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Proto Art Galleries

The awareness of showcasing art in a formal venue in the country, the purpose of showcasing artworks, and the vision of giving art its proper liberty of expression, only came into being in the 1900s.

During the pre-hispanic times, when internal and external trade was a flourishing and established activity, artworks were of another genre. They found expressions in pottery, tattoos, textiles, anitos, ornaments, jewelry, etc. These currently considered art forms were actually objects of utility. They could be used for practicing and evoking their religion or method of worship, for making known their designated or newly acquired social status, for telling stories or legends, for showing off their recent achievements, or for simply using them for their functional and physical aspect. Hence, the production of these objects was a way of life. Making, using, or donning them was an intertwined act—the whole process of which is the whole artwork. This indeed proves the absence of the need for a venue like that of an art gallery. When objects of such are traded for other necessities and in turn transformed into a “commodity status”, they are then displayed and presented to the dealer or customer, i.e. in the way that approximates the present notion of showcasing art.

With the influx of Spanish culture, the need for a venue of exhibiting artworks was finally introduced. It was the era in Philippine history which produced proto-art galleries.

These proto-galleries were actually the churches built during the spread of Catholicism in the country. Stone churches were built, and the education of engraving, painting, and sculpture from the friars followed suit. The friars commissioned the Chinese and local artisans to decorate the churches, make sculptures of worship, and make illustrations for prayer books. All in the name of Catholicism and its considerable worship, the church became the most important institution by the 18th century. They also functioned as immediate centers for art patronage. From the beginning of Spanish Colonialism and up to the late eighteenth century, art could only exist through religious works, objects, or relics of worship due to the Real Orden and the Comision de Permanente de Censura, which required that all artistic productions passed through strict friar supervision.

If one were to find another venue that would be similar to an art gallery during the Spanish times in Metro Manila, it would be found in workshops. Some were found in the Parian, the so-called first mall and employment agency in the Philippines, where every kind of craftsman was available. Together with the sale of silk, furniture, porcelain, etc., anyone could commission a painting or a monument from certain artisans, a scenario which resurfaced in today’s Art Walk at the Shoemart(SM) Megamall. With such progression in the Philippine art scene, the need for an art gallery inevitably followed.

A Changing City

Under the American occupation, Manila was still in its prime as a changing city. In spite of the economic disruption between the Spanish rule and the beginning of the American regime, art activity soon became active. Commerce developed, art organizations were founded, and corporations increased in number upon the establishment of the American military government. The colonial administration had a positive impact on the city’s economy: technology, education, and generally, the way of life of the people. Such improvement gave impetus to the development of art so much so that the National Museum, the Philippine Vistas Gallery, and the first university gallery in the Philippines (the Art Gallery in the UST Museum) were established. Only a few came up within the period since Manila was still adjusting to the changing times: a new political set-up; a much expanded business community; the sudden great need for civil workers; a growing intellectual middle class; and the modernization of the city landscape itself.

For a long time, the Philippine art scene under the American period was largely conservative. The art patrons became the American officials, teachers, merchants, and tourists who sought paintings which depicted landscapes, genre, still-lifes, and portraiture. The production of monuments were also encouraged.

At first, there were only “curio stores” and “walking galleries.” Fernando Amorsolo was gaining ground and soon earned international and local fame, outshining all the other artists. To add to the artists’ dilemma, with Amorsolo dominating the limelight, there were not enough art galleries yet except for the Philippine Vistas, a small art gallery in Intramuros; the National Museum, and the Art Gallery in the UST Museum-the latter two of which did not exhibit works of unknown artists. Art activity was hence dictated by Amorsolo and a few other established artists. For the unknown artists, the opportunity for exposure to the public then became an essential factor for their quest to gain popularity. That there were also other talents worthy of praise and patronage, was an existent fact.

