It Seems We Have Developed A Taste For Each Other’s Weaknesses

Pio Abad

‘Living well is the best revenge’ taunts the first drawing of Pio Abad’s latest series, It Seems We Have Developed A Taste for Each Other's Weaknesses. With these eighteen works on paper, Abad identifies and depicts pill boxes from the collections of the former heads of state, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Margaret Thatcher and United States President Ronald Reagan to offer a provocative insight into these leaders’ most private vulnerabilities.[i] At once charming and unsettling, this latest phase of Abad’s ongoing series Notes on Decomposition incriminates the two late politicians in today’s global crisis with elegance and wry cheek.

Abad’s tactility renders the eerie pill boxes in his signature graphic style, transforming the kitschy ornaments into beautiful and satirical illustrations. The intimacy of his artistic process mirrors the intimacy of these objects wherein both occur in domestic spaces. Symbolic flora and animals – occasionally augmented by acerbic idioms – adorn the tops of many vessels. Others feature corny displays of patriotism such as the Pledge of Allegiance encircled by American flags or London’s Big Ben and St. Paul’s Cathedral. Among this assemblage, Abad also manages to pinpoint and render a blue pill box, featuring the US Presidential Seal encircled by five five-point stars, in Thatcher and Reagan’s respective collections; gifted to them both by Ambassador and Mrs. Charles H. Price II – a small yet fateful commonality, further echoing their enduring partnership.

‘Living well is the best revenge’ taunts the first drawing of Pio Abad’s latest series, It Seems We Have Developed A Taste for Each Other's Weaknesses. With these eighteen works on paper, Abad identifies and depicts pill boxes from the collections of the former heads of state, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Margaret Thatcher and United States President Ronald Reagan to offer a provocative insight into these leaders’ most private vulnerabilities.[i] At once charming and unsettling, this latest phase of Abad’s ongoing series Notes on Decomposition incriminates the two late politicians in today’s global crisis with elegance and wry cheek.

Abad’s tactility renders the eerie pill boxes in his signature graphic style, transforming the kitschy ornaments into beautiful and satirical illustrations. The intimacy of his artistic process mirrors the intimacy of these objects wherein both occur in domestic spaces. Symbolic flora and animals – occasionally augmented by acerbic idioms – adorn the tops of many vessels. Others feature corny displays of patriotism such as the Pledge of Allegiance encircled by American flags or London’s Big Ben and St. Paul’s Cathedral. Among this assemblage, Abad also manages to pinpoint and render a blue pill box, featuring the US Presidential Seal encircled by five five-point stars, in Thatcher and Reagan’s respective collections; gifted to them both by Ambassador and Mrs. Charles H. Price II – a small yet fateful commonality, further echoing their enduring partnership.

In keeping with Notes on Decomposition, which centres on auction as archaeological site, Abad excavates his source material from the catalogues of Mrs Thatcher – Property from the Collection of The Right Honourable The Baroness Thatcher of Keveston, LG, OM, FRS (Christie’s London, 2015) and The Private Collection of President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan (Christie’s New York, 2016).[ii] The auction is the ‘primary venue for objects to be fetishized, laundered and mythologized,’ according to Abad.[iii] I echo his sentiment, having worked at Christie’s for several years, and add my observation that the auction is a passive institution wary of taking any ideological stance, thus allowing legally permissible, yet controversial sales to occur.[iv]

When collections such as those Abad considers for Notes on Decomposition (Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, Lehmann Brothers, Jeffrey Archer, Thatcher and Reagan) pass through the sale room – usually due to the three D’s: Divorce, Debt, or Death – they undergo a transformation from private homeware to temporary public artefact. Once bought, the object tends to vanish into the collection of its new owner with only the auction catalogue providing proof of its existence. These publications therefore function as tombstones, providing Abad with the ideal excavation site to uncover the network of political parties liable for historic, economic and political crises.[v] Political relationships, which may initially appear superficial, are rendered authentic when domestic objects reveal personal connections. Abad’s chosen medium – drawing – manifests this mapping in praxis by tracing the contours of Christie’s photography unto new paper with pen and gouache, creating a cartography of neoliberal fantasy through these decorative objects. 

