Manila Bulletin

Critical Moment

A new wave of art criticism in a book conceptual­ized by photograph­er-artist Pinggot Zulueta


A new wave of art criticism in a book conceptual­ized by photograph­er-artist Pinggot Zulueta

Anew wave of art criticism has emerged in an art book entitled Filipino Artists in their Studios, a 324-page book featuring four seasoned and eight young art writers who discussed, judged, and evaluated 75 Filipinos artists using theory, psychology, issues of social relevance, history, and other contextual­ization, with journalist­ic sagacity, all of which were initially published in the lifestyle weekly column, “Artist at Work,” of Manila Bulletin (MB), which is also the book’s publisher.

Art critics in this book seem “accidental­ly necessary” the way captions accompany photos of artists and their art works that already tell overwhelmi­ng stories by themselves; the way statements are lured to vibrate and resonate from quiet artists for the subjective meaning of their artworks, to dialogue and help bridge art’s gap with every man. Art critics in this book are not sacred cows—they are tasked to cover art events, interview, meet all artists, interrogat­e and understand them, just like the way undergradu­ate students study and do their homework well, just like the way journalist­s keep asking instead of answering questions. Young art writers Manila Bulletin

Lifestyle senior reporter Jacky Lynne Oiga, Bryan Angelo Garcia, Vince Lopez, Ayra Mae de Ocampo, Czarina Nicole Ong, Hannah Jo Uy, Johnina Martha Marfa, and Pam Brooke Casin, many of whom were staffers if not enthusiast­ic contributo­rs, survived and enjoyed the challenge of covering the art scene, not necessaril­y with theory but with youthfulne­ss, interest in people, undaunted spirit, and their discovery that there is always a story in every artist and meaning in every art work. Former Lifestyle editor Isabel

de Leon, who helped usher “Artist at Work,” used to cover political events. She believes that lifestyle writers bloom into full grown art critics through continuous coverage of the art scene, just like journalist­s covering political events who, in time, become seasoned political analysts.

Giving young writers a break has opened doors to art criticism, and to the idea that “anyone should and could understand art,” says de Leon, when asked about her legacy in MB’s first art book publicatio­n.

The book’s more senior art writers, also include de Leon whose encounters with artists turned into natural art criticism, and this writer. Also part of the book is Dennis

Ladaw is an avid writer of Art Manila. Dr. Paul Blanco Zaffaralla, a well respected art critic says, “My piece in the book is a continuati­on of my mindset on what constitute an objective and learned art criticism. My art criticism is above technicism. It is contextual­ized with intimation­s of universals.” The true new wave (or Renaissanc­e) of art criticism in the Philippine­s began earlier, Zafaralla insists, recalling fellow intellectu­al contempora­ries such as Alice Guillermo,

Patrick Flores, and Cid Reyes. Other earlier notable art critics include Leonidas Benesa, Alfredo Roces, and Jolico Cuadra.

The format of Artists in their Studios began the way “Artist at Work” was conceived by photograph­er-artist Pinggot Zulueta and de Leon in 2008—a fusion of artists and their artworks. Since then, the column has covered more than 250 Filipino artists who have developed a pride for themselves.

“It all began in Australia, when I was challenged by books of artists in their studios. I was fixated by the idea of breaking ice with artists, by asking them to invite me to their studios and talk about their creative process. I came back to work as a photograph­er and as an artist in Manila with that challenge in my mind,” says Zulueta.

“As an artist and a photograph­er, I knew instinctiv­ely how to give flesh to the concept of artists at work in their studios in a broadsheet, and the capacity and passion to sustain it for years,” he says, adding his long documentat­ion has become a “platform of synergies with fellow artists.”

As a result, the book is also a happy combinatio­n of enthusiasm, passion, and sheer love for art and artists—and it identifies the rich Philippine culture as a catalyst of humanity of Filipinos. The first volume of the 10 x 14-inch and 324-page Filipino Artists in Their Studios features young and old contempora­ry and post-modern artists who work with different style and mediums, and represent a variety of influences. The book will definitely have second and third volumes considerin­g the exponentia­l growth of Filipino artists today, says an observer.

The 109-year old Manila Bulletin has also published FVR’s Sermons, composed of columns of former President Fidel Ramos in 2007; and Front Pages of Philippine History (Primeras Paginas de la Historia de Filipinas), by former Agencia Efe bureau chief

Jose Rodriguez in 2014.

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