A chance meeting one sunny Saturday afternoon in 1968 at the now defunct Taza de Oro (literally translated “Golden Cup”) along Dewey Boulevard (now Roxas Boulevard) in Malate, as the story goes, has led to 2,500 Saturdays more of friendship and camaraderie in art for what we know today as the country’s premier group of artists, the Saturday Group.
This enduring bond is honored in a special commemorative exhibit, entitled “Saturday Group Gold: Celebrating 50 Years in Art,” which features 112 artworks by more than 100 artists, including those from the group’s 31 current members, at the Bulwagang Juan Luna (Main Gallery) of the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
Exhibition curator Ricky Francisco, through the support of the CCP Visual Arts and Museum Division and Filipino Heritage Festival, Inc., also brought in 40 pieces from the CCP visual arts collection, including “rarely seen” works of eight Saturday Group members who became National Artists for Painting or Visual Arts.
These include founding leaders Hernando R. Ocampo and Cesar F. Legaspi, Vicente S. Manansala, Arturo R. Luz, Ang Kiukok, Jose T. Joya, Benedicto R. Cabrera, and Federico Aguilar Alcuaz. The work of its ninth National Artist member, Carlos “Botong” Francisco, came from a private collection.
More than 250 accomplished artists and art lovers became part of the Saturday Group over the past five decades, lending prestige to the group for having “the largest number of established and respected artists in its roster,” according to Francisco.
“In the exhibition, the artists are grouped according to who was the leader during their membership, which begins from the founding members under the group’s first recognized leader, H.R. Ocampo,” the curator explained.
Succeeding heads were Cesar Legaspi, Onib Olmedo, Mauro Malang Santos, Cris Cruz, Buds Convocar, Anna de Leon, Migs Villanueva, and Omi Reyes.
CCP Visual Arts and Museum Division officer-in-charge Rica Estrada said visitors to the exhibition will be given the opportunity to learn about the Saturday Group’s history and numerous accomplishments through archival materials, including photos of get-togethers, projects, exhibits, and news clippings about its activities.
The exhibition opened with nude sketching session led by Australia-based Alfredo “Ding” Roces, one of the group’s four founders, and interaction painting (artworks made by two or more artists) of both past and current members—two traditions that the group introduced to the country’s art scene in 1968 and 1971, respectively.
Nine artists participated in the nude sketching session inside the main gallery: Hermes Alegre, Dante Castillo, Allan Cosio, Ivi Cosio, Gig de Pio, Carlos Gabuco, Roel Obemio, and Franklin Caña Valencia.
Saturday Group president Omi Reyes said the exhibition served as a big reunion of sorts of former and present members whose sense of camaraderie was sealed primarily by doing art together.
“We aren’t just an organization, we are a family,” he said, as members were reunited at the exhibition “just like a family reunion.”
The old did mix with the new when Roces reminisced on the group’s early days.
“We did not have a formal structure. We had no officers. Everyone was equal. Everyone was welcome, non-artists included. After all, Attorney Tony Quintos and businessman Enrique Velasquez, both original founders, were not artists. Gallery owners, writers, art patrons, students, ‘osiosos,’ plus an old lady peddling art supplies were all part of the group. The rule was, if you showed up twice at the Taza de Oro gathering, you were considered a member.”
He also congratulated the group “for carrying the torch that extra mile forward” and thanked the CCP “on behalf of the original members for giving the Saturday Group a place in the nation’s art biography.”
Viewing the exhibition, Roces was left awed by the “bountifully overwhelming” activity of contemporary art in the country.
“Reuniting with the works of old friends and seeing new expressions of the contemporary Saturday Group, I am touched by nostalgia and joy,” he said. “Once again, I glimpse the familiar artwork and styles of old companions, some now in that glorious studio in the sky, and I greet them as of old—Nanding Ocampo, Cesar Legaspi, Joe Joya, Onib Olmedo, Galo Ocampo, and so many others.”
The Saturday Group was eventually formalized when it was officially registered at the Security and Exchange Commission in 2017. Its own gallery at Shangri-La Plaza in Mandaluyong City also opened middle of last year.
Reyes said the group continues to help young artists through its scholarship program, collaborate with entities like Gawad Kalinga for its social projects, and raise funds for various institutions such as the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital and Cid Reyes Foundation.
Present members include former presidents Buds Convocar, Anna de Leon, and Migs Villanueva, Roel Obemio, Salvador Ching, Aner Sebastian, Francis Nacion, Jaime Gubaton, Gerrico Blanco, Carlo Ongchangco, Eman Santos, Anthony Palo, Danny Pangan, Robert Deniega, Ronnie Bercero, Joy Rojas, Lydia Velasco, Franklin Caña, Hermes Alegre, Ding Hidalgo, Rudy Roma Lunod, Inna Naanep Vitasa, Tessie Picaña, Rose Gisbert, Nida Cranbourne, Sheila Tiangco, Joseph Villamar, Ysa Gernale, Daisy Carlos and Helena Alegre.
Today’s Saturday Group looks back with gratitude as it drinks from the “golden cup” prepared by its founders and former members over the years, and looks forward to more Saturdays—always on Saturdays—that contribute to a flourishing contemporary art scene in the country.
“Saturday Group Gold: Celebrating 50 Years in Art” is on view until May 6, Tuesday to Sunday, from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Call the CCP Visual Arts and Museum Division at (02) 832-1125 local 1504 or 1505, 832-3702, 0917-6033809, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org for inquiries and more information.