When Victorio Edades came home with his modern artworks and exhibited in the Philippine Columbian Club, a commotion ensued. Debates flared within exhibition halls, lecture rooms, informal discussions, and newspaper columns. But the problem here was that Edades and the Triumvirate of which he was part, could only affect so many as the country was not yet at all ready for their ideas. Aside from the lack of venues which would have given exposure to modern art, it was only the upper crust of Manila who could buy imported publications about avant-garde art. Also, schools like the University of the Philippines were still dominated by the Amorsolo school. In a nutshell, discussion on contemporary art only interested a limited audience. The vast majority could therefore not relate to the inevitable change in art trends.

A mural painting by Edades at the Capitol theatre, commissioned in 1935, elicited several favorable reviews. Being the first modern painting to acquire recognition in the country, it provided not only the stimulus for the modern art movement, but also the perception that exhibition venues were too few to serve a public lacking exposure to fine art and its possible development.

In 1941 however, opportunities for development came to a halt. The Japanese ravaged the city even before its actual occupation. And when Manila awoke to find the Japanese forces in full control of the city in 1942, another new environment was set. Commerce, industry, trade, and transportation was at a minimum. Together with the impending wrath of the Kempetai, survival and existence became the main issues.

The art scene was kept alive by the Japanese government itself in such abnormal, uneasy, and hard times. Critic and patron of the arts, and poet-politician Aurelio Alvero even managed to open up for the first time his private gallery to the public in 1942. Through his endeavor, he aimed for the promotion and encouragement of young and unknown artists.

However, after a strong typhoon hit Manila in 1943, there were no more attempts by private individuals or private institutions to open up exhibition venues. Manila at this time encountered a number of problems: economic dislocation, scarcity of food, and the spread of life-threatening diseases.

Probably to alleviate and mask the people’s unfortunate and pitiful state, the government sponsored art competitions with attractive prizes. These activities held the theme of a “New Philippines.” Hence, it was only these art competitions and Alvero’s gallery that gave exposure to the artists.

From the post-war period up to the fifties, many events triggered the establishment of quite a number of art galleries. The immense task of rehabilitating the war-devastated Philippines was undertaken by the post-war Commonwealth Government, and followed right after by the Republic of the Philippines. As expected of the late 1940s, the country was still recuperating from the after-shocks of war. Economic dependence on the Americans prevailed despite the country’s newly gained independence in 1946.

Despite the odds and the general economic problem, there was a spate of building activity to compensate for the previous massive destruction. The newly erected, rehabilitated, and reconstructed structures needed to be decorated with paintings and other artworks. Artists now enjoyed not only the patronage of American soldiers and tourists, but also the holders of these new buildings and houses. To meet this demand for more artworks, commercial art galleries were able to open along Mabini Street.

Art Associations

Fortunately, at this time, an organization, Art Association of the Philippines (AAP), was put up to achieve what past art organizations had always intended to do. Hence, it was instituted to promote the interests of artists, to exhibit their works, and to serve as an education center. From all its specified achievements came about many opportunities for artists. This association even offered incentives that challenged the upliftment of artistic standards. There were annual competitions, exhibitions, scholarships, and even free art lessons for hobbyists and art enthusiasts. Debates still hounded Modern Art, the most known of which was the well-documented debate between Victorio Edades and Guillermo Tolentino which were of great interest to the public and the artistic circles.

Most buyers however were still largely composed of American tourists with many artists resorting to painting what the audience wanted. They either painted in the dark somber colors that de la Rosa himself celebrated or the buoyant sunlight-and-green fields tradition that Amorsolo banked on.

In 1995, AAP held an exhibit, which was marked by a walkout of the conservatives. This group formed themselves into the Academy of Filipino Artists (AFA), and eventually held sidewalk exhibitions and annual outdoor shows at the Luneta Park. Many of these artists since then have put up galleries along Manila’s tourist belt.