PIO ABAD, It Seems We Have Developed a Taste for Each Other's Weaknesses No. 11, 2020 (details)

PIO ABAD, It Seems We Have Developed a Taste for Each Other's Weaknesses No. 11, 2020 (details)

In keeping with Notes on Decomposition, which centres on auction as archaeological site, Abad excavates his source material from the catalogues of Mrs Thatcher – Property from the Collection of The Right Honourable The Baroness Thatcher of Keveston, LG, OM, FRS (Christie’s London, 2015) and The Private Collection of President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan (Christie’s New York, 2016).[ii] The auction is the ‘primary venue for objects to be fetishized, laundered and mythologized,’ according to Abad.[iii] I echo his sentiment, having worked at Christie’s for several years, and add my observation that the auction is a passive institution wary of taking any ideological stance, thus allowing legally permissible, yet controversial sales to occur.[iv]

When collections such as those Abad considers for Notes on Decomposition (Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, Lehmann Brothers, Jeffrey Archer, Thatcher and Reagan) pass through the sale room – usually due to the three D’s: Divorce, Debt, or Death – they undergo a transformation from private homeware to temporary public artefact. Once bought, the object tends to vanish into the collection of its new owner with only the auction catalogue providing proof of its existence. These publications therefore function as tombstones, providing Abad with the ideal excavation site to uncover the network of political parties liable for historic, economic and political crises.[v] Political relationships, which may initially appear superficial, are rendered authentic when domestic objects reveal personal connections. Abad’s chosen medium – drawing – manifests this mapping in praxis by tracing the contours of Christie’s photography unto new paper with pen and gouache, creating a cartography of neoliberal fantasy through these decorative objects. 

PIO ABAD, It Seems We Have Developed a Taste for Each Other's Weaknesses No. 13, 2020 (detail)

Abad embarked on It Seems We Have Developed A Taste For Each Other’s Weaknesses while confined to his London home during the UK’s national Covid-19 lockdown and amid conditions of rising causalities and economic uncertainty. In choosing to portray Thatcher and Reagan’s pill boxes at this time, the artist shrewdly shatters the pair’s temporality and connects them to the present global pandemic. Beginning with Thatcher and Reagan, Professor Vicente Navarro of Johns Hopkins University outlines the consequences of neoliberalism in the present pandemic; he points to the UK and US governments’ ‘deregulation of globalization of capital and labour, alongside policies of social austerity,’ and the ‘cutting of public funds for services that guarantee the population’s well-being’ as the main factors that have allowed this pandemic to persist.[vi] I even speculate the complex commodification of foreign workers stemming from neoliberal globalization has likely contributed to the disproportionate number of causalities among Filipino healthcare workers.[vii]

With these culpabilities in mind, one might experience a naughty satisfaction in Abad’s It Seems We Have Developed A Taste for Each Other’s Weaknesses, which indeed titillates a dry affinity for Thatcher and Reagan’s fragilities. These vibrant drawings of pill boxes, exhumed from auction, betray the two’s projected mental fortitude and conviction by implying their abject mortality and sickness. Abad’s drawings briefly offer guilt-free delight at these figures’ demise by incriminating their complicity in today’s tragedy. Further gratification might be found in the notion the heirs sardonically fulfilled their parents’ own neoliberal legacies by reducing traces of their private lives to fiscal commodities. However, the wicked realization that their progeny gained millions of dollars from these sales is sobering – a stark contrast to the millions of citizens reeling from the legacies of the Iron Lady and the Gipper.[viii]

PIO ABAD, It Seems We Have Developed a Taste for Each Other's Weaknesses No. 13, 2020 (detail)

Abad embarked on It Seems We Have Developed A Taste For Each Other’s Weaknesses while confined to his London home during the UK’s national Covid-19 lockdown and amid conditions of rising causalities and economic uncertainty. In choosing to portray Thatcher and Reagan’s pill boxes at this time, the artist shrewdly shatters the pair’s temporality and connects them to the present global pandemic. Beginning with Thatcher and Reagan, Professor Vicente Navarro of Johns Hopkins University outlines the consequences of neoliberalism in the present pandemic; he points to the UK and US governments’ ‘deregulation of globalization of capital and labour, alongside policies of social austerity,’ and the ‘cutting of public funds for services that guarantee the population’s well-being’ as the main factors that have allowed this pandemic to persist.[vi] I even speculate the complex commodification of foreign workers stemming from neoliberal globalization has likely contributed to the disproportionate number of causalities among Filipino healthcare workers.[vii]

