For most people, visiting museums and galleries can feel intimidating. Admittedly, even for me.
I once visited a gallery on a whim because I was in the area and thought about going in. I couldn’t find my way in figuratively and ended up more puzzled than enlightened.
I remember having a conversation with someone about a museum. It was a new concept, way ahead of its time, but the museum hasn’t caught on. If I had to give feedback, this could partly be about the atmosphere that the museum evokes. It seems that it was created to impress rather than inspire the visitors.
There was an explanation to help viewers or visitors to understand what it is trying to do. But it’s too high-browed that normal people like me have a hard time grasping the content.
I know educating the viewers is part of its responsibility, but how can it educate people when they are not inclined to even take a glimpse, or it doesn’t pique their interest simply because they could not understand the content or its purpose? There should be a balance somewhere.
Maybe it’s just me, but every time I walk inside an art gallery, I feel this certain pressure that I need to know something about arts, that I at least know what I’m looking at, or I have a little understanding of what the artist is trying to convey.
I could count the times I got so engrossed with a gallery visit, and they were mostly when a curator spent time explaining and sharing stories about the artworks and the artists with the visitors. In layman’s terms, not the highfalutin explanation they often do, so I got so much more from the artworks.
But those are rare occasions. Most of the time, I would see invigilators spend more time telling them to stop touching things or taking photos with flash rather than engaging the people.
There should be a more relaxed environment for the public to see and appreciate artworks. I find that I’m more appreciative of artworks when they are displayed in non-traditional spaces like restaurants, coffee shops, malls, and other alternative spaces where people who are not inclined to visit an art gallery can go and see art.
For new artists, alternative spaces are a good way for exposure outside legitimized institutions. For veteran artists, it gives a venue to connect with the market who would otherwise be intimidated by traditional art spaces.
Henjie Carmona, an art collector, found his connection with the art scene while having dinner at a restaurant in Makati. While waiting for their food to be served, he looked around the restaurant and an artwork caught his attention. He called the number posted with it and started a conversation with the curator, which turned out to be Jaime Ponce de Leon, the owner of Leon Gallery.
“Jaime was very engaging. He shared his knowledge of arts, telling me about art history, about the masters and artists. He recommended getting pen and ink, based on my budget at that time,” shared Carmona.
As years came by, Carmona sold his pen and ink artworks and eventually bought pieces by Vicente Manansala, Federico Alcuaz, Jose Joya, among others. He also bought Sanso, Luz, Legazpi, and other old masters, as well as new artists like Gino Bueza, Jim Paul Martin, John Paul Duray, and even John Lloyd.
“I’m not really knowledgeable when it comes to art. I’m just very visual. I’ve always been fascinated with artworks done by the masters. I’ve wanted to own one, but purchasing power was an issue back then,” shared Carmona.
After starting his condotel hospitality business in 2001, he began thinking about buying something that would make him happy. Rather than putting his money elsewhere, he decided to collect artworks.
One question usually arises when it comes to buying artworks – are you buying one for art’s sake, or for investment?
Carmona has this to say: “Appreciation is just relative. After all, it is often driven by marketing. For me, the most important thing is my connection to the artwork, to the artist. You don’t buy artworks because they appreciate. That’s a no-no because you might find yourself disappointed. It is not always a guarantee that it will appreciate or even sustain its price.”
Also, he cautioned about picking something just because someone tells you to. “It’s always good to know about arts and history. You can weigh in what art dealers or curators say about a piece. But in the end, it’s all about the connection.”
How an artwork makes him feel becomes one of the major considerations when buying it. “When I look at the painting, it has to make me happy. I’m quite partial to colors. They make me happy. I don’t like something dark. I know there are many talented artists, but if their works are too weird or too depressing, I don’t like that. I’m not putting them down, but it is just a matter of personal preference.”
Another consideration is his connection with the artist. “It’s good to know the artist personally. I talk to them. I get to pick their brains.”
Carmona likes artists who are driven by their passion and paint based on their artistic philosophies rather than make artworks that they think would make them rich. He finds a new thrill in meeting new artists.
Some of the artworks he has collected can be seen in his restaurant, Rafael’s Tapas Bar and Restaurant, located in Resorts World Manila. The restaurant is peppered with artworks – from music-inspired chandeliers to commissioned paintings and sculptures.
“Artworks create something different to a space. Artworks have a powerful vision to create a mood – happy mood for the diners. Restaurants are good venues to appreciate artworks. That’s what happened to me. I got to appreciate artworks while dining in a restaurant. I surround my restaurant with artwork because it makes me feel good, and when other people appreciate them, it’s another good feeling. And in some way, it validates me.”
When people label him as an art collector, Carmona often shies away from the term.
“I have a certain perception of an art collector, and I have met art collectors who built a house for their art collections. I’m not at that point. But I guess what drives them to collect arts is the same passion that I have. But it is just that our purchasing power is different.”
At the end of the conversation with Carmona, I realized that if we want people to appreciate arts, we have to make them accessible, whether geographically or educationally.