For the organizers behind Art Fair Philippines and Art in the Park, the year 2020 came to a roaring start. The much-anticipated Art Fair Philippines in February was the team’s most ambitious yet, and boy, did they deliver. By the time it concluded, as we fair-goers gingerly scrolled through pictures and media headlines for art we missed, the AFP team was already hard at work on their next project: Art in the Park.
News of the coronavirus, however, had been making the rounds, and for many of us in the local arts scene, we waited with bated breath. Art in the Park, slated to open last March 15, Sunday, was announced postponed only six days before in consideration of the COVID-19 threat. Shortly after, the art industry the world over followed suit.
Three months since the day, we decided to get in touch with AFP co-founder and art maven, Trickie Lopa. Let’s admit, who doesn’t know her story? Having begun as an untiring art writer in the early days of the Internet, Trickie’s love for art took her to the center of the limelight. With partners Lisa Periquet and Dindin Araneta, the visual arts scene from the year 2012 on saw a streak of successes through their projects: AFP, Art in the Park, and Nonesuch, among many others.
For this interview, we ask her about her and her team’s plans moving forward, as well as for insights she would like to share on the local arts scene. Our e-mail correspondence excerpts:
Cartellino: There’s a lot of news about how COVID-19 has impacted the art world, but not so much locally. Art in the Park was set exactly a day before the ECQ had been implemented. How are you all doing?
Trickie Lopa: Well, I think we’re over our disappointment by now. After all, we’ve had more than 70 days to accept things. Seriously though, we knew we had no choice but to postpone Art in the Park once local transmissions of the disease occurred. The government announcement of the ECQ three days later made our decision moot.
I don’t think I’ve ever worked as hard on any edition of Art in the Park as I did on what would have been our 14th. The whole team did, as we scheduled it just three weeks after Art Fair Philippines. Our planning had to be simultaneous to working on the fair, and then we had to move double-time to get things going, without even pausing for breath after AFP. That probably went for all our participating galleries and exhibiting artists as well. Everyone was psyched and ready.
But then events overtook us, as it did for the whole of humanity. We all had to face bigger, weightier issues in the blink of an eye.
C: To us, Art Fair and Art in the Park has always occupied the gulf between modest enthusiasts and those at the top-ends of the local and international art circuit. Their locations have always helped with that: Art Fair PH happened within walking distance of offices; Art in the Park is all about that sweet Sunday recreation. How do you imagine these kinds of events online, if at all?
TL: Do I imagine these events online? Not in the way you’ve described them. Not in the way we’ve held them in the past. You can’t replace seeing art in the flesh, interacting with artists, gallerists, and enthusiasts face to face, among other things. The locale of the two events has had a lot to do with shaping their nature.
Pivot seems to be the word of the moment – adapting because the times call for change. How we view and experience art will have to follow suit.
We’ve been busy bouncing ideas around. As of now, nothing is final. We are still exploring our options.
C: Given the pandemic, though, many in the art world are forced to embrace digital platforms to keep afloat. But what about after, in the long-term? In what ways do you think these—VR, AR, online viewing rooms and auctions—change the game?
TL: Digital platforms are not new. We’re just utilizing them more now, as they are our only option at the moment. I used to have an art blog, so I’ve had a very comfortable online relationship with art.
I myself am enjoying all of the conversations going on—whether through Zoom webinars or Instagram Live or amped up websites, aka online viewing rooms. What a boon for an art person based in Manila! I am totally geeking out and taking full advantage of what’s been available—waking up at 6 am to join a Whitney Museum lecture on Art and Technology one day or staying up until 2 am to listen to the Serpentine’s Hans Ulrich Obrist speak to the amazing artist Christian Boltanski on another. I feel like I’ve rediscovered why I love art so much—not art that has, well, become my job, an event to organize, or even as an object to purchase, or the reason for a social get together. But art that stimulates the mind and stirs the soul.
In a recent talk sponsored by Art Basel, gallerist David Zwirner said that moving forward, we may remember 2020 as the year that the best art had been produced. And I do think he may be right: the pandemic has forced us to retreat and cocoon, and for visual artists, I imagine that this gives precious time to ruminate.
Please don’t get me wrong: I am very cognizant of the financial uncertainties brought about by the lockdown and the ever-present threat of illness. Let’s not mince words; the picture is bleak and may not get better for a very long time. But if there are silver linings, then I believe that the digital platforms are providing them. I don’t think we’re ever going back to not utilizing these tools even after the pandemic is over. The digital will complement the physical long after we’ve finally developed our Covid-19 immunity.
C: One silver lining in the way of digital platforms we noticed recently is Galleryplatform.la, an online collaborative among galleries in Los Angeles to help keep each other afloat. Could one outcome of the pandemic be that we see initiatives similar to that here?
TL: In that same talk hosted by Art Basel, Jeffrey Deitch did announce this initiative for the LA gallery scene. I can imagine that a few galleries here may want to work more closely together. You really can't say that they haven't been doing this before. For instance, in the past few years, there seems to have been a concerted effort for certain galleries located close to each other to have their opening nights on the same day. And generally, the gallerists visit each other’s exhibitions.
From what I understand about the LA model, it aims to provide smaller galleries access to the audience of the more established galleries. In our situation, it seems that those who regularly visit exhibitions make it a point to do the rounds and do gallery hops. So any effort may probably take a different form and have a different objective.
Like I already said, things are tough, may get even more difficult in the months ahead. We all have to accept that our lives have changed.
C: What about you, personally? What differences in the local art scene would you like to see come out of this pandemic?
TL: It would be great to finally have some government support for the arts, not just the visual arts.