Find­ing art like nee­dle in haystack

Philippine Daily Inquirer - - OPINION - AMBETH R. OCAMPO

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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Com­ments are wel­come at ao­campo@ate­neo.edu

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