Arts & Culture

Discarded Old Rags Befuddle at New Gallery in Makati

Welcome to the second golden age of Filipino modern art.
IMAGE COURTESY OF 1335MABINI
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A light rain falls on the night of the gallerys inaugural exhibition at Karrivin Plaza. A driveway next to a bank leads to a low-rise building with wide display windows. There, a white door stands, and on it are the names of the gallery and the artist: 1335Mabini, Poklong Anading.

Anading is up for a solo exhibition titled Household—a meditation on the art of everyday objects. The exhibition comes on the heels of 1335Mabinis soft opening at Karrivin Plaza, a new outpost in a spanking new space intended to complement the gallery’s experimental programming and announce itself as a formidable presence in modern art in the country. It’s a complicated story but anyone interested in Filipino modern art should pay attention.


Austrian Beginnings

The story begins in Austria where gallery owner Birgit Zimmerman and Anading first met. Zimmerman, a young woman with a fine taste for shoes, was 24 years old when she ventured into running a small gallery in her hometown. Later, she stumbled into artists from the Philippines and started working with them. In 2010, Anading was invited for a residency and eventually became the first Filipino to hold a solo exhibition at Zimmerman’s gallery.

The collaboration grew, and Zimmerman found herself increasingly drawn to the Philippines. “I found myself more and more often in the Philippines,” she recalls in an email, “starting to renovate a small space in La Fuerza Compound but finally settling into Casa Tesoro on Mabini Street, Ermita.”    

Thus, the original 1335Mabini was born and the venue couldn’t be more auspicious. Located in a gritty district lined with girly bars, 1335Mabini sits on a historical art street. When the conservatives had lost the battle with the moderns after the Second World War, for instance, the former retreated to Mabini, selling landscape paintings and pictures of idyllic country scenes. To this day, bad reproductions of Fernando Amorsolo hang on the wall of boutiques that have seen better days.

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Roots in Old Manila

But what brought Zimmerman from her Austrian hometown to the 1901 neoclassical apartment on Mabini? The easy answer is romance. Zimmerman had met her compatriot Rudolf Kratochwill, an established curator and collector of indigenous art from Cordillera and Mindanao, and the two decided to live together in Manila. Way before their romance even began, however, Kratochwill had already been residing in Casa Tesoro for close to twenty years, running a gallery specializing in Filipino indigenous art.

This love affair would be responsible for the resurgence of modern art in the heart of old Manila. Situated near the National Museum, the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the Metropolitan Museum, and the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, 1335Mabini has become the hothouse of modern art since the gallery’s founding in 2013.

In no time, the gallery’s regular shows and Friday evening openings added to the vibrant character of Ermita, which is also home to the landmark bookstore owned by the novelist F. Sionil Jose and recruitment offices for migrant workers and seafarers.


New Directions in Modern Art

With its recent expansion in Karrivin Plaza, 1335Mabini turns a new page and secures its position as a place that fosters new directions for modern art in the Philippines. 1335Mabini has also infused the local art scene with visiting artists from Europe and beyond, building strong ties with Alliance Francaise and the Goethe Institut, among others. 


But the gallery’s focus is clear: to bring more attention to Filipino modern art. Asked what her vision is for Filipino modern art, Zimmerman speaks of her bottom line. “I am an idealistic person,” she says, “and I want 1335Mabini to be relevant to Philippine art history.” Indeed, 1335Mabini succeeds in promoting the most exciting artists hereabouts, representing not just Anading but also Kiri Dalena, Tad Ermitaño, Manny Montelibano, and Mark Salvatus whose works are located at the crossroads of painting, video, and sculptural installation. The gallery’s success is due as well to the brainpower of the team led by Luigi Singson, himself a young artist with a background in business management.

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Young Blood

This mix of international programming, Filipino focus, youthful energy, and savvy management makes 1335Mabini well-positioned to usher in the new dawn of Filipino modern art. Anading’s solo exhibition is a valuable record of such a moment, one that results from the contributions of other players.

Consider the new location of 1335Mabini at the Karrivin Plaza, which is a mixed-use complex called The Alley where galleries, shops, and restaurants are integrated in one location. The notion is to attract more foot traffic, to create a bit more time for lingering in our harried age of multitasking. 


Consider also one of the other tenants at The Alley—the Bellas Artes Outpost, a gallery run by Jam Acuzar, the daughter of Jose Acuzar who built Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar, and Diana Campbell, the American curator trained at Princeton who divides her time between Bataan and Dhaka. Like 1335Mabini, the Bellas Artes Outpost encourages experimentation and is partial to issues that redefine the traditional art market. Unlike traditional curators, Campbell imagines the gallery as “the utopian space to be creative and to experiment.” 

What we are seeing, in other words, is the new age of Filipino modern art, which comes in part from the confluence of big galleries with established transnational networks and big money. It’s an equation that befuddles but one that makes sense afterward: big gallery combined with big business gives both curators and artists more time to get more autonomy.


Such economies of scale, however, are in stark contrast to the smallness of Anading’s art which consists mainly of discarded rags. “Household,” Anading says in an interview, “shows the transformation of found rags on the street into found art.” Using mixed media, Anading layers the bright impastos of oil with worn rags on misshapen canvas.

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His use of fabric is part installation like Christo or Patricia Perez Eustaquio, part folk like the AIDS Memorial Quilt or Imelda Cajipe Endaya, and part sculptural like Anish Kapoor or Raffy Napay. In other works, tent-like sculptural installations made from rags shelter the flat screens showing video loops of traffic scenes. There is an exhaust fan wrapped in ghostly canvas, an open portfolio containing nothing.

It is hard to imagine hanging or setting up these pieces in the living room. Anading betrays the patron by staying true to his art. From his widely collected series called Anonymity (2004), photographic portraits of ordinary folks with blotted out faces, to his latest exhibition Household, Anading creates art that is charged with uneasy beauty as odes to the urban sublime that is Manila. What to make of this? 

When asked what the inspiration is behind Household, Anading replies“because it’s happening.” 

Household is like that. It stumps; it stops you in your tracks. And with its throwaway rags, it might have begun the second golden age of Filipino modern art, just as Marcel Duchamp proclaimed the advent of the 20th century with a urinal.

Household runs until November 25 at 1335Mabini, Karrivin Plaza, Chino Roces Avenue Extension, Makati 

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Charlie Samuya Veric
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