Wednesday, June 24, 2009


One of the hurdles that photography faces when moving from its documentary roots into realms of fine art is to disassociate itself from being a prisoner to its caption. When the sentence, paragraph or essay informs the viewer’s reaction to the visual then the value of the visual is reduced to illustration. And the stronger the polemic of the written word the quicker the visual becomes propaganda.

This is not unique to photography and can and does happen in other genres, as with the current exhibition at the Hiraya gallery, First Impression – Lust. Ronald Caringal has hung 8 large paintings that dominate the space with their pop art meets super realism to make eye candy aesthetic. These crisp and clean and tres cool renderings of fantasy female faces are dominated by their titles. Witty one liners with erotic over tones such as “It was the moment he was glad to meat her” or “It was the moment he got into master baking” for example.

When this is coupled with Angelo Suarez’s catalogue essay “The Pleasure of the Oral” the political message becomes unmistakable and the works become illustrations of the written polemic. For without their titles and the essay they are accomplished graphic renderings which could well be a distinctive part of an IKEA gallery; a stylish decorative finishing touch for a bachelor pad.

The exhibition continues until 15th of July at 530 United Nations Avenue, Ermita.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

An Interview with Henry Bateman

Dennis Rito, the man behind the Philippine Photography Scene blog put me though a third degree after the Pixel Perfect exhibition opening. The result of his interrogation can be seen here.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Got Time for a Read?

Two new books that concentrate on the “how to” side of the business of art are, if not actually on the books stands, soon to make an appearance. One looks at the subject from the Artist’s perspective the other from the Gallerist’s.

In Jackie Battenfield’s (exhibiting artist, lecturer and teacher, and gallery director) The Artist's Guide: How To Make A Living Doing What You Love the art world is explained and she and offers clear and useful steps to setting goals and achieving them. And it’s on Amazon already.

Edward Winkleman’s (gallerist and long time arts blogger) How to Start and Run a Commercial Art Gallery hits the books stands on the 14th July. Ed has been blogging about life as a New York Gallerist at his well trafficked site edward winkleman (art | politics | gossip | tough love) since April 2005. His words of wisdom are now packaged within these covers.

From The Artist’s Guide comes this arts definition attributed to Boston’s Samson Projects’ Camilo Alvarez "A gallerist will send a collector the artist's bio, whereas a dealer sends them the invoice." Whereas Leigh Conner from Conner Contemporary Art says "Ed Winkleman's book is a comprehensive reference for any gallery owner. Whether you are new to the business or seasoned gallerist, it is always wise to remember the essentials".

Perhaps artists should read Winkleman and gallerist's Battenfield.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Spirit Endures

First published in The Expat Travel & Lifestyle Magazine June 2005.

"Science and art belong to the whole world, and before them vanish the barriers of nationality," so said one of Germany’s greatest sons, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. A poet, dramatist, philosopher, scientist and theologian, who from the 18th century onward has influenced some of the world’s foremost artists, scientists and dream makers.

Goethe’s creation of the literary archetype Doctor Faustus, the man who sold his soul to the devil, has inspired musical masterpieces from Mozart to Mahler. His work on color theory inspired the British painter William J M Turner. Goethe’s ideas on evolution helped frame the question central to Charles Darwin’s “Origin of the Species”. Even the popular culture of the 20th Century is in his debt as the author of the poem Der Zauberlehrling upon which Walt Disney based his “The Sorcerer's Apprentice” animation.

Consequently, it is fitting that the German Government’s outreach to the world should bear Goethe’s name. For over 50 years the Goethe-Institut has been presenting a contemporary portrait of Germany through language studies and cultural exchanges. With 134 institutes in 82 countries the Goethe name has become synonymous with brand Germany.

Operating under an organizational structure that encourages delegation, the Goethe Institutes are able to respond to the aspirations of the communities in which they live.

Such as earlier this year, the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra approached the German Embassy for assistance with their world music concert season, Transymphonia. The seventh concert in the series, “Pillars of German Music” celebrated Felix Mendelssohn’s 200th anniversary with The Hebrides Overture, op. 26 and the Violin Concerto in E Minor, op.64 along with Beethoven’s third Symphony, “Eroica”. The Embassy passed the request over to the Goethe-Institut who arranged for the German solo violinist Annette von Hehn, (pictured on the right) who resides in Berlin, to come to the Philippines to perform the violin concerto with the orchestra.

But the Goethe Institutes not only respond to requests, they also tap into the Zeitgeist of their communities. The increased interest in photography in the Philippines, most noticeably heralded by the successes of the photography dedicated Silverlens Gallery, prompted the Goethe-Institut Manila to stage successive photographic events.

In 2008 they ensured that the 2005 World Press Photo Awarded, Peter Bialobrzeski included the Philippines in his six month South East Asian artist in residence program and workshops. Whilst in the Philippines, Bialobrzeski worked with 10 young Filipino photographers for four weeks exploring and interrupting urban Manila. This was followed by the exhibition “Mapping Invisible Cities” at the Shangri-la Plaza featuring, not only Bialobrzeski photographs, but also the work of the workshop participants from Manila, Hanoi, Bangkok, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

This year the Goethe-Institut in conjunction with the Yuchengco Museum and Rogue Magazine brought the highly acclaimed “Zeitgeist Becomes Form: German Fashion Photography 1945-1995” exhibition to Manila. Commissioned by the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen it featured the work of some of Germany’s best know photographers including Helmut Newton, Jürgen Tillers and Wolfgang Tillmans. This exhibition was the logical follow up to the 2007 photographic exhibition “Deutschlandbilder - Images of Germany”.

