I was commissioned to write a gallery profile last February. Below are excerpts from the essay. Altro Mondo Arte Contemporanea is in Makati City, Philippines. While about the gallery, the piece also reflects on the art market and the often mercurial tastes that mark its directions.
Shifting Spheres: Local galleries in the nexus of the global market and changing tastes for art
Altro Mondo, a commercial gallery established in 2010 exhibits art from various localities, from the Philippines and elsewhere. In a globalized world, it is fitting to speak of localities in the plural noting they may not necessarily refer to the geographically near but also to those distant. In a recent interview, owner Remigio David placed emphasis on the current trajectory for the gallery: for its presence to be felt in a context that is ‘international’, encompassing the region (which is commonly understood as Asia and/or Southeast Asia) and the often vaunted context we have come to understand as ‘global’. Mounting numerous exhibitions both at its host space in Greenbelt Mall and its satellite, The Picasso Boutique Serviced Residences, Altro Mondo strives to show a range of artistic practices and diverse talents, encompassing generations and artists based across regions in the Philippines and the world.
In its three-year run, Altro Mondo had organized 27 solo artist exhibitions, 32 group exhibitions and joined about 3 art fairs. Greatly marked at the outset by the connoisseur tastes of its owner (which likewise informed his personal collection of art as well as vision for the gallery), Altro Mondo proceeded to collaborate with young and established curators as exhibition venue. While clear that the space seeks a bringing forth of a world in art perceived as ‘new’, indeed ‘other’, or ‘another’, as its name suggests, the challenge remains for Altro Mondo to establish an identity in an increasingly competitive art market.
What are the ramifications of local galleries fashioning identities on shaping tastes for contemporary art, both within a market perceived as local (based in the Philippines, mostly Manila) and global? What effects would it have on the development of artistic practice and its subsequent identification as belonging to that perceived as contemporary?
With paltry state support, can other venues for contemporary art often regarded as lacking critical edge, blunted by market forces carve space that make sense of art’s changing uses in our world? Do galleries, art fairs and biennales with their fast turn-over, their emphasis on imposing scale, the gesture of combining the distinctive in the local and the comprehensible marking the global; ever become viable locations for contemporary art? Situated as it is in this most verdant ecosystem for art, how can Altro Mondo fulfill its role of ‘enlivening art and its making’, ‘promoting its place in and influence on society’, beyond the largely market driven values promoted by the sphere where it belongs?
Tastes for contemporary art in the local market are as fickle and flighty as the alarmingly capricious Manila weather. While art cannot be fully absolved of its thorny entanglements with money, a balancing gesture can be made to not wholly relinquish the identification and ensuing definition of the contemporary in Philippine art to the market. Given the murky divide between the state’s culture agencies, institutions, and the art market in the Philippines, there seems an amorphous space where possibilities arise. Paltry funding from the former two and the increasing power of the latter increasingly makes apparent the need for exhibition sites to answer to more than the rapacious drive for profitable art. If this hunger is coupled by an insatiable need to know where art is from and how it came to be, why it appears as such to us, of the voluble ways it speaks to both our individual and national struggles; then the prospects for contemporary art may be not be so grim after all.
In its striving to position itself ‘globally’ or indeed ‘amid nations’ and more fittingly ‘between and across sites’, Altro Mondo may well benefit from venturing into collaborative projects where exhibitions while remaining the primary platform, are complemented and bolstered by activities that sustain a deeper knowledge of Philippine art: a healthy skepticism balanced with jubilation in its being a seismograph of Philippine society. Some such exhibition collaterals include forums, talks, and venues for education where familiarity with forces and agents that influence the making, reception and circulation of art can be cultivated.
For its art fair venture in 2014, Altro Mondo presents an artists’ line-up that is inter-generational, with practices as diverse as the artists’ training and advocacies. Perhaps none can speak more strongly of the gallery’s aspirations. While it seeks to establish its niche within a competitive, markedly commercial sphere for contemporary art, it seeks to respond to the increasingly fragmented and fast changing audiences of art. Given the current all-encompassing and assimilative conditions of the contemporary art world, Charlesworth is right to cite that the works of artists are ‘hybrid, in-flux, and fragmented’ as they strive to address audiences that are at once and by turns local and global.
Our affinities to these attributes are second nature given the often discrepant, erratic yet constantly thriving conditions that make existence on our shores a patchwork of chance and often, joyous discovery: a dark enchantment at once cosmopolitan and distinct, an attribute that firmly locates us in the ever shifting spatio-temporal sands of the global.