Other galleries that were put up were the Galvez Gallery, the Philippine Art Gallery (popularly called as the PAG), the Contemporary Art Gallery, and La Cave d’ Angely. From these few galleries and their special features and lay-away plans, the art scene was given a boost, making its presence felt to the uninitiated public and possible art patrons. These galleries struggled to keep themselves in business despite the costly monthly rentals, continuous expenses, and a public that bought so little. Their resolve to exist along with the AAP’s support to art, helped the art scene to stay afloat..

One of the prominent remembered venues for struggling young Modern artists was the Philippine Art Gallery (PAG). It functioned not only as an art gallery but also as a venue for artists, leading literary men, and intellectuals who frequented the place to exchange ideas about the art scene, art-making, art trends, etc.

The PAG paved the way for the education of the viewing public through its constant display of Modern works, despite little sales. Eventually, both foreigners and Filipinos came to buy artworks. Through the PAG’s creative incentives like the rent-a-painting gimmick or the premium and installment sales, possible art collectors were now able to acquire the pieces. It was the PAG’s feature wall, premium sales, and installment plans that even set up different ways for future galleries to follow. It eventually served as the venue that became the instrument of introducing the now-enthroned talent and genius of certain Filipino painters like Hernando Ocampo, Manansala, Tabuena, Luz, Zobel, and Joya.

However the presence of these galleries did not eliminate the Filipino artist’s handicap. The furtherance of his development was impeded by the absence of an appropriate exhibition venue for large group exhibits and reproductions of world masterpieces. The AAP as it was, still depended on the generosity of certain business firms to lend them their spacious showrooms for their exhibitions.

Post Liberation Years

The art scene improved during the post-liberation years. As the number of businesses increased, so did the middle-class grow in number, in economic and intellectual status. In fact, high society was added to a list of traders, businessmen and industrialists. What followed from this was the public’s rising awareness and consciousness of the talent and proficiency of the Filipino artist. Thus, art patronage and its promotion increased altogether.

Compared to the previous decades, the community during the 1960s have been very supportive of the arts. One example was the increase involvement of private firms like San Miguel Brewery, Insular Life, FGU, etc. who provided cash awards for art competitions. Another was the creation of a Commission on Culture, and the Alay at Pamana ceremony which formally launched the cultural project of then First Lady Imelda Marcos. Malacañang park itself became a venue for one-man shows. Even the AAP also came up with new projects for art awareness and appreciation.

In the year 1960 alone, the Luz Gallery, the Ateneo Art Gallery, and the Lopez Museum were inaugurated. About nine more galleries and one museum opened by the time the decade ended including Lawrence D’ Art Gallery, Avans Art Gallery, Gallery 7, Gallery Indigo, Solidaridad Galleries, Print (also known as the Joy-Dayritt Gallery), and the galleries inside the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Alternative exposition halls also mushroomed, openly catering to various art exhibits to match the needs of a growing gallery audience.

Arturo Luz, owner of the Luz Gallery, had three objectives when he opened his gallery: (1) to properly show paintings that deserved to be shown; (2) to seek genuine talent and give it the needed approval and recognition that it needs; and (3) to mold taste and exercise a certain degree of critical judgment. Firmly believing in practicing these aims, the Luz Gallery started to showcase contemporary works, thus capturing the imagination of the younger artists and the patronage of trend-conscious collectors. The staple of the gallery’s shows or group exhibitions was abstract art, which was still beyond the appreciation of the layman. Nevertheless, publications did not fail to muster columns of critical praise devoted to these innovative artists. And by the time the decade matured, the gallery also started gaining patronage from Mrs. Marcos herself, the Blue Ladies, other friends of the first couple, businessmen, young urban professionals, and even students.

When Mrs. Marcos stepped into the Malacañang Palace in 1966, she launched her own program that was focused on the wider acceptance of the artist and his role in the nation’s cultural and social development. She sponsored art shows in the palace, graced art openings, bought artworks, and in turn influenced many of her friends to do the same. Art acquisition through her example drove the social elite to ardent, frenzied-buying in the 1970s. Hence, the patronage of art was in no time associated with prestige, status symbols, and making a suitable investment.

