Art Fair 2018’s interesting problem: managing a growing crowd

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RESPONDING TO THE surprisingly large crowd that flocked to its regular venue at The Link carpark in Makati City in 2017, this year’s Art Fair Philippines will control access to the carpark during its run from March 1 to 4 and will also post “Art Etiquette” memes on social media in the days before it opens.

“The art etiquette [memes] is not meant to look down on anybody, but for everybody to have a good experience while in the fair,” Dindin Araneta, one of the fair’s cofounders, told BusinessWorld at the sidelines of launch of the annual event which is now on its sixth year.

Over the past five years, the art fair has welcomed a growing number of visitors, made up of art collectors, artists, art enthusiasts, families, and students (the latter make up the fair’s biggest demographic at 30% of visitors).

In 2017, the fair welcomed 40,000 visitors, almost two times 2016’s 22,000. During its first year in 2013, the fair welcomed 6,000 art enthusiasts through its doors, and this number increased regularly in subsequent years — 10,000 visitors in 2014 and 16,000 in 2015.

“We’ve brought in growing audiences in the past years, now, it’s about time to educate them,” said Ms. Araneta.


Among the rules of etiquette that they will be pushing are:

• Don’t stand too close to the artwork.

• Don’t bring large bags and backpacks.

• Do not touch the artworks.

• Do not bring food and drinks inside.

• No camera flash.

Needing to deal with this growing enthusiasm for the arts by people who may not know the proper way to behave near the often fragile artworks — including people who like to take photos for their Instagram accounts — is not limited to the Philippines.

“[There are] essays in literature about the development of the audience for art in other countries, so there were also times when they had to educate the audiences… It’s really about education, to teach them how to view works of art and how to ask the right questions,” said Ms. Araneta.

In an effort to control the crowd, visitors will have to choose from three time periods when they can enter the fair: 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.; 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.; and 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.) — but they are free to leave the fair at their own convenience.

“It’s to make sure that you are not bumping into works or into other people. It’s for your comfort. [And also] so the artists feel like their works are respected. Sometimes the people bump into their works and they’re like ‘Din, they are taking so many pictures and they are not looking anymore.’ We get a lot of comments [like that] so maybe less pictures and more discernment and conversations with the artists and the gallerists who are there,” said Ms. Araneta.

Not only is the Art Fair growing when it comes to visitor numbers, but also in size. From the initial 24 participating local and international galleries, the number increased steadily to 46 last year. For this year’s edition, 51 galleries — 36 of which are local — will showcase their best art.

The exhibitors have always sold out their pieces in the first two days, so the gallerists have the interesting problem of curating what to hang in their spaces over the remaining days of the fair — the result is the audience will always have something new to see when they come back to the fair.

This year’s affair will also maximize the carpark by using all its available space for the first time. This time the fair will have a floor area of more than 13,000 square meters spread over all seven floors of the carpark.

“Our move to secure a bigger space and oversee access to the fair will allow us to enhance the viewing experience of our visitors and help ensure that artwork can be properly appreciated,” said Art Fair cofounder Trickie Lopa.

Filmmaker Kidlat Tahimik headlines this year’s “Projects,” which is a featured artist section. He will exhibit wooden sculptures on myths.

Meanwhile, the three veteran artists of Kaisahan group — Pablo Baen-Santos, Renato Habulan, and Antipas Delotovato — will showcase artworks with social commentaries.

Younger artists Leonard Aguinaldo (who works with rubbercuts), Lyra Garcellano (whose recurring theme revolves around national identity), Nilo Ilarde (a conceptual artist and curator), and Alvin Zafra (who will present an exhibit with video as the central piece) are also part of “Projects.”

This year’s fair also features a new section on photography, which is presented by Swiss private banker Julius Baer.

“We have had installations and video works, but very little photography. It is just a continuation of the conversations with people who are engaging with photography, whether you are professional, student, enthusiast,” said Ms. Araneta.

The photography exhibitions this year include Neal Oshima’s Kin, which pays tribute to the country’s tribes and indigenous traditions. Working with curator Angel Velasco, there will also be another exhibit, Provocations, which features a range of established and emerging documentary photographers.

“We are excited to see how photography will continue to find its place in our local art scene [because] it’s a medium that you can acquire,” said Lisa Periquet, one of the fair’s three cofounders. — Nickky Faustine P. de Guzman