Friday, December 19, 2008

Meeting the Challenge

First published in The Expat Travel & Lifstyle Magazine (November 2008)

American Artist Ann Wilson views Cos zicarelli's work at Finale Art File
© Henry Bateman 2008

“I can only sell what I like”
states Finale Art File’s Executive Director, Vita Sarenas in the viewing room of the newly opened warehouse sized gallery that is Finale’s new home. A converted brandy bond store, this gallery must be one of, if not the largest commercial art galleries in Metro Manila.

The Gallery Entrance © Henry Bateman 2008

It's a far cry from their humble beginnings of a wall in a friend’s boutique a quarter of a century ago and stands as a testament to Ms Sarenas “ruled by my heart” approach to art appreciation. With three exhibition spaces, a suite of offices and a back room to die for, this 350 square meters are a gallerist’s dream come true. “We can accommodate works of scale, suites of paintings and new artistic media with ease,” enthuses Exhibition Manager Sylvia Gascon.

Three years in the planning this move to a larger venue is Finale’s response to the changes in the Art Market. The highly competitive nature of this market with its dynamic cut and thrust of attracting the discretionary purchase has pressed commercial galleries to improve their game. With high profile artist’s like Damien Hirst ignoring galleries and taking their new work directly to the public via auction houses being the latest variation. The ongoing presence of artists of all stripes displaying their wares on the internet has taken a firm hold over the past few years. Along with internet galleries who, unrestrained by physical space, can display hundreds of thousands of art works a mouse click away from their buyers.

Taking a leaf out of the museum hand book, Sarenas and Gascon have enhanced their ability to present exhibitions that can survive critical evaluation. Although a mainstay of their operations its emphasis has become paramount, exhibitions must be interesting enough to generate a dedicated audience. An audience prepared to seek out the new, an audience that trusts the gallery’s expertise.

Exhibition Opening at Finale Art File © Henry Bateman 2008

The changing nature of Megamall’s Art Walk from one of dedicated galleries presenting fresh and challenging exhibitions to a one stop shop showing an increasing amount of art d├ęcor was also instrumental in Finale’s move to warehouse 17. Situated in the La Fuerza Compound in Pasong Tamo, the passing parade is greatly reduced but the increased exhibition space to present innovative exhibitions more than compensates. An improved back room in the same building as the gallery is an additional advantage.

It is a truism of the art market that a gallery is only as successful as its back room. It is here that the gallerist becomes the dealer with a collection of works from past exhibitions and a selection of art that has re-entered the market. For a variety of reasons works of art come up for resale, the most common being referred to as the three D’s (death, divorce and debt). Known as the secondary market it is the bread and butter of the art market, based on commission sales, loved art works find new homes in privately negotiated deals.

But Sarenas and Gascon are more than dealers as they revel in the challenge of creating a market for their artists. Finding artists whose work speaks to them, creating that special bond that words cannot express; creating a vehicle that can show this to the world is their meat and potatoes. And this new gallery is their next step in that process.

The Tall Gallery © Henry Bateman 2008

Designed “in house” the Tall Gallery is 200 square meters of unpretentious exhibition space that reflects its origins. Overhead, the bond store mercury vapor lights scattered amongst the aircon outlets have been augmented with a strip of fluorescent tubes. The stars of the show are the pictures on the walls and the sculptures on the floor with each being given space enough to walk their talk. On the mezzanine level above the offices and back room are two smaller exhibition spaces, the Upstairs Gallery and the Video Room.

The challenge of filling all these spaces, although daunting, has been met with an exhibition program that stretches out to December of 2009, a mix of solo and group exhibitions with some being curated by guest curators. Like the first three part Inaugural Exhibition in the Tall Gallery which sees the works from Finale’s back room selected by artist/curator Nilo Ilarde.

Finale Art Files executive director, Vita Sarenas © Henry Bateman 2008

Warehouse 17 is Finale’s fourth move in its 25 year history and Vita Sarenas is sanguine about its timing in the midst of the current financial turmoil. Having survived the political and financial upheavals at the end of the Marcos years, the Dot Com Bubble bust and the Asian Crisis she is taking the current confusion in her stride. “Having an art work on the wall is often a better investment than shares and is always more interesting to look at” Sarenas states. And along with her exhibition manager’s expertise, she continues to back her intuition in finding and presenting art to excite Manila’s art connoisseurs.

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