Mrs. Marcos’ decision to actually push her program into providing a home for the arts. The decade’s innovative artists who practice conceptual, environmental, kinetic, and other new forms of expression eventually found a refuge in the Cultural Center of the Philippines that became the weather vane of the winds of modern Philippine art. In its main gallery, current creations were shown, while some have been added to increase the Center’s art collection. Fresh talents who produced experiments that were considered as a risk to a profit-minded gallery owner were often granted subsidies by the CCP. From the Center’s unconventional shows, debates/comments arose which piqued the interest of gallery visitors.

Art awareness among the public was intensified with the government’s issuance of Proclamation No. 1001 (pertaining to the National Artist Award). Amid the declaration of Martial law in 1972, the art scene managed to flourish and was even helped by certain events that grew out from this environment. These were the IMF-WB (International Monetary Fund and World Bank) Conference, the upsurge of infrastructure-building (e.g. many hotels were constructed), the increase of art coverage by the mass media, and the many major exhibitions which took place

With the big number of artists already professionally honing their art full time, the numerous artist-groups vying for recognition and patronage, the large audience clamoring for artworks as investments, and of course the curious viewing public who did not want to be left out of the developing art scene, there were on record 34 art galleries and four art museums inaugurated in the 1970s (1970-1979). Among these were the Hidalgo Art Gallery, Red Gallery; Palette Gallery, Sining Kamalig, Galerie Bleue, Diliman Gallery, Miladay Art Center, Village Gallery, Impressions Gallery, Rear Room Gallery, Metro Gallery, Galleria Duemila 2000, Print Collections Gallery, and the Kawilihan Art Gallery. The museums were the Ayala Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Manila, Contemporary Art Museum of the Philippines (CAMP), and the Museum of Philippine Art (MOPA).

Sometime between 1976-1977, visual artworks were considered to function as subversive material against the government. Through the amendment of the anti-subversion law, some visual artists were actually imprisoned or forewarned by the law. The government wanted fewer establishments to showcase social realistic art. Despite the effect in the decrease of exhibition venues that exhibited this type of art, there were just more alternative venues (e.g. hotel lobbies, executive suites) that pursued this valiant cause. One of the few stalwart galleries that chose to ignore the law was a gallery inside the Ayala Museum.

Ironic to this time was that the art market still made brisk sales with hotels favoring artworks that depicted subjects that veered from the social realist-type of paintings. In addition, Mrs. Marcos’ friends were still investing heavily in artworks, and many other factors mentioned previously.

On the other hand, the Museum of Philippine Art (MOPA) as mentioned earlier, was one of the major contributions of the Marcos government to the cultural scene. Built around the donations of artists and collectors, chiefly by the Purita Kalaw Ledesma Art Foundation, the collection was housed in the former Elks Club building. Inaugurated in 1977, the museum’s founding director was Arturo Luz and its function was to act as the national venue for Philippine Modern Art.

1980 saw an economic recession, and in the immediate years (1980-1983) that followed, there were only seven galleries that opened. Familiar names were Hiraya Gallery, Greenhills Art Center, Lliongoren Gallery, Gallery Genesis, and the Artists Gallery.

Socio-Political Theme

By the time the mid-80s came, the Philippine economy posted a negative GNP growth resulting to a significantly reduced art market. But in spite of the plunging economy, there were still worthy shows as recounted by art writers, in which art became increasingly political in character. It was in 1983 that a massive, open, and protest movement would ensue due to the Ninoy Aquino assassination. From this time on, the decade would be filled with a series of demonstrations and indignation rallies.

There were fewer galleries that emerged and remained active. Many artists were faced with the high cost of exhibition expenses. But in terms of activity for the artists themselves, there was a great number of them who engaged in socio-political themes. Many forms of art spilled out of the galleries and into the confetti-showered streets as large portable murals or symbolic paper mache effigies. As for art galleries and their exhibits, much performance art expressed a political content. Accompanying the exhibits were film showings, lectures, and art symposia.

