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Does an artist’s ‘success’ rely on making it in the USA? Some say ‘yes.’

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FRANK SINATRA made us believe that New York is the center of the world when he sang “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere. It’s up to you New York, New York.” Filipino fans, then, including visual artists and the patrons behind them (if they have any), have always aspired to break into and make it in the Big Apple art scene.

In a talk “Promoting Filipino Art in America” on Oct. 24 at the Leon Gallery in Makati, the one-hour discussion touched on tips and tricks on how Filipino artists — paradoxically, there were no visual artists in the audience — could make it to the United States of America.

“I don’t imagine that it’s too different here. You need to approach the task of giving yourself exposure in a professional way. It’s not magic. It’s sort of like applying for a job: strategize and figure who you need to talk to. It’s complicated because you’re how many miles away from US, but if you take away the distance, I think it’s the same problem as getting a show anywhere,” said David Furchgott, one of the guest speakers in the event.

Mr. Furchgott is the founder of the International Arts & Artists (www.artsandartists.org), a nonprofit organization that aims to increase the cross-cultural understanding and art exposure via programs and exhibitions.

Another speaker, Jack Rasmussen, director and curator of the American University Museum in Washington DC, said artists can send their slides, or portfolio, to as many curators as they want. But the process is long, tedious, and uncertain.

“It takes time. It’s not easy,” he said, adding that it could be two years or 12 years.

He said: “How people get to be known is not a fast process.”

“It can be a difficult experiences, a lot of persistence. All systems have to go. You have to love the work and have something to say before anything else then success will follow — or not. Sometimes it’s not a matter of talent but it’s a very difficult market place,” he said, matter of factly.

Both American gentlemen have been working in the US art world for more than 20 years. They said they get at least four proposals in a day.

But what do these men look for when choosing what art to exhibit? The two said they are interested in artists who are self-aware and honest with their art.

“The artists who interest me are still tied to their culture. You cannot plug in an international style. It’s not going to be interesting,” said Mr. Rasmussen. “If you are going to follow the market trend and guess where it’s going, you’re not going to get there. It should come from your experience. Your life.”

Artists should have a distinct voice. Mr. Furchgott said: “The artist should have a story. You need to be able to talk about your work. If someone asks you what you do, you shouldn’t be like ‘Well it’s like… well it represents… uhmmm… I don’t know…’ You need to have a story and tell it.”

LEAVING ON A JET PLANE
Should Filipino artists who dream of making it globally just pack up and leave?

Art collector Ken Hakuta — who was in the country for the recent exhibit of works by his uncle Nam June Paik, the father of video art — was in the audience and said that Filipino artists should leave and settle for good in the US, particularly in the vibrant art communities in Los Angeles and New York.

“The numbers are disastrously low, close to zero, a few, compared, say, to the active market and community in South Korea. In New York, there are 3,500 working [South] Koreans — they weren’t born in America but they moved to America — and I understand there are 20 Filipinos there,” said Mr. Hakuta who joined in the discussion.

“For the artist to go global, they have to move there for 15 years and become permanent residents,” he said.

“It’s not good enough that Filipinos get residencies for six weeks or three months — they have to move there for 15 years. Look at Ai Wei Wei for example.

“The competition here is too weak, they have to learn and find out that they’re really bad. That’s the reality. They become good enough here and make good enough living, and they stop. But for some reasons, the [Filipino] artists here won’t move [to the US],” he added.

Perhaps because the Filipino artists are afraid to gamble? Or unwilling to leave their families behind? Or maybe because the current climate in America isn’t friendly to foreigners?

There are many reasons for not wanting to migrate to the US.

One Filipino artist who has been living in New York, told BusinessWorld in a separate occasion that moving to the US is easier said that done.

“It’s a very long, risky process,” New York-based artist Julio Jose “Jojo” Austria told BusinessWorld via Facebook. “What I can say is at least now I am one of the many who are making progress every single year. As a Pinoy artist, it’s like being a foot soldier in a frontline. Kasi I came in on my own, [which is] similar to the other few first-generation immigrant Filipino artists whom I had met along the way ’nung tumatagal na ko sa local scene (once I had been around a while in the local scene),” he said.

Magkakaiba lang kami ng (We just had different) process of getting in — my ticket to getting in is being an artist-US resident — pero (but) we all have common experiences to share. It was a struggle, starting with being alone without connection and immediate family, being displaced, adjusting to a brand-new reality, and figuring out how to assimilate locally. Everything was trial and error from the beginning.”

Mr. Jose has been living in New York City for eight years now, and has done one major show and one small solo show there, and one solo show in Vermont. He also gets to participate in group shows — by selection and invitation — two or three times a year.

“It’s part of the competitive scene here kasi nga (because) you’re dealing with all types of artists [from] all over the world. For example, for you to have a show, be in an art program. You need to apply first or be invited. So kung lumusot ka lusot ka talaga (if you get in, you are really in) even if you don’t know anybody kasi ikaw at ’yung art work mo talaga ang tinitignan nila (because it is you and your art work that they are really looking at), which I think is a much better validation as an artist kasi you were given a break by merit…

“Well, there are a lot of vanity galleries or spaces around the city — if you have the money you can pay, which mostly outsiders do para lang masabi na (just so they can say) they had a show in NYC or at least gain an experience or a taste of the city, which I think hindi naman masama kasi para-paraan din ’yan (which I don’t think is a really a bad thing, its a way of doing it) and everybody has a right kung anong diskarte gusto mo gawin sa buhay (to use whatever strategies they want for their life),” he said.

He said he loves New York because it is a melting pot of culture. He even thinks that staying 15 years there, as Mr. Hakuta suggested, is too short a time — he believes an artist should stay in the US at least 20 years to learn and re-learn art.

But at the end, he said: “I am after the process [rather] than the result at the end of journey. For now, what is important for me is things are happening, the experiences, and what you’ve accomplished between points A and B, B and C, D and E, and so on.”

Before uprooting oneself, Mssrs. Furchgott and Rasmussen said it pays if artists make a name here first.

“It doesn’t hurt if you get noticeable in your country…” said Mr. Furchgott. “Sometimes it works by coincidences but it works by developing who you are as an artist. Then build up. People don’t become rock stars of the art world overnight.”

The two gentlemen agreed that local artists should serve their art first, then fame and money come next, in no particular order.

“If you’re looking for international stardom, it’s important to support your artists here first… and to represent your culture is a beautiful thing. It’s great to want to make a name, but you have to be doing this because you love it,” said Mr. Rasmussen.

At the end of the day, the two Americans affirmed what we already know: “Work hard, don’t give up. [It’s] important to believe in your culture and present that.” — Nickky Faustine P. de Guzman





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