Since 2007 Goethe-Institut Manila has been under the direction of Richard Künzel. (pictured on the left) A multi-linguist proficient in German, English, French, Serbo-Croatian and Russian, Künzel is man to whom borders are just lines on a map. He started his working life as a sleeping car attendant on the Orient Express, then moved on to become a trekking tour guide in Nepal during which time he first set eyes upon his wife, Ricarda, at the southern base camp of Mount Everest. In his 30 years with the Goethe-Institut Künzel has, apart from the Philippines, flown the flag in Kazakhstan, Turkey and Egypt.

It was whilst he was in Egypt, as that institute’s cultural officer, Künzel became the vice president of the Friends of the Railways of Egypt and the Arab World. Who, in 2002, organized the Peace Ambassadors train, a 2000 kilometer rail journey through the war ravaged Middle East. Starting in the Egyptian capital of Cairo the train was shipped to the sea port of Latakia in Syria and from there it traveled by rail to Mosul in Iraq.

But this 61 year old German National is more than a Deutschland impresario, although in the coming months he will bring to the Philippines “Contemporary Picture Book Illustration in Germany”, “Come-in: Interior Design as a Contemporary Art Medium in Germany” and the “Alexander Kluge Film Series”. Künzel the pedagogue is a man in love with his mother tongue.

This passion has held him in good stead with the day to day activity of the Goethe-Institut, the teaching of the German language. With the German Government’s decision that immigrants must be proficient in basic German to be eligible for a residents visa the Institute’s work load has increased significantly. Filipina brides of German Nationals are knocking on the Institute’s door seeking the assistance needed to be with their husbands.

And with many coming from “the provinces”, where the instruction in grammar is rudimentary at best, Künzel and his team of language instructors have developed an innovative program that meets the needs of both the prospective immigrant and the German Government’s directive. Such is the strength of this program that tertiary institutions across the Philippines are sending Filipino teachers of the German language to learn the program. These include the German language departments of the Ateneo de Manila and the University of the Philippines in Manila, the San Carlos University in Cebu and the University of Mindanao’s faculty of Hotel and Restaurant Management.

It is this type of interaction that fosters the Institute’s ability to gauge the pulse of the Philippine community and cross borders both regional and cultural. Which for Richard Künzel, a man of many parts from many places, means he can, with the Goethe-Institut’s encouragement, promote a world where the best of his country’s endeavors can be shared without fear or favour.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Generous Co mpany

Charcoal has long been used by artist’s for sketching out ideas and drawing layouts to be painted over. It isn’t often that finished works are presented in this medium and rarer still for an exhibition to be devoted entirely to it. But Charlie Co’s latest exhibition, “Balana”, at Slab Gallery does just that.

His eighteen large (4’ x4’) charcoal drawings stand out in stark relief on the gallery’s white walls, a powerful and dramatic onslaught to the visual senses as you walk through the door. With their dark gray mattes and black frames these black and white images with their small splashes of color, which heightens the limited palette, confront the audience not only through the rendering but with the subject matter. For Co is uncompromising in his depiction humanities follies with his cast of self-indulgent characters.

From the business man looking through a key hole in “Here Comes Mr Smiley” with its pedophilic over tones to the un-repentant survivor in “Bail Out” that recalls the allegory of the ship of fools, Co tackles the issues of the day with insight and candor. But his work is more than current events as he turns to gaze through the proscenium upon issues that have occupied the human consciousness from the time of Medieval Morality plays in works like “St Michael Duels The Devil”. And more often than not his tongue is firmly in his cheek with a satirical sense humor that lightens the messenger’s tale, this aspect of his work is especially prevalent in “Crow Monger” and “Message From An Angel”.

Although bordering on the macabre from time to time, see "Masquerade" and "Halloween Chair", Co is a generous artist who has created images for this exhibition that keep on giving. "Balana" will be on view until 4th of July at Slab Gallery 2/F YMC Building 2, 2320 Pasong Tamo Extension, Makati City.

A Master of Modern Photography

Andreas Gursky F1 Pit Stop I, 2007, © Andreas Gursky / SODRAC (2009)

German photographer Andreas Gursky is having a retrospective of his work at the Vancouver Art Gallery. And as part of the publicity for the event FOTO8 have published Guy Lane’s interview with him.

Read the interview and see more Gursky pics here.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Bacon on Show

Francis Bacon, "Painting" 1946

The Irish artist with the reputation as a chronicler of the grotesque, Francis Bacon’s major centenary retrospective has opened at the Museum of Modern Art. After sojourns at the Tate Britain and the Prado Gallery in Madrid the 60 works have found their way to New York.

And “A Sky Filled with Shooting Stars” author, Robert Ayers says it’s “The best exhibition I have ever seen, anywhere, in my life”. You can read the why of his claim here and best of all you can see some decent sized pics of some of the artists seminal works.