Milestones Unlocked: The Philippine Pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale

May 11, 2017

It is the world’s biggest contemporary art event and it transforms the city of Venice into a Mecca for curators, artists and art pilgrims who traverse the globe to be part of this international spectacle.


This year’s Venice Biennale unlocks several milestones for Philippine art as the country joins the Art Biennale for the second time since its return in 2015 after a 51-year hiatus. It presents The Spectre of Comparison curated by Joselina Cruz, that features the works of Filipino artists Lani Maestro and Manuel Ocampo.


The exhibition’s take off point is Jose Rizal’s protagonist in Noli Me Tangere, Crisostomo Ibarra, who experienced a double vision when he gazed out at the botanical gardens of Manila. The exhibition looks at how Maestro and Ocampo see the events of the Philippines and their adopted countries through an inverted telescope.


From Palazzo to Arsenale


Another achievement for the country is that the national pavilion has moved from the 18th century Palazzo Mora (where the 2015 Philippine Pavilion was housed) to the Arsenale, one of the main exhibition spaces of the Venice Biennale.


The Arsenale is the largest pre-industrial production center of the world. It was a symbol of the military, economic and political power Venice had back in time. La Biennale di Venezia first employed the Arsenale in 1980 on the occasion of the 1st International Architecture Exhibition.


The vernissage of the pavilion will be held today (May 11), led by National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) Chairperson and Commissioner for the Philippine Pavilion Virgilio Almario.


Although unable to attend, Senator Loren Legarda, the visionary and prime mover behind the Philippines’ comeback to the Venice Biennale, congratulates the team and says that she hopes the participation this year would further inspire Filipino artists to hone their craft and assert their distinct creative identity.


“Every work of art represents a new way of seeing – a vision of the world – and can be seen as a way of creating our world. The arts create our lives by expanding our consciousness, shaping our dispositions, satisfying our quest for meaning, establishing contact with others, and sharing a culture,” said Legarda.


She emphasized the importance of a Philippine Pavilion in Venice is a way for Filipinos to “enter the minds of other people and cultures, thus expanding our horizons and helping much to bring about international understanding, harmony and peace. In the same way, through this pavilion, we tell the countries of our ‘now’, as we mirror our political and cultural realities.”


Meanwhile, Almario said, “It is only fitting that our exhibit for the 57th Venice Biennale is titled The Spectre of Comparison. It stirs the conversation to many points of discussions; and one of them is to ask what it means to be Filipino and what being Filipino means to a world that is more fragmented than ever, yet it is connected via technology.”


The DFA, to be represented by Undersecretary Linglingay Lacanlale and Philippine Ambassador to Rome Domingo Nolasco, continues to support the project.


Notable guests who are expected to attend the Philippine Pavilion vernissage include: Dr. Eugene Tan, Director of the National Gallery Singapore, who was one of the jurors for the 2017 Philippine pavilion; Michelle Goh and Lucas Huang of the National Gallery Singapore; Mami Kataoka, Chief Curator of the Mori Art Museum, who was one of the jurors for the 2015 Philippine pavilion; Renaud Proch, Executive Director of the Independent Curators International (ICI) and also a juror for the 2015 Philippine pavilion; Aaron Cezar of Delfina Foundation; Alexia Boro, Director of Communications and External Affairs at Peggy Guggenheim Collection; Dr. Cristina Juan of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) London; Jorge Juan of Wall Street Journal – Europe; Rafael Schacter of the University of London; Lee Mingwei; John Rivett; and Ute Meta Bauer, Director of the Centre for Contemporary Art in Singapore, among many others.


The Philippine participation at the Venice Biennale is a joint project of the NCCA, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), and the Office of Senator Loren Legarda, with the support of the Department of Tourism (DOT).


Filipinos at the Main Exhibit— VIVA ARTE VIVA


Adding to the excitement is the growing number of Filipino representation in Venice as the 2017 Biennale Arte director and curator Christine Macel handpicked three Filipino artists to be part of the main exhibit, VIVA ARTE VIVA. These individuals are Filipino avant-garde artist David Medalla, Katherine Nuñez and Issay Rodriguez.


According to Macel, VIVA ARTE VIVA is centered on “A world full of conflicts and jolts, in which humanism is being seriously jeopardized, art is the most precious part of the human being.”


Medalla joins the main exhibit with Mondrian Fan Club and A Stitch In Time; while Katherine Nuñez and Issay Rodriguez present In Between the Lines 2.0.


The Philippine Pavilion and the 57th International Art Exhibition will open to the public on May 13 and run through November 26, 2017.