writings, projects and exhibitions of Clarissa Chikiamco

Friday, March 30, 2007

"Starter Art" in Preview Magazine (cover story)

This piece, originally entitled "Art Connection," was edited and published as "Starter Art" in Preview Magazine's July 2006 issue. Below is the unedited version.

Art Connection

By Clarissa Chikiamco

Art, for many people, connotes something that is sacred, expensive, elitist and even baffling. There seems to be a wide gap between art and the audience as the average person struggles to understand why certain paintings are revered while others are not. A work, for example, may have a single streak of color on a white canvas affecting people to say “But I could do that!” Museums and more formal types of art galleries tend to be alienating at times to those who don’t have much of a background on art.

There are, however, a number of artists in Manila who are drawing a connection with a younger crowd who not only appreciate their artworks but collect them as well. While they don’t strictly call themselves lowbrow artists, the heavy influence of pop culture in their work plus the strong desire to reach an audience falls under the lowbrow art scene. The artists are not particularly concerned (if at all) about following strict procedures and practices that govern a place like a museum, mounting their exhibits themselves in shops/restaurants that also serve as art galleries. Also, they price their works quite affordably so even students with a little money can purchase them.

AJ Omandac, who recently held a one-man show Chop-Chop at Store for All Seasons, says he made a conscious choice to do lowbrow to reach a wider Filipino audience. He explains that, “As an artist, I have this objective to mirror that [pop culture] reality.” The influence of pop culture connects to the audience who instantly has a sense of familiarity with the works while the perspective of the artists themselves rings true for many. Bru, an artist who is also part of the illustration-graphic design studio Electrolychee, says, “Lowbrow is not really lowbrow for me, its just art that's more accessible and cool to a younger audience. It relies more on what looks good and feels right instead of what a hoity-toity art critic thinks, or believes would be a money-making investment. If this is lowbrow, then yes. In the Philippines, definitely yes. We're so not matrona art.”

The venue and the crowd help the audience in connecting to the works as well. Mica Cabildo, who also mounted a recent exhibit at Store for All Seasons, says, “Common people feel intimidated by posh galleries even when art exhibits themselves are free. There's the attire you have to think of, the crowd, the need/desire to appear cultured, and the divine cleanliness of everything. People are less self-conscious and can therefore appreciate art more in places that make them feel at ease with themselves.” A relaxed and common venue, like a clothing store or restaurant, makes art seem more a part of the everyday, somehow de-mystifying the works.

Yet, one of the most important factors that have made lowbrow art enjoyable to many is the price. Prices usually range from P1500-4000, which is definitely affordable compared to the prices of artworks made by artists with a more formal and fine arts background. Buyers, according to artist Marcushiro who is the other half of Electrolychee, are “mostly the young and the young at heart.” While an audience can appreciate art no matter its cost, budget-friendly prices opens the door to its acquisition, drawing a whole new connection to the viewers as prospective owners.

Mica confesses she feels a little guilty about buyers her age shelling their allowances to buy her works but says it makes her beam as well. The accessibility and the affordability in the lowbrow scene has created an exciting art market handled mostly by young ones who believe that there is more to art than what museums and traditional galleries offer. Yet, it is interesting to note that, while buyers of lowbrow art don’t commonly acquire it for investment, it’s always possible that the “powers that be” in formal art circles might in the future acknowledge this art movement and give it a similar degree of sacredness as other art developments. The irony wouldn’t be lost on lowbrow artists, that’s for sure.

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