FEDERICO DE VERA has created his own personal museum inside the Ayala Museum. The renowned New York City-based Filipino jewelry designer and gallery owner has occupied the museum’s three floors to showcase 300 paintings, art installations, jewelry, and objects d’art on what is, and what it is to be, a Filipino.
Describing his taste as eclectic and his perspectives on art as broad in the artist’s note, he said: “I decided to undertake the complicated work of curating a show about art and objects found in the Philippines regardless of form, material, age, or provenance.”
Through the exhibit called Curated by Federico de Vera, which is on view until Jan. 28, he has assembled in one room the artworks of the greats — Juan Luna, Ang Kiukok, Roberto Chabet, Vicente Manansala, Ronald Ventura, and many more — from private and public collectors who have lent their art works for the show.
“We have all of the above: young and old artists, the not-so-serious art, and high and low. Everything,” he told BusinessWorld at the sidelines of the exhibition’s opening night on Nov. 6.
The show is not about him, but it is also about him.
Although he said that “it is not really about me, but my interpretation of what it’s like to be a Filipino,” he has elevated the role of the curator from someone who is always behind the curtain to someone who is present, and can enjoy the limelight, too.
He added, “It’s about the things that resonate with my taste and my thoughts and all of the above. It’s about how I think, it’s about Filipino art and culture.”
The jeweler, publisher, and art collector whom The New York Times dubbed as a “design chemist” and “an aesthetic savant with an Enlightenment viewpoint” has studied art history, filmmaking, and art appreciation. After finishing a degree in architecture at the University of Santo Tomas, he migrated to San Francisco for further studies.
He worked in several galleries before, finally, he opened his first eponymous gallery-store in San Francisco in 1991, followed by another in New York City’s Upper East Side in 2003. Elle magazine describes his New York store as “ethereal” and “temples of display” and his clients include the former US First Lady Hillary Clinton who bought necklaces and figurines from him.
“Despite the fact that I’ve lived abroad for a long time, I am a Filipino, it’s who I am, this is what made me. I am not one particular thing. In a way it’s what this is all about,” he said.
The museum’s three floors have captured the long and exciting journey of Philippine art and the Filipinos, “of our Indigenous Peoples, a long succession of colonizers, devotion to Christian symbolism, contrasting wealth and poverty, endless migration, paradisiacal but calamitous geography, and the acceptant of Western culture,” which, according to him, “make our culture dense yet spontaneous.”
In the artist’s note, he describes Philippine contemporary art as “liberal, intimate, and compelling all at once,” adding that our culture is the sum of our “diversity and tenacity.”
PORTRAITS, CATHOLICISM, AND MORE
The exhibition has three themes: “Portrait of the Filipino,” “Treasury,” and “Art and Design.”
On the ground floor are paintings and photographs of Filipinos, both young and old, acclaimed and unknown, including the recently controversial indigenous tattoo artist Whang Od and her portrait by photographer Jake Verzosa.
The portraits of Filipinos are complemented by scenes of war, the everyday life, crises, struggles, and aspirations.
On the second floor is the “Treasury” where are found icons and iconography of Catholicism including ivory saints, colonial paintings, and vestments. The second floor has both holy and eerie vibes.
The third floor features an amalgam of paintings, installations, and jewelry by contemporary artists.
“In contrast to the other areas of exhibition, the focus here gradually shifts towards other forms and patterns,” said the artist’s note.
Here, there are folk designs, the bululs or granary gods of the mountains, fine art, and utilitarian and natural objects.
The general exhibition is a showcase of different media: silk twill, found objects like plastic dolls, marble, plain weave with embroidery, dyes, metals, and many more.
“When people come here [to the Ayala Museum to see the exhibition] and they relate to one or two [artworks], and even just with one piece, that would make me really, really happy. I did my job,” said the curator-artist. — Nickky Faustine P. de Guzman