Developmental Art of the Philippines

In Essays by pcan

About ten years ago, or just about the time when Philippine art saw a new home at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, a program of activities in the form of exhibitions and small grants was started. The plan was for a length of time, for the next 20 years. And the basis was the fact that the institution and the public it was addressing itself to were new. There was a need, therefore, to opt for a learning center type of a Museum, but which would not in any way paralyze contemporary artistic concerns especially those of the young artists. Thus started what we call, “Developmental Art.”

Within the scope of education, we shall define what we mean by our term, “Developmental Art.”

We are not referring to a whole school of thought nor of painting styles. Nor are we referring to a group or series of works which [we are] able to identify for their qualities. It is a program which yields results based on a total community response.

It should be noted that the word “developmental” was an operative word given by our government and press to government projects for fast implementation. Activities that had the nature of being under fast-action plans. The building of roads, population control, or the establishment of security units for instance, have to be done quickly, within a period of days. In fact a course, generally called “Developmental Communications,” has been instituted by universities such as the University of the Philippines, to develop careers among radio-TV or other media producers who would creatively come up with audio-visual materials that instruct the public with the latest methods of population control or the existence of low-priced markets, etc. The implication of a fast-action learning method is similar to that of developmental art.

There are three elements involved: the artists’ group, the audience, and the CCP Museum. To be specific, we refer to the presentation of artists’ contemporary ideas within the context of a learning public. As works of new artists became more complex, the Museum’s curatorial staff had to organize exhibits that would elicit response and establish a healthy rapport. The intricate trafficking of information and response had to be maintained at a high pace. It became the institution’s duty to maintain a balance of pressures and achievement. After ten years, the program is paying off.

As a background, Philippine art is in the Western tradition, that is to say that what it is now developed as a result of a long line [of] artists who trained in Europe and the U.S. Painting, for instance, is nowhere to be found previous to the coming of the Spanish conquistadores. The first Filipino great painters, Juan Luna and Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, were winning awards in Europe with their Neo-Classical or Romantic style. By the turn of the century artists emerged who started to paint local color. The most famous of them was Fernando Amorsolo, our first National Artist, who captured Filipino gentleness through his rendering of rural landscapes and virginal women. Later-day modernists adopted international styles of the day, but revising them to translate local color.

Philippine Art in the seventies went into the crossroads. Art became big business. It promoted all sorts of styles and disciplines. But it bred a new group of artists who were more responsive to the time, meaning, to the social, economic, and aesthetic requirements of the people. It was a time of questioning roots—a time to once again, as in our government and people, assert the Filipino identity. And so it was a time to unlearn. Our artistic tradition, was well as our system of art education had to be examined once more.

Ambassador Armando Manalo, then a critic, stated that this was a “period of metaphysical unrest.” Our program called the period from 1971 to 1975 the Exposure Phase. Advanced art—experimental in nature—were deployed in the galleries. The use of sand, junk iron, non-art materials such as raw lumber, rocks, etc. were common materials for the artists’ developmental strategies. People were shocked, scared, delighted, pleased, and satisfied even though their preconceived notions of art did not agree with what they encountered.

The Museum’s curatorial policy was that of stimulating public minds and [at] the same time allowing the artists to question and investigate with their work. Minimal explanations in the form of notes and brochures were distributed. Everything was practically taken with a grain of salt. It was a powerful curatorial stance—it created some negative forces, too—but it took the risk in establishing an attitude that prepared the public towards a more relevant way of seeing. For instance, bringing pieces of junk to the gallery for aesthetic perception would lead one to consider virtues of things considered ugly and cheap. It made one relatively aware of an environment suddenly turning visible.

The emergence of a new generation of artists equipped with knowledge and insights into current international trends pressured the CCP for attention. For an establishment to accept and promote such uncategorizable visual propositions was rather controversial, and yet it was the only workable plan possible. Exhibiting more established works would be duplicating the commercial galleries. A permanent collection is not possible to have because the CCP has no building and accompanying budget yet. A bias for interdisciplinary tendency stems from the fact that the Cultural Center promotes the “seven arts” together.

Now, the artist’s idea is one thing. The other is how to make such work accessible to the public. True, the audience of the CCP Museum is a learned lot—in Humanities classes mostly—but advanced art is much too advanced yet. So the CCP Museum negotiates for this problem. Curatorial considerations work this out.

Principle I – Exhibitions should be alive, not church-like, quite high in festive ambience. It should be entertaining.

Principle II – Exhibitions should be thematic, dealing with current visual interests.

Principle III – Exhibitions should be stimulating, controversial but not scandalous.

As time went on, a pattern of seasonal activities became apparent, especially when many memorable exhibits became a line of the same kind—at least in spirit. The public started responding to the phenomenon, thus establishing rapport between artist and audience. How interesting to know that didactic artworks—or works that disarm us with different information—are most popular among viewers.

In 1979, the CCP’s 10th anniversary, the exhibition, A Decade of Developmental Art, was organized. The works included in this exhibit included recreations of sand works that depended on specific time. A rundown of art reviews of the past decade was presented.

In a press conference, we sent out answers to accumulated questions:

Q. Why do you promote experimental art when in fact you should be concerned with established art?

A. The Museum has adopted a policy of giving priority to contemporary experiences so as to develop a stable of present-day artists who can be ahead in the international front. It goes without saying that historical and other types of shows will be dealt with regularly, but with the purpose of supporting our contemporary art bias.

Q. The works are not Filipino.

A. On the other hand, neither are they European nor American. They seem to be continental, but the disguise is thin as one realizes the works have charming shortcomings such as reduced scale, over or under control, humor, etc.

Q. What about the other types of arts?

A. We have a program of exhibits such as the CCP Annual that takes care of the more established artists. Aside from this, we would be duplicating programs of the other museums and even the commercial galleries.

Presently the CCP Museum’s program for developmental art is fixed on four programs: first is the series of exhibits on regional art or art of the regions. Second is the publication of the Philippine Art Supplement. Third is the series of art fiestas or art excursions. Fourth is the Artists Workshop for young artists.

As a result of this program, Manila is treated with an experience of a variety of artistic concerns, quite advanced and still puzzling. But this is what we needed to achieve in the first place. Nowadays, artists are not making masterpieces of Western molds. But they are seriously considering options for more authentic experiences even if they have to take risks. The Museum places itself into a role that may be too biased to some. But it is a role that is relevant for the moment.

Philippine Art Supplement 2, no. 4 (July to August 1981): 15-16.


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