Soon enough, there were major events that came about, such as the snap elections and the 1986 February revolution. Before 1986, there was somewhat a somber number of art galleries that managed to open. Galeria Aurora, Finale Art File, Galerie Makati, Pinaglabanan Galleries, Emcee Gallery, Diviana Gallery, and the De La Salle University Gallery were among the newly opened.

The number of art galleries that were established in the eighties were much fewer compared to the seventies. The uncertain times before the February revolution caused most proprietors or institutions to hesitate in establishing an art gallery-more so if it were a gallery that mainly sold artworks.

After 1986, the country carried a colossal economic problem. The Cory administration was faced with an inheritance of a $28-billion foreign debt burden. Along with the decision of the government to close the MOPA, fewer than ten galleries and one museum were born. La Galerie of Alliance Francaise, Madrigal Center, West Gallery, Brix Gallery, and the Vargas Museum were among them.

In the early 1990s and under the Ramos administration (1992), when the turtle-paced economy had improved and many economic reforms were seen to be taken seriously, many art galleries opened. The economy seemed to be sound enough and even moving at a positive rate which allowed for the burgeoning of this new set of galleries. The Ramos government had also showed early efforts to help the art scene. First, there was the Republic Act No. 7356 that was signed into law in 1992 to create the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), particularly the National Committee on Independent Commercial Galleries. Secondly, there was also the granting of a permanent home to the National Museum. Other continuous forms of support came in the form of Presidential Proclamation No. 798 that declared October as the Museums and Galleries Month, and the creation of the Committee of Art Galleries (CAG) during the mid-90s, specified under the Subcommission on Cultural Heritage. Through this, a number of member galleries met monthly and discussed special projects for the promotion of art.

The Mall Culture

Today, more major city shopping malls have given the initiative to invite art galleries to open within their infrastructure.

It started in early 1992 that the idea and opening of an Art Walk, a lane of art galleries clustered in a shopping mall, first germinated from the successful exhibit of Juvenal Sanso in the SM Megamall. With many paintings sold mostly to art collectors, as well as to “chance-passerby customers,” SM’s vice-president for engineering and development Mr. Sy-who himself was an avid art collector, decided that it was possible for art to be brought closer to the people. And with a successive show by another artist that attracted a receptive audience, the establishment of a gallery row was put into action.

By inviting a set of eight galleries to establish themselves in SM’s Level 4, the public was able to visit in one wing and under one roof, varying types of galleries. They attracted different types of clientele and public audience, together with the conscious or unconscious development of different curatorial directions. Of these first nine were the branches of Galleria Duemila 2000, Finale Art File, West Gallery, Heritage Art Center, Liongoren Art Gallery, Gallery Genesis, and the main offices of Pacheco Art Gallery, and Contreras Sculptures Gallery. By viewing one gallery after another, including the SM Art Center, one is able to view a sample of a cross-section of active Filipino visual artists. Other galleries that followed in the SM Megamall were Galerie Y, Crucible Gallery, Nemiranda Arthouse, Gallery of Prints, and Gallery 139 (formerly located at the Alabang Town Center).

In the meantime, a dynamic gallery space was inaugurated in the same year. Located in Makati City, the Australia Centre Gallery Space was made open to individual Filipino or Australian artists, curators, and organizations, including groups from Australia who may wish to exhibit in the Philippines.

For the year 1993, the Boston Gallery in Quezon City opened as a venue for new ideas, innovations, and experimentations made by Filipino and foreign artists.

In the Shangri-La Edsa Mall, new galleries have managed to thrive to show their artworks. Examples of which are the Gallery Nouveau and the Asian Art Gallery. Currently established at the Alabang Town Center is the Art Gallery Philippines. And in a few months, Glorietta 4, at the Ayala Commercial Center, will open graciously with its own chain of art galleries.