With these culpabilities in mind, one might experience a naughty satisfaction in Abad’s It Seems We Have Developed A Taste for Each Other’s Weaknesses, which indeed titillates a dry affinity for Thatcher and Reagan’s fragilities. These vibrant drawings of pill boxes, exhumed from auction, betray the two’s projected mental fortitude and conviction by implying their abject mortality and sickness. Abad’s drawings briefly offer guilt-free delight at these figures’ demise by incriminating their complicity in today’s tragedy. Further gratification might be found in the notion the heirs sardonically fulfilled their parents’ own neoliberal legacies by reducing traces of their private lives to fiscal commodities. However, the wicked realization that their progeny gained millions of dollars from these sales is sobering – a stark contrast to the millions of citizens reeling from the legacies of the Iron Lady and the Gipper.[viii]

‘You have brought strength, wisdom and integrity to #10 Downing Street and indeed, to the world scene. You have the courage to make tough decisions when necessary... The United Kingdom is fortunate to have you as Prime Minister, just as I was fortunate to have had you as a partner during my years in Washington.’

Ronald Reagan on Margaret Thatcher, quoted in Mrs. Thatcher: Property from the Collection of the Right Honourable The Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven, LG, OM, FRS (London: Christie’s Auction House, 2015), 7.

‘You have brought strength, wisdom and integrity to #10 Downing Street and indeed, to the world scene. You have the courage to make tough decisions when necessary... The United Kingdom is fortunate to have you as Prime Minister, just as I was fortunate to have had you as a partner during my years in Washington.’

Ronald Reagan on Margaret Thatcher, quoted in Mrs. Thatcher: Property from the Collection of the Right Honourable The Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven, LG, OM, FRS (London: Christie’s Auction House, 2015), 7.

‘Ron Reagan was in politics out of passionate belief… This is the century when we have had the biggest battle of ideas in history. Between totalitarianism and freedom. Coercion versus liberty. Ron Reagan was a passionate warrior in this battle.... And we won.’

Margaret Thatcher on Ronald Reagan, quoted in Robbie Gordy, ‘A Truly American Story: President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan’, in The Private Collection of President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan (New York: Christie’s Auction House, 2016), 15–22.

About

    [i] Some of these pill boxes are identified by Christie’s to have belonged to former First Lady Nancy Reagan. Christie’s, The Private Collection of President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan (New York: Christie’s Auction House, 2016).

    [ii] The Thatcher live auction, which took place on 15 December 2015, is the first and only live auction Abad has attended. He began collecting auction catalogues during his MA at the Royal Academy Schools.

    [iii] Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow, "Pio Abad in Conversation with Natasha Ginwala," 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OVmTV_K90y8.

    [iv] I worked in the publications team of Christie’s Post-War & Contemporary Art department in New York from 2016 – 2021.

    [v] Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow, “Pio Abad in Conversation with Natasha Ginwala."

    [vi] Vicente Navarro, ‘The Consequences of Neoliberalism in the Current Pandemic’, International Journal of Health Services, 7 May 2020, https://doi.org/10.1177/0020731420925449.

    [vii] ‘Coronavirus: Filipino Health Workers “Need Extra Protection”’, BBC News, 24 June 2020, sec. Wales, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-wales-53149843. Luca Powell, ‘“It’s Starting Again”: Why Filipino Nurses Dread the Second Wave’, The New York Times, 15 January 2021, sec. New York, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/15/nyregion/filipino-nurses-coronavirus.html. National Nurses United Organization, ‘Sins of Omission: How Government Failures to Track Covid-19 Data Have Led to More Than 1,700 Health Care Worker Deaths and Jeopardize Public Health’, September 2020, https://www.nationalnursesunited.org/sites/default/files/nnu/graphics/documents/0920_Covid19_SinsOfOmission_Data_Report.pdf.

    [viii] The Soviet Union dubbed Margaret Thatcher the “Iron Lady” for her unrelenting politics and leadership. Reagan earned the “Gipper” nickname after portraying George Gipp in the film, Knute Rockne, All American. Gipp was an archetypal All-American football star, and Reagan used this popular image throughout his career.

