Added to Cart: A Portrait of a Portrait Show, Part 1

A Portrait of a Portrait Show

Explorations on Portraiture by 60 Artists

Mo Space

25 November to 31 December, 2023

At first glance, it strikes me as a very Mo Space exhibition: works on the floor, angled table tops, videos, audio works — and it is comforting. It brings me back to the 2020 exhibition Liminal Spaces, probably one of, if not the first physical exhibitions to open after the covid lockdown was declared.

The second feeling was familiarity. Many (if not all?) of the artists in the exhibition had shown at  Mo Space already. It was somewhat (possibly) like walking into an established collectors private museum, and seeing all these gems of art in one space. 

Lena Cobangbang
Installation View

The caption for the exhibition was “explorations on portraiture,” and a cursory view of the works really drives one to ponder this notion. With a mix of old and existing works to new and never  been shown, how does one qualify exploratory? Nona Garcia’s portraits from behind are almost synonymous to her practice. Robert Langenegger’s and Pow Martinez’s irreverent imagery are unmistakably theirs. MM Yu’s signatures have appeared several times in the past years — all welcome appearances; while Lena Cobangbang doubles, triples, heck exponentially multiplies her pet portraits. 

Gary-Ross Pastrana

Some of the most intriguing pieces included are Gary-Ross Pastrana’s postcards. While not new to his body of work, the contents of which are a made-up page from a book of art that is about himself, was strikingly amusing and clever. Nice Buenaventura’s Sine, 3D printed sculptures which are translations/transmutations of the sound of a 3D printer printing, is probably one of the most exploratory and contemporary works in the exhibition. Many of the pieces somewhat dwell in the realm of humor, and the peak of it here is Lyle Buencamino’s “Waiting for the gif of vision” which depicts a sitter for a portrait, but in this voyeuristic, metaphysical angle outside the painting, we see that the painter is painting a portrait of (perhaps) himself instead. 

Lyle Buencamino

Several artists in this batch have used portraiture prominently in their careers. An interesting plot twist, but keeping it in the same book, is Luis Antonio Santos’ deconstructed serigraphy — definitely a highlight. Costantino Zicarelli has portrayed himself in his works throughout his career, but his recent drawing series — remarkable vignettes on their own — are quite a showcase. His recreation of an inaccurate personal document is museum-worthy. Turning the humor on its head is Kawayan de Guia’s ironic self-portrait called “Less Self” — which is both revealing (with at least four depictions of himself) and cryptic (the main iteration of himself wears dark shades and a scarf covering his lower face). I would call them portraits — Alvin Zafra’s sandpaper drawings of monuments, places, and time — are distilled into a rare portrait of a person, brimming with intimacy and warmth.

Luis Antonio Santos
Costantino Zicarelli
Kawayan de Guia
Alvin Zafra

There were four video works, and while the juxtaposition made for an interesting mix, it was almost as if it were just one installation. Erwin Romulo’s audio work, poignant in its presentation, is a pleasant swish in a room of things to look at. 

Leslie de Chavez (installation view)
Zean Cabangis
Gregory Hallili

More than a portrait show as a portrait of the exhibition, it translates more as a portrait of the curator in a way. Elaine Roberto Navas is a respected artist, whose paintings impress and inspire across generations. In her landmark curation for Mo Space, many of the artists were fellow students under Robert Chabet, and a line connecting everyone to him does exist. Yes, even Robert Langenegger. One can say that all of the artists here are old friends. Even the youngest in this batch (a second batch is set to open in January), Isabel Santos — one of the daughters of Soler and Mona Santos and a veritable artist in her own right — practically grew up with Navas. 

Isabel Reyes Santos (detail)
Isabel Reyes Santos

At this point there is no conclusion to be made, but anticipation builds for the next part, set to open on January 13, 2024.