The growing “mall culture” among Filipinos may have triggered the opening of many art galleries inside these buildings since these places generate much financial returns and are convenient locations, both for the proprietors and the viewing public. Some of these galleries even hold their own special programs or visions such as promoting student-artists, or giving workshops, lectures, or demonstrations. And with such general improvement in technology, industry, services, communication, etc., is an accompanying increase in the demand for artworks.

New art galleries still have been added to the city’s landscape. The Drawing Room, a specialized gallery in Makati devoted to drawings and fine prints, has been operating since February 7, 1997 in spite of the dwindling economy and traffic situation. Earlier in January 1996, another unique gallery opened in Forbes Park. The eponymously named private gallery: Christine Adapon Fine Art, has been primarily dealing with contemporary painting and fine-art photography of well-known and sought-after artists exhibited in New York. It envisions itself as a venue for promising Asian artists in search of a global audience.

Since 1995, the George Sison Gallery at Pasong Tamo, Makati, has not only exhibited the works of various Filipino and foreign artists, but also added the feature of holding even other activities like poetry or drama readings and concert performances.

Strongly competing for aesthetic attention amidst the row of girlie bars, liquor stores, sushi bars, and videoke parlors along Roxas Boulevard (near Buendia), the 1997-borne Arts and Associates Gallery has been dominantly showcasing neo-modern art.

The re-opened Brix Gallery, the gallery halls inside the NCCA, and the Louvre Gallery, are among the present-day galleries that impart to the viewing audience a taste of the proprietor’s passion for art. New museums that also entered into the art scene and continues to flourish are the GSIS Museum and the Museo ng Maynila.

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Duldulao, Manuel. The Philippine Art Scene. (Philippines: Maber Books, Inc., 1977)

Duldulao, Manuel. Twentieth Century Filipino Artists (Q.C.: Legacy Publishers, 1995), Vol. 1

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Periodicals and Various Articles:

Alvero, Aurelio. The First University Art Gallery in the Philippines. Unitas (September, 1940), Vol. 19, No. 1: pp. 91-98

Arguilla, Lyd. Manansala. Fookien Times Yearbook (1962), pp. 234-236, 238

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Chanco, Mario, ed. The Art Galleries. The Orient Magazine (June, 1964), pp. 29-32

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Edades, V.C. The Last Thirty Years of Filipino Art. Fookien Times Yearbook (1926-1956), pp. 131, 161

Espiritu, Talitha. Supermarket for Art. The National Weekly Chronicle (December 5-11, 1992), p. 27

Fansler, Lolita Delgado. The National Museum Should Remain at the Executive House. The Philippine Star (June 4, 1993) n.p.

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Guillermo, Alice and Santiago Pilar. Organizations. CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art (Manila: Cultural Center of the Philippines, 1994), Vol. 4: 205-210

Javelosa, Jeannie. Art As Investment. Philippine Daily Inquirer (June 14, 1993), pp. 22 & 24

Ledesma., Purita Kalaw. Fine Arts in the Philippines Today. Fookien Times Yearbook (1954), pp. 101-102, 140

Ledesma, Purita Kalaw. Our Artists’ Dilemma. Panorama (May, 1963), pp. 29-33

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Sta. Maria, Felice. Culture After Imelda. Star (November 24, 1991), n.p.

The Filipino Artist Gets A Break in This Week, August 3, 1952, pp. 4-6

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Booklets and Pamphlets:

Australia Centre, Making Australia Visible (Makati: Australia Centre)

National Commission for Culture and the Arts. Brochure

Trillana, Pablo III. The Art and Times of Miguel Galvez (Dil., Q.C. : Jorge B. Vargas Museum and Filipiniana Research Center and Mandaluyong: Kawilihan Art Gallery, 1989)

About the Author:
Lyn Yusi graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in Fine Arts, Major in Art History, from the University of the Philippines. She was also a member of the UP Concert Chorus during its 1994 World Tour. The article is based on her college thesis: “Avenues of Art” completed in 1997. She is now the curator for Museo ng Maynila.