Manila essence: your guide to city's contemporary art scene

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 March, 2015, 10:52pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 March, 2015, 10:52pm

Manila has one of Asia's most energetic contemporary art scenes. Galleries, interior design shops and museums are spread across the city. The notorious traffic may be daunting, but with a little planning, it is easy to take in the art hubs of Makati, Quezon City and the historic district of Malate.

Street style

Manila's roads offer a moving art gallery — the ubiquitous jeepneys — and an introduction to themes often seen in Manila's art galleries. These elongated low-slung buses, originally made from US military jeeps, are decorated with colourful vinyl decals for protection and good luck — the baby Jesus (Santo Niño) and Virgin Mary predominate, as do colourful Japanese/Philippine manga-styled characters. A recent book Biyaheng Langit — Jeepney Folk Art introduces leading artist Mark Justiniani, whose art of social commentary often replicates the jeepney aesthetic.

Green spaces

The country's premier Art Fair Philippines ( is held every February in Makati, Manila's business district. The same organisers also run the annual Art in the Park ( This affordable art fair, held in quiet Jaime Velasquez Park in Salcedo village is also a charity fundraiser for the National Art Gallery ( Manila's leading galleries, artist groups and decorative galleries exhibit in tents. The next Art in the Park is on March 22, and no artwork costs more than 30,000 pesos (HK$5,300).

The respected Ayala Museum ( next to Makati's Greenbelt shopping area, shows contemporary and historical art exhibitions. Currently on view is a retrospective of modernist Cesar Legaspi, whose work explored cubism to neo-realism with a depiction of the national psyche. The museum's three-dimensional dioramas give an overview of Philippine history.

Industrial chic

On the outskirts of Makati is a strip of large industrial buildings on Chino Roces Avenue (aka Pasong Tamo) housing some of Manila's leading contemporary galleries.

Finale Art File ( has long supported young artists. It held a recent retrospective of the artists' collective "Surrounded by Water", whose various incarnations and spaces around suburban Quezon City, near the University of the Philippines' art school, have been a springboard for many artists. Forthcoming exhibitions include M.M. Yu (from April 2) and Geraldine Javier (from May 4). Finale is also showing Annie Cabigting at Art Central in Hong Kong (March 14 to 16).

Further along Chino Roces is Art Basel Hong Kong regular Silverlens Galleries ( It specialises in photography and contemporary art, including Gabriel Barredo's intricate kinetic sculptures and the photography of Frank Callaghan.

A new gallery in the area, Vinyl on Vinyl ( specialises in emerging artists. Also in Makati are the established The Drawing Room ( and Tin-aw Gallery (

Touch base

Adjacent to Makati is Bonifacio Global City (, a former army base developed as a residential-retail complex. Its outdoor, green and car-free "main street" has alfresco dining and sculptures. Mo Space ( showcases young Philippine artists and curated exhibitions from mid-career artists. Upcoming shows include Kawayan de Guia in May, video artist Vic Balanon (July) and the popular Louie Cordero (December), whose work is often inspired by cartoons. His Meta series, an homage to American artist Philip Guston, was a standout display at this year's art fair.

The owners also have the franchise for leading Italian furniture and design objects ( The well-stocked Fully Booked has inside its bookshop a branch of Comic Odyssey ( with a huge selection of overseas and local vintage and current cartoon magazines and graphic books. Nearby, Pablo Gallery ( shows some of the funkiest, grungiest artists in Manila. Jayson Oliviera is one of the favourites.

Arty old town

In the older parts of Manila a swathe of museums runs through Pasay, Malate and Ermita. The Metropolitan Museum of Manila ( the Cultural Centre of the Philippines ( and the National Art Gallery are all here. The new Museum of Contemporary Art and Design ( is the Philippines' first international-style contemporary art space housed within De La Salle University. The current exhibition by Paul Pfeiffer has been shown in Sydney and New York; his Vitruvian Figure exhibition, on display until April 16, is a must-see. Other venues include Galleria Duemila ( in Pasay and 1335 Mabini ( in Malate.

Mall the merrier

A former shoe-shop arcade, Cubao Expo lies behind Araneta Centre in Quezon City. It has relaxing bars, restaurants and second-hand shops. The best is Uvla (Unique Vintage & Lost Art) run by young artist Eva Yu, whose own ink drawings can be found amid an eclectic selection of retro toys and objects.

Post is an outpost of the Pablo Gallery, holding regular exhibitions, talks and video screenings. Nearby, Blanc ( and West Gallery ( are leading supporters of contemporary art projects.

Previously housing many galleries, SM Megamall in Mandaluyong, and its fourth-floor Artwalk, generally now offers kitschy, decorative art. However, the mall still has a huge selection of furniture and interior design shops.