Creative Collective Center Inc., Quezon City, 2005
Turner, Caroline, ed., Art and Social Change: Contemporary Art in Asia and the Pacific, Pandanus Books, Canberra, 2005

Elsewhere / In Diaspora

Baerwaldt, Wayne, ed., Memories of Overdevelopment: Philippine Diaspora in Contemporary Art, Plug in Gallery, Winnipeg, 1997
Ho, Oscar, Being Minorities: Contemporary Asian Art, Hong Kong Arts Centre, Hong Kong, 1997
Hyunjin, Shin, et al., New Ways of Engaging Asia: Artists' Mobility and Artist-in-Residencies, Artist Forum International, Seoul, 2006
Jantjes, Gavin, et al., eds., A Fruitful Incoherence: Dialogues with Artists on Internationalism, Institute of International Visual Arts, London, 1998
Jones, Adrian, ARX Consultative Report: South-East Asia & New Zealand, Artists' Regional Exchange Inc., Northbridge, 1991
Jones, Adrian, et al., Australia & Regions Artists’ Exchange Catalogue, Australia & Regions Artists’ Exchange Committee, Fremantle, 1987
Jones, Adrian, et al., Metro Mania: Catalogue of the 1989 Australia & Regions Artists’ Exchange, Australia and Regions Artists’ Exchange, Perth, 1989
Jones, Brett, Leung Chi Wo, eds., Space Traffic: Artist-run Spaces Beyond a Local Context, West Space Inc., Melbourne, Para/Site Art Space, Hong Kong, 2002
Lenz, Iris and June Yap, Paradise is Elsewhere, Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations, Stuttgart, 2009
Lu Pei-yi, ed., Creating Spaces: Post Alternative Spaces in Asia, Garden City Publishers, Taipei, 2011
Morrison, Michael, ed., At Home and Abroad: 20 Contemporary Filipino Artists, Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, San Francisco, 1998
Murphy, Bernice, et al., eds., "Localities of Desire: Contemporary Art in an International World, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 1994
See, Sarita Echavez, The Decolonized Eye: Filipino American Art and Performance, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2009
Smith, John, Journals of a Cultural Drifter, Southern Cross University, Lismore, 1995
Sternbach, David, Joseph N. Newland, eds., Asia / America: Identities in Contemporary Asian American Art, The Asia Society Galleries, New York & The New Press, New York, 1994
Supriyanto, Enin, et al., Australia & Regions Artists' Exchange: Torque, Fine Arts Press Pty Ltd., Roseville, 1995
Williamson, Clare, et al., ABOVE AND BEYOND: Austral/Asian Interactions, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Brisbane, Institute of Modern Art, Melbourne, 1996

Post-war–1980s

Duldulao, Manuel D., Contemporary Philippine Art: From the Fifties to the Seventies, Vera-Reyes, Inc., Quezon City, 1972
Duldulao, Manuel D., The Philippine Art Scene, Maber Books Inc., Pasig, 1977
Ledesma, Purita Kalaw, The Biggest Little Room, Kalaw-Ledesma Art Foundation, Manila, 1987
Ledesma, Purita Kalaw, Amadis Ma. Guerrero, The Struggle for Philippine Art, Vera-Reyes, Inc., Quezon City, 1974
Reyes, Cid, Conversations on Philippine Art, Cultural Center of the Philippines, Pasay City, 1989

1990s–2000s

Brett, Guy, Exploding Galaxies: The Art of David Medalla, Kala Press, London, 1995
Flores, Patrick D., ed., Transit: A Quarterly of Art Discussion, Creative Collective Inc., Quezon City, 1999–2002
Forum: Chabet in Three and Four Dimensions, Osage Gallery, Asia Art Archive, Hong Kong, 2011
Gatbonton, Juan T., ed., Art Philippines: A History: 1521–Present, The Crucible Workshop, Pasig, 1992
Lee, Joanna, Eileen Khoo, eds., 15 TRACKS: Contemporary Southeast Asian Art, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore, 2003
Legaspi-Ramirez, Eileen, ed., Locus: Interventions in Art Practice, Pananaw ng Sining Bayan Inc., Lopez Memorial Museum, Manila, 2005
Legaspi-Ramirez, Eileen, ed., Pananaw: Philippine Journal of Visual Arts, National Commission for Culture and the Arts, Manila, 1997–2010
Lin, Agnes, ed., Futuramanila, Osage, Hong Kong, 2010
Sabapathy, T. K., et al., 36 Ideas from Asia: Contemporary South–East Asian Art, ASEAN Committee on Culture and Information, Singapore Art Museum, Singpapore, 2002
Tan, Eugene, ed., Coffee, Cigarettes and Pad Thai: Contemporary Art in Southeast Asia, The Eslite Corp., Taipei, 2008
Toh, Joyce, et al., Thrice Upon a Time: A Century of Story in the Art of the Philippines, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore, 2009
Ushiroshoji, Masahiro, Narrative Visions in Contemporary Asean Art, The Japan Foundation ASEAN Culture Center, Tokyo, 1990
Yuson, Krip, ed., Espiritu Santi: The Strange Life and Even Stranger Legacy of Santiago Bose, Water Dragon, Makati City, 2004

Collection/Institution-Specific Texts

CCP Annual catalogues, Cultural Center of the Philippines, Pasay City, 1978–1981
Philippine Art Supplement, Cultural Center of the Philippines, Pasay City, 1980–81
San Juan, Pinaglabanan Gallery, San Juan, 1985–86
Sungdu-an: National Visual Art Exhibition catalogues, National Commission for Culture and the Arts, Manila, 1999, 2003, 2007
The Nature of Influences: CAMP Annual, Cultural Center of the Philippines, Pasay City, 1987
Thirteen Artists Awards catalogues, Cultural Center of the Philippines, Pasay City, 1970–2012
Ushiroshoji, Masahiro, et al., Asian Art: Collection and Activities of the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Bijutsu Shuppan-Sha Ltd., Tokyo, 2002