Becoming An Art World Insider at ALT Philippines 2024

What comes to mind when you hear the term “art world?” 

You might think of exhibit openings with gallerinas running around and greeting guests. Or, perhaps you conjure up paintings and sculptures that fetch millions and millions of pesos at auction. Or, you may envision an exclusive group of tastemakers — draped in all-black garb— who make decisions behind closed doors. 

The thing is, the definition of the “art world” — and what it means to be a part of it — eludes even its most tenured insiders. The art world’s culture and practices change with trends, innovation, and market demands. Consequently, who gets to be called an art world insider, or an outsider, is also up for debate. So, how could you enter this world?

ALT Philippines 2024, a group show at the SMX Convention Center, offers a gateway into the Manila art scene. ALT (pronounced, “alt,” like “alternative”) debuted in 2020, returned for its sophomore year in 2021, and is now on its third run.  Held on February 27 - 29, 2024, this show stands in contrast to another February art event, Art Fair Philippines 2024. While Art Fair features over 55 exhibitors, ALT maintains a smaller selection with nine exhibiting galleries: ArtInformal, Blanc, The Drawing Room, Galleria Duemila, Finale Art File, MO_Space, Underground, Vinyl On Vinyl, and West Gallery.

LEFT: One of the walls at MO_Space’s booth, near the entrance of the show.
RIGHT: A painstakingly curated wall at the Blanc Gallery booth.

Reframing the Exhibit Space

Don’t let the smaller line-up fool you. Instead of answering an open call, ALT’s galleries co-produced the entire experience. Each moment, each detail here felt intentional. 

The more intimate selection  frees up more space and allows visitors to enjoy their time with the artwork. The space design, a collaboration between the nine galleries and B+C Design, follows a circular pattern. Gallery booths surround the perimeter of the SMX Convention Center room. In the middle of the space is a cafe where organizers, exhibitors, and guests can convene after browsing through the works. 

Walking through SMX feels like meandering through a sculpture garden, as opposed to ticking off a to-do list at a guided museum tour. Through the intentional exhibit design, ALT offers visitors the luxury of time and space to sit with, rather than merely look at, the artworks. 

A café stands in the center of ALT, which lets visitors hit two birds with one stone. Enjoy some snacks while appreciating the art.

Beyond the white gallery walls, this initiative hosts a handful of special projects and large-scale installations. The organizers tapped into artists Geraldine Javier, Pete Jimenez, Juan Alcazaren, Oca Villamiel, and Isabel Santos for five art installations. Villamiel’s installation, “Water Is Life,” greets visitors at the show’s entrance. The work, which resembles a metallic pond, acts as a metaphorical oasis, beckoning visitors into the room. 

LEFT: Oca Villiamiel’s “Water Is Life” as seen from the entrance.
RIGHT: “Water Is Life” up close.

Jimenez’s “A City Set On A Hill Cannot be Hidden” and Alcazaren’s “NOW” both use found materials and reinforce themes of familiarity and closeness. Javier’s “Catch of the Day” feels both meditative and grand, holding visitors to a moment of pause. Instead of a realized installation, Santos live paints a mural on-site, letting visitors into her artistic process. Together, these encompassing installations invite visitors to interact more closely and unconventionally with the artwork.

Juan Alcazaren’s “NOW” uses found materials arranged as dishes to explore domesticity.

Finding Alternatives In Fashion

The organizers also explore ways of experiencing art, outside of the typical exhibit constraints. ALT partnered with Manila-based luxury retailer UNIVERS to auction one-of-a-kind Moreau Paris bags. Each tote bag features a design by one of the following artists, selected by the featured galleries: Constantino Zicarelli, Jigger Cruz, Johanna Helmuth, Luis Antonio Santos, Raffy T. Napay, and Yeo Kaa. The proceeds of the auction will go to Action for The Care And Development of Poor in the Philippines (ACAP), which runs education, health, and social development programs.

The ALT x UNIVERS collaboration.

The art and fashion industries are no strangers to each other. Luxury fashion houses often work with artists, such as Louis Vuitton working with Takashi Murakami and Yayoi Kusama. Yet, the collaboration with UNIVERS sets itself apart by having the artists paint, print, and draw on the bags. The bags morph into artworks themselves, rather than bags with art as prints. Artwork as apparel puts a spin on the practice of not touching the artwork. Through this collaboration, ALT shows visitors a fresh take on how — and where — one can appreciate art. 

Having Real Conversations

ALT showcases numerous ways to get into and interact with art, from conventional exhibits to experimental installations. But, its greatest differentiator from similar Manila-based art events is how it organizes its discussion series, CONVERSATIONS. 

The show eschews the conventional lecture format in favor of a more casual set-up. Panelists sit on couches, while the audience sits on stools, beanies, and rugs. Moderators also source questions and responses from the audience throughout the talks. These panel discussions feel more like conversations with friends rather than sermons atop ivory towers. 

LEFT: The roundtable discussion for “The Evolving Definition of Outsider Art.”
RIGHT: Jose Tence Ruiz after recounting his early experiences as an artist.

The series of eight talks over three days appropriately kicks off with “The Evolving Definition of Outsider Art.” Moderated by Dr. Jonathan Gander, a professor at LASALLE College of the Arts, this discussion features artists Jose Tence "Bogie" Ruiz, Argie Bandoy, Gerardo Tan, Gabe Naguiat, and Bjorn Calleja. In this talk, the question of what it means to be an outsider — and, hence an insider — emerged. The panelists explored the effects of social media on artists and the importance of geography when building a network. They even asked the organizing gallerists to discuss the criteria for selecting artists to spotlight this year. 

This spirit of critique continues into the succeeding talks. “Role of the Gallery in the Art Ecosystem” features the aforementioned gallerists: Manny de Castro, Silvana Ancelloti-Diaz, Tina Fernandez, Sylvia Gascon, Mawen Ong, Pia Reyes, Soler Santos, Evita Sarenas, and Cesar Jun Villalon. “Break Down the Walls! How Street Art Has Seeped into the Mainstream” reinforces themes of working on the fringes that “The Evolving Definition of Outsider Art” introduces. “Female Artists as Risk Takers” spotlights women artists working in the Philippines and the challenges they face in their practices. 

Through CONVERSATIONS, ALT cements itself as subversively self-aware. CONVERSATIONS offers visitors the time and space to question what it means to mount an art show. Consequently, discussions on curation touch on the power dynamics that come into play when deciding whose work hangs on those white walls. 

Being An Insider

ALT delivers an opinionated show on what it means to exist within the art world. The space design, special projects, and collaboration with UNIVERS gives everyone — from art world regulars to first-time visitors — entry points to connect their interests with art. CONVERSATIONS invites visitors to listen in and partake in tricky topics about what it means to be in. Being an insider doesn’t necessarily involve gatekeeping. It means being hyperaware of the places, people, and conversations around you. 

On your way out, a wall with all of the exhibited artists’ names stands in the corner. Don’t forget to pause before it. Take a photo, or commit those names to memory. You’ll probably be seeing them, along with some new additions, soon enough. You’re in now.

All of the exhibiting artists’ names on one wall.

Madeleine is a designer and writer based in Manila.


All photographs are by the author.