Galleries take a youthful approach to art at the Xavier Art Fest 2023

“Mom,” a child, around 8, points to a surreal painting featuring a body distorted, proportions overblown, features exaggerated, the palette warm, almost visceral. “It’s scary.” Below the painting, there’s a similar sculpture, poised like a guardian.

Eventually, the child seems more amused than spooked, like a kid easing in with laughter after the initial shocks in a school fair horror house.

Later, said child is posing next to the “scary” statue with his siblings, as his parents take a picture.

Thought-provoking and family-centered in the same setting.

I see more similar scenes among families navigating the 2023 Xavier Art Fest, as some of the works are decidedly mature.

Casually taking your kids’ photos under disturbing imagery: the response of the above family is in itself surreal. Perhaps such is art appreciation, and an initial exposure to art “disturbing the comfortable and comforting the disturbed.”

While originally a political message referring to works speaking truth to power, who knew this could occur in a more family-friendly setting—one of those controlled exposures to adult themes which parents allow their children here and there?

Parental Guidance: The Fest could be one of those controlled exposures to adult themes which parents allow their children here and there.

Such has been at the core of the Xavier Art Fest since its inception in 2018. Aimed at young, starting collectors and students in a school setting, the fair really feels like being back in school, rather than an art symposium in more formal settings: homey, safe, unintimidating.

And therein lies its charm. Trish, working for the Altro Mondo gallery, tells me: “It’s a chance to showcase younger artists” while “connecting young collectors to young creators.”

She adds that, normally—if the venue was different—such as a hotel, the works displayed by their gallery would adapt to such a setting. She welcomes the Xavier Art Fest as a chance to showcase more sides.

Many galleries, including big commercial ones and some based abroad, participated in the fair held in the Xavier School covered courts from January 27 to 29, exhibiting on linoleum basketball and badminton courts, the light from the ceilings creating interesting interplays with the works displayed.

Organized by Xavier’s batch of 1997, the show also held auctions raising funds for causes while spotlighting alumni artists from Xavier and the nearby Immaculate Concepcion Academy, together with artists known for tackling sociopolitical issues - students discussing these in their social studies classes surely had their musings deepened by these artists’ insights.

Some might argue that such a vibe, unique to a school gymnasium, doesn’t do justice to art, but many will agree—based on the turnout of participating galleries—that such a setting also makes it less intimidating especially to those whose first exposure to art, artists, and their ideas might be such fairs.

Homecourt: The space in which art is displayed deepens said art’s appreciation by audience, and here, the Fest aimed to connect young collectors with young artists in a school setting.

On that note, most of the works on display, were youthful in style, subject, and sensibility, the vibrancy of the palettes defining the event as a whole, even in galleries whose general aesthetics lean towards the minimal and the muted, the subtle, the subdued.

Like in most art fairs featuring many galleries in a more confined space, participants rotated the works on display, and as I walked through the fair’s second day in the afternoon, four hours from closing time, some gallery staff were still mounting and replacing paintings in storage boxes by their booths.

Like a theater troupe staging a production, no two days were alike, even if the show, in this case, the Fest, followed a script.

This was also Cartellino’s second major in-person exhibit, and for similar online-based galleries, seeing audiences interact with works in person and witnessing the conversations borne from these creates connections that even the best 3D virtual tours struggle with.

Going back to the family mentioned above, it’s such interactions that foster sustained interest in art. Digital artists also were able to display prints of their work, their pieces translated from electrons into molecules, from bytes to canvas. It’s not just about the works and the artists, after all, but about fostering an equally-lively community online, and now, offline.

As I leave the venue, I see the child from earlier again, this time, he’s with two peers as their parents sit back, chit-chatting with co-parents by the food stalls.

The child lifts an arm, pointing his fingers at a painting of a videogame character. His friends follow his gaze then light up. The children break into a run, heading to the gallery as the assistant welcomes them. Some older men who seem to be inquiring pause, smiling, to let the kids have their moment.

Xavier Art Fest 2023 ran from January 27 to 29, at Xavier School in San Juan City.

When Pao isn't writing about art, he's trying to be a cat-whisperer.

Images courtesy of the writer.