    Pio Abad (b. 1983, Manila, lives and works in London) began his art studies at the University of the Philippines before receiving a BA from Glasgow School of Art and an MA from the Royal Academy Schools, London. He has recently exhibited at Honolulu Biennial, Hawaii (2019); Gwangju Biennale, South Korea (2018); Art Basel Encounters, Hong Kong (2017); Para Site, Hong Kong (2017); Kadist, Paris (2017); Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow (2016); 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, Sydney (2016); EVA International Biennial, Limerick (2016); e-flux, New York City (2015); Asia Art Archive, Hong Kong (2015); Museum of Contemporary Art and Design Manila (2015); Gasworks, London (2014) and Jorge B. Vargas Museum, Manila (2014).

    Pio Abad’s practice is concerned with the social and political signification of things. His work, in a range of media including textiles, drawing, installation and photography, uses strategies of appropriation to mine alternative or repressed historical events, unravel official accounts and draw out threads of complicity between incidents, ideologies and people. Often taking on the form of domestic accessories, Abad’s artworks glide seamlessly between these histories, enacting quasi-fictional combinations with their leftovers.

    Marv Recinto is a Filipina arts writer based in London, specialising in contemporary art of the Philippines and Southeast Asia. Born in Manila, she grew up in the Philippines, Singapore, and San Francisco. Marv studied art history and anthropology in New York and obtained her master’s at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. At present, she is the Managing Editor for ARTMargins at MIT Press and a contributing writer to ArtReview Asia.

[i] Some of these pill boxes are identified by Christie’s to have belonged to former First Lady Nancy Reagan. Christie’s, The Private Collection of President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan (New York: Christie’s Auction House, 2016).

[ii] The Thatcher live auction, which took place on 15 December 2015, is the first and only live auction Abad has attended. He began collecting auction catalogues during his MA at the Royal Academy Schools.

[iii] Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow, "Pio Abad in Conversation with Natasha Ginwala," 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OVmTV_K90y8.

[iv] I worked in the publications team of Christie’s Post-War & Contemporary Art department in New York from 2016 – 2021.

[v] Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow, “Pio Abad in Conversation with Natasha Ginwala."

[vi] Vicente Navarro, ‘The Consequences of Neoliberalism in the Current Pandemic’, International Journal of Health Services, 7 May 2020, https://doi.org/10.1177/0020731420925449.

[vii] ‘Coronavirus: Filipino Health Workers “Need Extra Protection”’, BBC News, 24 June 2020, sec. Wales, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-wales-53149843. Luca Powell, ‘“It’s Starting Again”: Why Filipino Nurses Dread the Second Wave’, The New York Times, 15 January 2021, sec. New York, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/15/nyregion/filipino-nurses-coronavirus.html. National Nurses United Organization, ‘Sins of Omission: How Government Failures to Track Covid-19 Data Have Led to More Than 1,700 Health Care Worker Deaths and Jeopardize Public Health’, September 2020, https://www.nationalnursesunited.org/sites/default/files/nnu/graphics/documents/0920_Covid19_SinsOfOmission_Data_Report.pdf.

[viii] The Soviet Union dubbed Margaret Thatcher the “Iron Lady” for her unrelenting politics and leadership. Reagan earned the “Gipper” nickname after portraying George Gipp in the film, Knute Rockne, All American. Gipp was an archetypal All-American football star, and Reagan used this popular image throughout his career.

Pio Abad (b. 1983, Manila, lives and works in London) began his art studies at the University of the Philippines before receiving a BA from Glasgow School of Art and an MA from the Royal Academy Schools, London. He has recently exhibited at Honolulu Biennial, Hawaii (2019); Gwangju Biennale, South Korea (2018); Art Basel Encounters, Hong Kong (2017); Para Site, Hong Kong (2017); Kadist, Paris (2017); Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow (2016); 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, Sydney (2016); EVA International Biennial, Limerick (2016); e-flux, New York City (2015); Asia Art Archive, Hong Kong (2015); Museum of Contemporary Art and Design Manila (2015); Gasworks, London (2014) and Jorge B. Vargas Museum, Manila (2014).

Pio Abad’s practice is concerned with the social and political signification of things. His work, in a range of media including textiles, drawing, installation and photography, uses strategies of appropriation to mine alternative or repressed historical events, unravel official accounts and draw out threads of complicity between incidents, ideologies and people. Often taking on the form of domestic accessories, Abad’s artworks glide seamlessly between these histories, enacting quasi-fictional combinations with their leftovers.

