Ways of Creating / Ways of Seeing: Not-so-random Thoughts
noun (pl. criteria |-ˈti(ə)rēə|)
A principle or standard by which something may be judged or decided.
~ New Oxford American Dictionary
What constitutes a “good” work of art? This much-contested question was scribbled on a post-it above my computer screen as I wrote this essay. I still find myself asking this question that I’ve always hated as a fellow artist, cultural organizer, and educator and yet I ask it, nonetheless. Concept. Process. Materials. Texture. Content. Context. Self-reflection. These elements determine my responses to this question.
The writer’s intention is not to dumb things down for its viewers or to speak from above critiquing the artworks. The purpose is to promote greater consciousness about the works that one may be attracted to or provoked by, to encourage viewers to want to know more about these artists and their practices, and to relate this information to their being drawn to specific works. Having said this, some of what is written here may sound sophomoric to those already in-the-know about modern and contemporary art, and perhaps alien to others new to viewing or “reading” art and attending art fairs.
The “meaning” of an artwork is seldom one-sided or simplistic—it is multidimensional, often dialectical, formalist, ironic, didactic, political, opaque, oblique, transparent, and profane. The viewer creates and/ or adds to the artist’s intent, even emotion which can be deliberate, intuitive, or unconscious on the creator’s part. The 22 artists featured in Galleria Duemila’s booth this year use materials such as oil, acrylic, watercolor, tempera, Chinese ink, graphite, colored pencil, corrugated cardboard, paper, handmade paper, braille paper, canvas, plywood, steel, iron, resin, marble, alabaster, wood, charcoal, sand, or riverstone that all create textural and contextual multitudes of singular and plural meanings.
An anecdote: When I was a 17-year old young aspiring artist, I worked as a summer security guard at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Standing on my feet for eight hours day after day, I was endlessly observing and eavesdropping on the reactions of the museum-goers to the artworks on display. I can recall how incredibly upset I would get about their numerous “misinterpretations” and inane comments like “My three-year old can make that!” I was, what some may call, a “purist” back then. It took years of looking at art, creating my own, engaging with other kinds of artists and art appreciators to understand that the act of creating and seeing are in subjective/objective conversation with each other, literally and metaphorically.
Audience interactions with the works create and/or enhance their meanings. They appreciate the work because they are drawn to it in a moving and oftentimes, inexplicable ways. This creator/viewer exchange is one of the most wondrous aspects of art, when it is shared like a genuine gift has been given and respectfully received. The late art critic and novelist John Berger reaffirms my observations about how one views and understands an artwork, in his seminal book, Ways of Seeing:
We only see what we look at. To look is an act of choice. As a result of this act, what we see is brought within our reach—though not necessarily within arm’s reach. To touch something is to situate oneself in relation to it ... Every image embodies a way of seeing, our perception or appreciation of an image depends also upon our own way of seeing. (Berger 9-10)
Influences and inspirations that motivate an artist to create come in many forms—personal history, life experiences, mentors, other artists, social and cultural movements, current affairs, spiritual awakenings, the unconscious, nature, aesthetics, madness, critical theory, banality, fear of mediocrity, fame and fortune, criticism, experimentation, passion, where and how they were schooled or not schooled in the Fine Arts, studied and/or live or lived abroad. Take for example, Alfonso Ossorio, born in Manila to wealthy parents from Negros Occidental who spent his early years studying in a British Catholic preparatory school, moved to the United States as a teenager, studied Fine Arts at Harvard University and then later at the Rhode Island school of Design. During WWII, he served as a medical illustrator for the U.S. Army. He befriended the Abstract Expressionist artist, Jackson Pollock. It is said that they mutually influenced each other. His friendships with Clyfford Still and Jean Dubuffet and other artists from his generation like Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, and Ad Reinhardt may have also impacted his Cubist, Surrealist, and Abstract art practices. By the 1960’s, Ossorio began experimenting more with other materials than paint—found objects, bones, skulls, teeth, shell, wood, plastic—creating hybrid painting/sculptural works which the critic Hilton Kramer called a “surrealist-flavored version of pop art.” One of his works from this period, Congregations, displayed in the Art Fair, gives the viewer a sense of the amalgamation of personal history, art movements, and the time in which he was creating—all in influencing this work.
It is important to note that the individual and in some cases, multiple works of these artists in no way represent the breadth of these artists’ oeuvres whose works have changed or evolved over time, particularly those of the more established and mid-career artists like Benedicto Cabrera, Junyee, Augusto Albor, Ramon Diaz, Josephine Turalba, and Maria Cruz. They all create in more than one medium if it best suits their concepts for new bodies of work.
