Singapore’s Business Times profiles a local gallery that specializes in Filipino art and the advantages they have gained during the Asian Art bust. But as buying activity and prices return to Asian art, especially emerging art, the paper asks if the Philippines can be The Next Big Thing?
Utterly Art is an obscure art space dedicated to an even more unlikely kind of art – its tiny 1,200 sq ft space houses the most Filipino art in the world outside the Philippines. Last year, gallery owner Pwee Keng Hock and his business partner Kenneth Tan had 18 shows just on Filipino art alone. This year, they are poised to end with 16 or 17 Filipino shows. […] With 200 exhibitions under their belt since they opened in 2001, the gallery has always shown an uncanny eye for unknown but talented artists, first in Singapore, and later in the region, before finally specialising in art from the Philippines. By focusing on ’emerging’ artists long before the word became popular, Utterly Art established itself as a venue for affordable and original art. […] Mr Pwee and Mr Tan knew they were making a lot less money than those who concentrated on huge canvases from China and India, and later Indonesia. But they also knew the exploding market wasn’t tenable. So when the bubble burst, Utterly Art was affected, but nowhere near the brutal blow big galleries had to bear. In fact the bubble proved to be a blessing of sorts for Filipino art. Collectors, even galleries turned to cheaper art. Suddenly, work from the Philippines earned strong interest.
Betting on Filipino art proved to be prescient. The island nation with its Catholic iconography has work that is recognizable and appealing to Europeans:
Sylvia Gascon, exhibit manager of Finale Arts File, a gallery in Makati, downtown Manila, says it is increasingly difficult to get art works from emerging contemporary artists in Manila, as they have been approached by regional and international galleries to hold exhibitions outside the country. As these artists take a long time to produce their works, the result is a shortage of ‘supply’ of readily available canvases.
That Western appeal doesn’t work both ways as Filipino artists work in a distinct tradition often making reference to the work of their predecessors:
Unlike other Asian countries, younger Filipino artists tend to be influenced by previous Filipino artists rather than foreign artists, so there is a distinct look and feel to Filipino art. Bitancor describes the look as crowding, or the fear of empty space. ‘It is part of the Filipino psyche to put every last detail that the space may allow … although artistic developments have revealed different approaches, thus a Filipino artist may now treat an empty space as positive.’ Some Filipino artists have already ‘arrived’, wildly collected by hungry enthusiasts. Geraldine Javier is an established name. And in a recent Sotheby’s auction in Hong Kong, Ronald Ventura’s Pinamumugaran (Nesting ground) sold for HK$2.18 million (S$390,000), setting a world record for any Filipino contemporary art at auctions. Two years ago, you could get his works for less than $10,000.
The Next Big Thing? (Business Times)