Marv Recinto is a Filipina arts writer based in London, specialising in contemporary art of the Philippines and Southeast Asia. Born in Manila, she grew up in the Philippines, Singapore, and San Francisco. Marv studied art history and anthropology in New York and obtained her master’s at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. At present, she is the Managing Editor for ARTMargins at MIT Press and a contributing writer to ArtReview Asia.

Works

Pio Abad
It Seems We Have Developed a Taste for Each Other's Weaknesses No. 18
2020
3980
3
Ink and gouache on watercolour paper
16.54h x 11.69w in • 42h x 29.70w cm
1
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PHP
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It Seems We Have Developed a Taste for Each Other's Weaknesses No. 17
2020
3982
3
Ink and gouache on watercolour paper
16.54h x 11.69w in • 42h x 29.70w cm
1
0.00
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0
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It Seems We Have Developed a Taste for Each Other's Weaknesses No. 16
2020
3983
3
Ink and gouache on watercolour paper
16.54h x 11.69w in • 42h x 29.70w cm
1
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It Seems We Have Developed a Taste for Each Other's Weaknesses No. 15
2020
3984
3
Ink and gouache on watercolour paper
16.54h x 11.69w in • 42h x 29.70w cm
1
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Pio Abad
It Seems We Have Developed a Taste for Each Other's Weaknesses No. 14
2020
3985
3
Ink and gouache on watercolour paper
16.54h x 11.69w in • 42h x 29.70w cm
0
0.00
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Pio Abad
It Seems We Have Developed a Taste for Each Other's Weaknesses No. 13
2020
3986
3
Ink and gouache on watercolour paper
16.54h x 11.69w in • 42h x 29.70w cm
0
0.00
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Pio Abad
It Seems We Have Developed a Taste for Each Other's Weaknesses No. 12
2020
3987
3
Ink and gouache on watercolour paper
16.54h x 11.69w in • 42h x 29.70w cm
0
0.00
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Details
It Seems We Have Developed a Taste for Each Other's Weaknesses No. 11
2020
3988
3
Ink and gouache on watercolour paper
16.54h x 11.69w in • 42h x 29.70w cm
1
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Pio Abad
It Seems We Have Developed a Taste for Each Other's Weaknesses No. 10
2020
3989
3
Ink and gouache on watercolour paper
16.54h x 11.69w in • 42h x 29.70w cm
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Pio Abad
It Seems We Have Developed a Taste for Each Other's Weaknesses No. 9
2020
3997
3
Ink and gouache on watercolour paper
16.54h x 11.69w in • 42h x 29.70w cm
0
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Pio Abad
It Seems We Have Developed a Taste for Each Other's Weaknesses No. 8
2020
3996
3
Ink and gouache on watercolour paper
16.54h x 11.69w in • 42h x 29.70w cm
0
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Pio Abad
It Seems We Have Developed a Taste for Each Other's Weaknesses No. 7
2020
3990
3
Ink and gouache on watercolour paper
16.54h x 11.69w in • 42h x 29.70w cm
1
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Pio Abad
It Seems We Have Developed a Taste for Each Other's Weaknesses No. 6
2020
3991
3
Ink and gouache on watercolour paper
16.54h x 11.69w in • 42h x 29.70w cm
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Pio Abad
It Seems We Have Developed a Taste for Each Other's Weaknesses No. 5
2020
3992
3
Ink and gouache on watercolour paper
16.54h x 11.69w in • 42h x 29.70w cm
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Pio Abad
It Seems We Have Developed a Taste for Each Other's Weaknesses No. 4
2020
3993
3
Ink and gouache on watercolour paper
16.54h x 11.69w in • 42h x 29.70w cm
1
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Pio Abad
It Seems We Have Developed a Taste for Each Other's Weaknesses No. 3
2020
3994
3
Ink and gouache on watercolour paper
16.54h x 11.69w in • 42h x 29.70w cm
0
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It Seems We Have Developed a Taste for Each Other's Weaknesses No. 2
2020
3981
3
Ink and gouache on watercolour paper
16.54h x 11.69w in • 42h x 29.70w cm
1
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Pio Abad
It Seems We Have Developed a Taste for Each Other's Weaknesses No. 1
2020
3995
3
Ink and gouache on watercolour paper
16.54h x 11.69w in • 42h x 29.70w cm
1
0.00
PHP
0
Ink and gouache on watercolour paper
Details
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