Philippine Pavilion in Arsenale Opens to the Public

May 12, 2017

The Philippines triumphantly returned for a second consecutive participation in the Venice Art Biennale with a stronger showing as it presented a national pavilion curated by Joselina Cruz featuring two important Filipino artists—Lani Maestro and Manuel Ocampo—in a prime space at the Arsenale in Venice, Italy.


The Spectre of Comparison, the Philippine Pavilion at the 2017 Venice Art Biennale, successfully held its vernissage on May 11 and is now ready to show the world how the works of Maestro and Ocampo relate to notions of nationhood, diaspora and identity as the 57thInternational Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia formally opens on May 13, 2017.


National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) Chairperson and Commissioner of the Philippine Pavilion, National Artist Virgilio Almario, said that the Filipino voice is getting louder in Venice not only because it has staged a national pavilion at the Arsenale but also because of the involvement of other Filipino artists—David Medalla, Katherine Nuñez and Issay Rodriguez—in the 2017 Biennale Arte’s main exhibit, VIVA ARTE VIVA by Christine Macel.


“I would like to thank Senator Loren Legarda for having the grit and passion to make Filipino art known to the world through this massive endeavor. Likewise, I congratulate my colleagues in the government that have shown the world that collaboration can lead to projects such as this,” said Almario.


Senator Loren Legarda, the visionary and principal advocate behind the country’s participation in the Venice Biennale, was unable to attend the vernissage but sent her gratitude and congratulations to everyone involved, especially to the curator and artists.


“I hope this year’s participation will further inspire more Filipino artists to hone their craft and assert their distinct creative identity. May the Filipino continue to participate in the global art conversation,” Legarda said.


The exhibition looks at how Maestro and Ocampo see the events of the Philippines and their adopted countries through an inverted telescope, comparing it to the experience of 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.


Ocampo places emphasis on the power of images and how images are tied to history. His paintings use known images only to reverse their meaning and transform their oppressive appearance into liberatory power.


The Spectre of Comparison presents the paintings of Ocampo—Torta Imperiales, Crème de la Crème, Twelfth Station, and Cooks in the Kitchen—vis-a-vis Maestro’s works—No Pain Like This Body, these Hands, and meronmeron.


Maestro often utilizes a streamlined approach to her work, with strong, provocative and sometimes violent propositions. No Pain Like This Body, an installation with ruby red neon, was originally created for an exhibition in the Centre A Gallery in Canada. The words came to Maestro’s mind when she witnessed the poverty, racism, prostitution and drug abuse prevalent in the area.


these Hands, an installation with blue neon, was a commissioned work originally done in an old jewelry factory in France. It was a response to the shutting down of the factory because the owners decided to transfer production to China, resulting in unemployment.


Meanwhile, the site-specific installation meronmeron, a series of benches in variable dimensions, hopes to invite visitors to “pause, to be with oneself alone, or be alone with others.”


Curator Joselina Cruz said that people were surprised with her selection of artists because of their contrasting styles, but explained that the strong international practices of the artists and their respective experiences as Filipino immigrants were important in bringing them together.


Guests at the vernissage of the Philippine Pavilion were amazed with the participation especially that the country has already found a place in the Arsenale, one of the main exhibition platforms of the Venice Biennale.


Renaud Proch, Executive Director of the Independent Curators International (ICI) and one of the jurors for the 2015 Philippine pavilion, said, “I think it’s a fantastic move (to be in the Arsenale). It’s a very impressive room in this building right at the center of the main exhibition. Great to see Manuel’s new work and Joselina’s work.”


The Drawing Room, Manila founder Cesar Villalon Jr., said it is a wonderful opportunity for Philippine contemporary art to be shown and exposed in a big art event like the Venice Biennale.


“I like the exhibition design. I like the contrast between the very powerful paintings of Manuel Ocampo and the very quiet introspective works of Lani Maestro. It is a wonderful combination that we’ve seen here in the Venice Biennale,” Villalon said.


London-based Filipino artist Pio Abad and Joan Young of the Guggenheim museum in New York were both amazed with the Philippine pavilion’s location.


Young said, “it is exciting to have it so centrally located within the Biennale and the works dramatically lit the spare room.”


Abad said, “the location of the pavilion is amazing. The works speak eloquently.”


Malou Babilonia, private collector of Manuel Ocampo’s work, expressed elation with the Philippines’ participation and its location in the Arsenale.


“I feel happy not only that we are here with Manuel and Lani but also because of the fact that we are in the Arsenale, finally. I feel that because of Senator Legarda and the group from the Philippines that have finally put together what it takes to get us here is a dream come true for our artists and the rest of us whom the artists lead with their vision, whom the artists elevate with their creations,” Babilonia said.


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).


The Philippine Pavilion is housed at the Artiglierie of the Arsenale and is open to the public from May 13 to November 26, 2017.