One of the biggest challenges for the arts, post-pandemic, has been how to restore a public footing. Theaters, cinemas, galleries are all trying to strike the balance between testing, swabbing, vax card checks, and social distancing. All to bring back some semblance of a public life.
Vintana Gallery in Poblacion went the opposite route of most galleries during this period of flux: they started out as an online art space — coincidentally preparing to launch Vintana.ph just as COVID-19 was waiting in the wings, ready to pounce — so they’ve had a little lead time in understanding how a website can best present and sell artworks.
But now, under the direction of three high school friends — Ram Bautista, Robert Flores, and Angela Gaddi — that online space has found a real-life home in Poblacion, where hip cafes and eateries are more the norm. They’ve taken the leap from URL to IRL, in other words.
With a hint of understatement, “The Little Big Art Show” (a carry-on from their previous online exhibits) launched July 16, featuring 15 well-known and up-and-coming artists showing new works with no single theme — more like, as Flores puts it during our walk-through, a “snapshot of this moment.”
Downstairs, through the black curtains of the 170-sqm space at The Astbury, a pair of Lourd de Veyra canvases — all red, black and orange splatter and commentary — sit at the left corner, with a pair of crimsoned table lamps part of the display. There’s a pair of small vulture canvases by Manuel Ocampo, a familiar piece by Erick Encinares (“HARMACY”), expressive works by Kirk Dijamco and a wall installation by Jaime Pacena; an intricate graphic construction by Dex Fernandez is flanked by works by up-and-comers Aba Lluch Delena and Chinnich Candao. Wooden collage pieces by Kiko Escora reflect on power and control aside works by Lena Cobangbang, Hamilton Sulit, Jojo Barja, Art Tavera, Jared Yotke. A Velcro piece called “Punk Flowers” by Argie Bandoy is carved up into 50 slices for some lucky patrons to take home a “piece.”
We decided if we’re going to try having a physical space anytime in the future, this may be the time to do it.
It was late 2019 when the three former batchmates prepared to launch Vintana.ph — just a few months before lockdown hit. Bautista, a software developer, helped design the site and social media content; Gaddi had the artist contacts and helped liaise with the art community (she also located the Astbury space); and Flores, a “modest collector,” knew the local art market and what people would buy, both edgy and traditional. In developing the site, “We took a look at how other places were doing it online in Australia and Europe,” says Flores. One feature they offered was a scale system to help judge the artwork’s size in your own space, something that’s become the norm for local gallery sites. Lighting was also a challenge, and it became a whole different proposition in the IRL space: for the first time, “We had to figure out how to light things with actual lighting” for more dramatic effect.
Another main mission of Vintana was art education. Flores says their social media content is about 70 to 80 percent educational, introducing up-and-coming and established contemporary Filipino artists with artist bios, videos and articles. That approach will extend to the Poblacion space. “It’s more like a holistic approach,” says Flores. “We’ll hold art symposia, drawing classes and food events here as well.”
Vintana.ph was forged in the crucible of the COVID pandemic, and it has emerged with a unique perspective and mindset moving forward.
Flores notes that going live was a “now or never” moment, as the pandemic restrictions started to loosen and he saw online traffic starting to drop. “We decided if we’re going to try having a physical space anytime in the future, this may be the time to do it.”
Having an online site first gave Vintana a leg up in terms of mastering the logistics. Now the challenge is to extend that into the physical world.
“It’s interesting because we’re able to see both sides,” says Flores. “The wealth of data that an online experience provides can’t be matched by the real world in terms of efficiency, in the sense that, for a physical space, you’re limited by a lot of factors like traffic, where your gallery is, the weather.”
The media launch drew a flock of local artists, collectors, and tastemakers — by all accounts, a hit. The show runs until July 27, with the next one, Flores says, focusing on “Filipino pop art.”
It is an unusual moment for art. As their press kit puts it, “Vintana.ph was forged in the crucible of the COVID pandemic, and it has emerged with a unique perspective and mindset moving forward.”
Manila’s art galleries had to adapt to the lockdown environment, scrambling to devise online spaces and virtual tours. Vintana got there a little earlier, and now they’ve entered a brand new space, and a brand new world. “All of us are in a post-pandemic creative age,” the press kit says. “Facing this complete cultural reset, our perspectives have gone through a three-year metamorphosis.”
From now on, for galleries both online and IRL, it’s a hybrid age.
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