The artworks in Galleria Duemila’s booth are deliberately arranged. The Modernist past meets another Modernist or Contemporary present. A meta-narrative is constructed in the hope that the viewers can see how each work of art is in dialogue with each other—reflective of the artists’ practices across generations, modern and contemporary art movements, and aesthetics. Galleria Duemila honors a myriad of talents whether they are of Filipino descent, a part of the Filipino Diaspora like Monica Delgado and Duddley Diaz residing in the United States, Maria Cruz living in Germany or an American like Donald Sultan and an Indonesian such as Heri Dono.
To end this brief survey of artists, what distinguishes them from each other as unique individuals resonates in their concepts, processes, materials, textures, contents, contexts, and self-reflections. Perseverance, conviction in what they are creating, and distinct creative visions provide these artists with visibility and the possibility for longevity in the art world today.
This writer now turns the original question back to the Fairgoers—What constitutes a “good” work of art? May the creator/viewer exchange begin for some and continue forever more for others. •
(L-R): A guest and May Badour, the Lebanese artist showcased in Galleria Duemila's first exhibition in December 1975, with Silvana Ancellotti-Diaz, Galleria Duemila Art Director, and former business associate Christina Pagaspas.
Galleria Duemila present day. Gate by Australian artist Tony Twigg and Duddley Diaz's Haliya in the background.
Art Fair Philippines 2017
The twenty-two artists with thirty-eight phantasmagorical pieces showcased between them in Galleria Duemila’s selection for Art Fair Philippines 2017 embody the criteria for “good art” through an eclectic range of techniques, styles, and visions. Their age range is wide—from 34-year old Jinggoy Buensuceso to 89-year old Mauro “Malang” Santos as well as the mediums that they choose to create in—from painting, sculpture, drawing, mixed media, to video and performance art.
The majority of the artists have received multiple awards, honors, and recognitions in the Philippines and internationally, including a Palanca Literary Award for Marc Gaba and a National Artist Award for Benedicto Cabrera (BenCab), whose A Society Conscious Filipina from his critically acclaimed 1972 Larawan Series is in this year’s Fair. Additionally, internationally renowned Venice Biennale artists, Heri Dono’s Mimpi Dapat Lotere and Manuel Ocampo’s An Arena for a Pseudo-Context are also highlighted here.
Duemila’s booth, to borrow from American Post-Minimalist, Donald Sultan is an alluring “theater of the object”, celebrating a diversity of artists’ imaginations. The artworks range in creation from 1968 to 2017. Works rarely seen or unseen by the public include: the late Renaissance man and former CCP director, Raymundo Albano’s Nambaran; the late Abstract visionary Lee Aguinaldo’s Green Circulation #9 & Homage to Edison; the late Onib Olmedo’s poignant urban ink wash Untitled; the late one-of-a-kind mistress of play Pacita Abad’s Close To You, Enki’s Whirl; sculptor Impy Pilapil’s Anthroposophy influenced Fragrance 1; Roberto Robles’ Chinese Philosophy inspired marble sculptures Yin and Yang; Ramon Diaz’s powerful Haiku-like drawings/studies—Han Lady Rider, Untitled, Horse Series 8, and Untitled from his Horse Series of paintings; prolific Maria Cruz’s Red, from her thought-provoking ongoing 1 Million Coin Series comprised of 30,000 retraced coins; mercurial UP Fine Arts’ Professor Emeritus of Painting Nestor Vinluan’s 2017 sculpture Teal On A Riverstone; and Donald Sultan’s convergent hints of landscape, floral, and still life forms as seen in Five Blue Flowers With Flocked Centers, March 10, 2002 (12/12) & Yellow Flowers On A Striped Ground, March 27, 2002 (12/12).
Earlier works by the premier Philippine Abstractionist Augusto Albor’s Refuge, Driftage, and Kuwadro and Mauro “Malang” Santos’ expressive tempera on paper Plants are on view—alongside more recent and newer works created by painter, multimedia and performance artist Josephine Turalba’s timely social pastiche No Way Forward, No Way Back; multifaceted Junyee’s Freshness of Memory 1, Freshness of Memory 2, and Resting Light 2 exemplify his sophisticated and meditative painting practice; and the mythological and mystical alabaster figurines of Duddley Diaz The Neophyte, Haliya Enthroned No. 2, and Bakunawa No. 2—can also be viewed.
The newer generation of artists connects to the older ones in a triumphant continuum. Featured poet and visual artist, Marc Gaba’s Why Content Rises Up Into the Soul referencing French philosopher Gilles Deleuze indicates an affinity with Post-Modernist practices; Monica Delgado’s Taught alludes to the rebirth of formalist concerns; and Jinggoy Buensuceso’s Unfamiliar Landscape contemplates the use of organic materials to explore otherworldly spaces and gendered symbolism. •
— Angel Velasco Shaw, 2017