Survey gathers four boldfaced names who have successfully navigated the artist/gallerist divide. Isa Lorenzo and Rachel Rillo of Silverlens, Mawen Ong of MO_, and Soler Santos of West Gallery became gallerists out of necessity between 1989 and 2007, when the local art scene suffered from a dearth of exhibition spaces willing to take risks on contemporary artists.
Despite pouring their time and energy into developing the cultural infrastructure that has allowed others to blossom as artists, their personal impulse to create has never waned. It bears saying that even if the roles of artist and gallerist are connected, they demand almost opposing mindsets. Summarized in a simplistic dichotomy: the artist is the right-brained maker; the gallerist, the left-brained decision-maker. In Survey, the gallerist takes a backseat and allows the artist to come to the fore.
Of the four, Lorenzo is the outlier, thinking of herself as “a gallerist with artistic sensibilities and sensitivities.” For this exhibition, she presents photograms of envelopes and packages she has received in the mail throughout the years. “It’s a romantic idea, the analog letter. I like that they take different shapes, and have different sizes,” she says, adding that she appreciates how senders put careful thought into packaging their messages, matching their physical dimensions to the “bigness” of their messages — a phenomenon lost in the digital age. The photograms in Survey are titled according to their cities of origin, including Zurich, Hiroshima, Paris, New York, and Tokyo. Lorenzo also presents the first envelope photogram she made: a letter she sent about 12 years ago that made its way back to her.
Ong, who refused the designation “gallerist” when MO_ opened its first show in 2007, has finally come to terms with the word. “I got tired of mentally resisting it,” she says. These days, it no longer matters to her whether people see MO_ as a gallery, which would like to see the commercial success of an artist's work, and herself as a gallerist; or as an art space, where the execution of the idea is foremost without financial returns to both artist and gallery, and herself as an artist running the space. Being both, she says, enables her to understand the artist’s process naturally and instinctively, to go beyond what is discussed verbally. “I think that artists find it very important that the ‘host’ understands their work, more than just being able to sell them.” In Survey, Ong presents a wall installation of 779 photos, with each photo representing a single minute in the longest day of the year. The photos are of a small scene seen by Ong every day, captured repeatedly, from dawn to dusk, during the summer solstice.
Rillo bids farewell to the current location of Silverlens, which is set to move to a different address in the near future, with a series of photographs meditating on the present space of the gallery, devoid of works hanging on its walls. Poignant and intimate, Rillo’s depiction of Silverlens focuses on the transient effects of sunlight seeping in through windows. For Rillo, being an artist is an intrinsic part of her personality, no more separable from her than her hair, her name, or her sex. Being a gallerist, meanwhile, is like slipping on a hat and she ruefully notes that the certainty with which she assesses someone else’s work flees her when it comes to her own. “Being an artist is being vulnerable,” she says, adding that knowing the attendant insecurities of art-making allow her to better empathize with her peers.
An “accidental gallery owner,” Santos never thought he would become one until he was offered the space that houses West Gallery. Although he enjoys mounting shows, meeting artists, curating, and installing, he finds the business aspects of running a gallery unsettling. “I have always had difficulty with the selling part, a bit of discomfort with it,” he admitted. “I can live without the gallery but I need to keep making art.” This also explains, to some extent, why West Gallery doesn’t join international art fairs. “It will take up too much time and effort, and it won't allow my wife, Mona, and me to paint and make art.” Santos presents a suite of abstract mixed media works that arrange varying textures and patterns into a repeated grid, with each composition possessing a discernible color theme, ranging from vernal to hibernal.
Survey opens a discussion into the expanded role private galleries—and gallerists—have played in the development of Philippine contemporary art and whether the need for the artist-gallerist will exist in the future. Belonging to the same generation, Lorenzo, Ong, Rillo, and Santos had to put on the gallerist’s hat (with Lorenzo embracing that role more so than the others) in order to provide a platform for Philippine contemporary art. They might be the last of their kind since there are more spaces than ever within the country and within the region willing to foster Filipino talent, rendering obsolete the resistant and accidental artist-gallerist.
Survey will be on view from July 9 to August 6 at Silverlens, 2/F YMC Bldg. 2, 2320 Don Chino Roces Ave. Extension, Makati City. For inquiries, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or (02) 816 0044.
About the Artists
Isa Lorenzo (b. 1974), educated in Manila and New York City, is one of the founders and directors of Silverlens. As gallerist, she is instrumental in establishing photography as a collected medium in the region, and is continuously raising the bar for strongly curated contemporary art exhibitions. She sat on the board of the Museum Foundation of the Philippines from 2008–2014, and acts as adviser to prominent private collections. As artist, she has shown at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the UNESCO House in Paris, the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the National Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum in Manila. She is the recipient of the the Jenesys Grant of the Japan Foundation at Tokyo Wonder Site and the Berlin Arts Program of the Goethe Institut.
Rachel Rillo (b. 1973) deliberately injects memories into her photographs. It is a means of reconciling nostalgia with reality, finding new shades of an Asian vocabulary in the everyday. It is a subject she has charted across successive bodies of work from 2009–2013 and one that inherently echoes Rillo’s own journey. In 2007, she returned to Manila after a successful career as a freelance Photographer for Los Angeles’ television industry. Rillo’s return came at a time when Contemporary Photography was starting to gain traction in the Philippine art scene as an art form, and her solo exhibitions Manila (2008), nominated for an Ateneo Art Award, Grain (2009), and Underneath the Floorboards (2010), helped redefine local views. She is the co-founder and co-director of Silverlens.
Soler Santos (b. 1960), who signs his work as “Soler,” held his first one-man show in 1981 at the Luz Gallery when he was 21 years old. He has had over 40 solo exhibitions since. In over three decades of his career in art, Soler has represented the Philippines abroad—at the Young Art in Asia (Hong Kong Art Centre, Hong Kong, 1980), 25 Young Artists (Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand, 1983), 2nd Asian Show (Fukuoka Art Museum, Japan, 1985), Seoul Contemporary Art Show (The National Museum of Art, Korea, 1986), 14th Asian Show (Fukuoka Art Museum, Japan, 1999), 11th International Biennal Print and Drawing Exhibition (National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, 2004). He is also the recipient of several art awards including First Prize at the ASEAN Painting Competition in 1983 and the CCP Thirteen Artists Award in 1992. Soler studied at the College of Fine Arts in the University of the Philippines from 1978 to 1981. He founded West Gallery with his artist wife, Mona Santos, in 1989.
Mawen Ong (b. 1964) is the gallery director of MO_, which showcases innovative works by Manila’s most dynamic contemporary artists, and the retail director of MOs Design, a design furniture store that carries high-end brands. As a visual artist, she has exhibited extensively locally and has upcoming solo exhibitions at West Gallery and Blanc Gallery. Ong studied Painting at the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts.
About the Writer
ll is an arts journalist who lives and works in Metro Manila.
Through its artist representation, institutional collaborations, and exhibition programming including art fairs and gallery partnerships, SILVERLENS aims to place its artists within the broader framework of the contemporary art dialogue. Its continuing efforts to transcend borders across art communities in Asia have earned it recognition from both artists and collectors as one of the leading contemporary art galleries in Southeast Asia. SILVERLENS was founded by Isa Lorenzo and Rachel Rillo in 2004.