Held earlier this month from December 9 to 13, the country’s national art fair pulled through with its “2020 Vision for a Future Reimagined.” The theme alludes to the necessary adjustments to sustain arts and culture in our current context; this is in line with the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA)’s 2020 theme for Museums and Galleries Month, “Engaging Exhibitions for Emerging Generations.”
Patrons and art lovers were able to visit ManilART both onsite and online. At the venue, contactless visit and social distancing protocols were strictly observed. Despite fewer casual visitors (no minors below 18 allowed), art enthusiasts, collectors and buyers came with a clear purpose.
Immersed in art while staying safe
There was a sense of gathering one’s bearings through immersing oneself in fine visual arts even for just a moment. It’s clear that there was a restorative element to visiting the art fair: Rom Mallick’s Manila Bulletin article states, “It felt great to visit an actual, physical exhibit again.”
27 galleries showcased works of their artists, who were themselves glad to have participated in the event. Renowned wood sculptor Agi Pagkatipunan remarked: “Although the crowds were not as voluminous as the previous fairs, and understandably so because of the protocols, the quality of the works and curation came out this year.” Likewise, a respected octogenarian artist also commented that this year, he only made essential trips like doctors’ appointments—making an exception for his ManilART show as it was essential to his soul.
In terms of the execution, both local and international guests were impressed with the safety protocols, with one foreign guest remarking that they wouldn’t have come if they didn’t see how prepared the event was.
Setting a precedent
Hopefully, ManilART 2020’s successful practices could serve as a precedent for arts and cultural events slated to happen in the near future. Art cannot be divorced from our social contexts or society at large. ManilArt was acutely aware of the current situation, having held ART for A Cause: CovAID, an online art auction to raise funds for medical frontliners’ PPEs as a quick response last March and April. This time, ManilART is not just for the collector or viewing public, but for its own cause –for the artists, galleries and the whole support infrastructure that make up the visual arts creative economy.
In terms of adherence to public health protocols, pre-registration and online ticketing by Ticketbooth made for maximum no-wait efficiency and contactless entry, while Safepass’s contact tracing ensured managed capacity and safety compliance. One-way routes were followed for the entirety of the event, controlling foot traffic through managed tour routes. These tours can be seen on the fair’s official Instagram and tour map. Marshals were effective in guiding visitors, as well as ensuring that guests wore face masks and shields properly at all times.
Food and beverages were handled with utmost care. At designated “Safehubs”, dining tables with acrylic barriers were installed, properly distanced and only in areas with high ceilings to ensure open air flow. Partner merchants such as Via Mare, Conrad Manila, and Giffard offered their meals “Grab and Go” style packaged to go with sealed utensil sets.
Inspiration at an all-time high
This year’s events prompted artists to create and showcase highly inspired works. As Pagkatipunan mentioned, the quality of the pieces rose this year. Several award-winning pieces were on display: Hyperrealist painter Ed Coronel’s American Art Award-winning works had to be seen in person to appreciate their full intricacies. There were sold-out shows, as well; including Glassmaster Ramon Orlina, steady-seller Demi Padua, in-demand Marge Organo and Michael Cacnio.
Several works focused on the coronavirus pandemic, such as Jinggoy Salcedo’s Corona, Roger San Miguel’s Life Must Go On, Jerry Morada’s Paindemic, and Anton del Castillo’s My Possession series. ManilART mainstay Romulo Galicano also exhibited The Apocalypse, an allegorical chronicle of the pandemic’s realities.
With thoughts and emotions surging this 2020, many also produced uplifting pieces that focused on hope for the future, as well as homage to the heroes of our times. For instance, Coronel’s Diversity is a symbolic rendering of his vision of unity despite our differences. Mark Belicarpio’s Frontliners depicts a day in the life of essential workers who put their life on the line for the safety of others.
In the context of everything, ManilART 2020 carried on: to provide respite and inspiration, to protect its patrons, and to ensure that arts and culture remain relevant in our current context.