Finding art like needle in haystack
Art in the Park began in 2006 as a venue to present Philippine contemporary art to a wider public in a neutral space. Salcedo Park in Makati, more popularly known for its Saturday market, is not threatening like a museum with its white walls, halogen lamps, security and signs not to touch or take pictures. At the park prices are “affordable” relative to what you are expected to shell out for the same works in a commercial gallery or on the auction block. The price ceiling for 2018 was set at P50,000, or roughly $960, plus one could pay zero-interest on installment with a credit card. So for the past 12 years, Art in the Park has grown into a habit. Admission, music, art, and camaraderie remain free, while a wide array of food and drinks from dirty ice cream to gourmet cuisine is spread out making this one Sunday a year a reasonable alternative to movie and popcorn in a mall.
In 2013, Dindin Araneta, Trickie Lopa, and Lisa Periquet, the same group that gave us a tiangge in the Park, developed the posh air-conditioned Art in a Parking Lot that has since grown into the country’s most important annual event for contemporary art: Art Fair Philippines. I have religiously attended both over the years realizing that one regrettable outcome of current auction results for Philippine art are the eight-figure prices paid for the works by a handful of artists, living and dead, that skewed both the market and the appreciation for art. At such prices it is natural to focus more on return on investment than the pictures or sculptures themselves. So, a different twist to the Easter egg hunt was cooked up by Gigo Alampay of Canvas that went on unnoticed from the time park gates opened at 10 a.m. to early evening when he spilled the beans on social media. Two prominent artists donated drawings to benefit a Canvas book project; the catch was that the works were unsigned and the artists would not be identified to whoever bought the works who were hopefully attracted to the art and not its potential resale value.
Two of the three needles in the haystack were found. First to go was a drawing best described by an early bird collector who didn’t catch the worm as “a man with a melting face.” It was one of the more striking works in the booth and was snapped up by a young man in a short exchange that went like this: “Kuya, kanino ’to? Ang cute.” “’ Di ko alam eh. Estudyante ’ata. Dinala lang dito. ’Di iniwan pangalan.”
“Gusto ko siya. Naiintriga ako. Kunin ko na. Paki- text na lang pangalan pag nalaman mo na. Puwede naman SIP, ’ di ba?” The drawing was by Emmanuel Garibay, sold for the price of a student work, and bought on installment! The second work was put on display at 12:30 p.m. when veteran collectors had either left for lunch or given up because of the heat. Ten minutes later Dr. Jovino Miroy, an Ateneo philosophy professor, inquired who made it. When told it was a student work, he remarked that the lines were sure and rather mature for a student. He decided to buy it wishing the student would be an important artist someday. Well, it was Miroy’s lucky day because he brought home a work by National Artist BenCab, an artist he always thought he could never afford, not even in his wildest dreams. He thanked his father who introduced him to art and museums at an early age and gave him an eye for the beautiful or interesting.
Next year, the speculators will probably storm the Canvas booth and buy everything including the owner’s socks in the hope of finding a treasure, but then lightning does not strike twice in the same place as it did last Sunday. At the close of the experiment, these lucky buyers may ask the artists to sign their work, after all they had passed the test. They bought an unsigned picture because it spoke to them in some relevant way. But then that defeats the purpose of this exercise, so a printout of the gallery’s social media posts should suffice as certificates of authenticity. Sadly, art has flown beyond the reach of many people who truly deserve them so this gimmick reminds would-be collectors to find the needles in the haystack by looking at pictures rather than names, buying the best that you can afford, and buying artwork knowing that your return on investment is the spark of joy you feel when you see it.
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