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How To Make The Most Of The Art Fair Weekend: A Guide By Isa Lorenzo And Rach Rillo

Every year, friends from abroad who come to visit Manila for the Art Fair Philippines weekend ask Isa Lorenzo and Rachel Rillo, the gallerists behind Silverlens, for recommendations on what else to explore in Manila outside of the fair—eager to make the most of their time in the city. Every year, the two bring out an itinerary, or at least a guide, on where best to see more art, where to wine and dine, and even party. In the process not only sharing where they themselves go and giving a glimpse of their personal taste, but also showcasing the best in what Manila has to offer. The guide, albeit in humble word file, is comprehensive—in our opinion—and divided into the city’s premiere areas. It highlights museums and arthouses, galleries, hotels, restaurants and bars, shopping places—in color codes (the ones that come with a fuchsia highlight is “Highly recommended”). In previous years, of course, they have kept this list exclusively to those who ask, but this time they gladly shared it with us at Metro Style. Whether you’re a citizen of this town or a foreigner just aching to soak in the art weekend spirit, this guide will prove enriching and satisfying. “Art visitors are very specific, and don’t have much time to do the research or explore on their own,” says Lorenzo. “This list is by no means a comprehensive one, but it is one we use to survive this crazy city we call home.”


Isa Lorenzo and Rachel Rillo


In the Manila, Lorenzo and Rillo highly recommend a visit to the National Museum of the Philippines to see Juan Luna’s most famous work, the Spoliarium, which won for the Filipino revolutionary a First Gold Medal in the Madrid Art Exposition in 1884. Equally regarded by the Silverlens couple is the Museum for Contemporary Art and Design located at the ground floor of the College of Saint Benilde’s School of Art and Design in the residential and commercial area of Pablo Ocampo Street. The museum is known for its carefully curated and thought-out exhibitions which usually involve both local and foreign contemporary artists. The current show called Flatlands is an exceptional gathering of different works from international artists who “seek out stories hidden, dismissed or forgotten,” aimed at sparking a discourse on urban environments and what we perceive as centers of power. A trip to Manila would be incomplete without swinging by the Metropolitan Museum of Art which currently hosts the 25th anniversary retrospective of Elmer Borlongan, the artist known for his devotion to the Filipino struggle, and his country’s urban and rural landscapes. A stone’s throw away from the Met is the Cultural Center of the Philippines, designed by National Artist for Architecture Leandro Locsin. A personal note from the Silverlens ladies: “This brutalist building rocks.” For more contemporary art, housed in a beautiful heritage structure, a jeepney ride to Ermita’s 1335 Mabini is advised, as well as a visit to Calle Wright, the new modest art house ran by Lorenzo and Rillo on Vasquez Street.


The Spolarium


Cultural Center of the Philippines



1335 Mabini


Gary Pastrana's artwork at Calle Wright


To have a taste of the city’s “old school compound life,” a stay at the Henry Hotel Manila is recommended. The boutique hotel is comprised of a series of 1950s era houses outfitted with modern amenities—and beautified by midcentury furniture and touches by premiere tastemaker Eric Paras who runs the A11 furniture and design shop within the compound. Paras, who occasionally hosts pop-up cultural and design events in his shop and atelier, also designs and sells furniture and home accessories both modern and nostalgic. Within the enclave one can also find the Avellana Art Gallery which showcases works by local artists, and Apartment 1B which offers top-rate all-day dining choices.


The Henry Manila's very own White House


Avellana Art Gallery


In the business district that is Makati, location of the now six-year old Art Fair Philippines since its inception, Ayala Museum is the most accessible when it comes to contemporary art. The institution also houses permanent exhibitions of archaeological artifacts that include Philippine textiles, ceramics from Southeast Asia and China, and crafted gold from the country’s pre-colonial past. Close to the Art Fair venue are two reputable hotels: Fairmont and the Makati Shangri-la. Across Ayala Avenue, sits the legendary Peninsula Manila, perhaps the most admired hotel in the country, its lobby the beating heart of upscale Makati. Being a center of the upwardly mobile lifestyle, Makati is brimming with excellent dining choices: from brunch central Wildflour to fine dining icon Sala restaurant. For the best in local flavor, Rural Kitchen of Liliw Laguna serves some prime examples of “not so heavy” Filipino dishes, as do Milky Way in Arnaiz Avenue. For Thai food, People’s Palace is a dependable choice; for Spanish, there’s El Cirkulo just beside Milky Way; and for a touch of Singaporean cuisine, Esteban Street boasts Your Local.


Rural Kitchen


Along the stretch of Pasong Tamo and Pasong Tamo Extension thrives a vibrant art, food and shopping strip. The La Fuerza Compound is home to an institution in the art scene, Finale Art File, and three other newer galleries: Archivo, Vinyl on Vinyl and J Studio. For clubbing, there is 20/20 which hosts performances and dance-a-thons for the city’s creative youngsters and hip-to-what’s-new professionals. Silverlens, of course, is here, offering contemporary art inside an impressive architectural setting. A short walk would bring one to a favorite ribs hangout called Smoking Joint just outside the Green Sun Building, and the popular Pancake House, which serves waffles and pancakes and some of the tastiest fried chicken in town. The relatively new Kazunori (just beside a car showroom) offers contemporary Japanese fare. A favorite among wine connoisseurs, Txanton at Alegria Alta has a commendable selection of fine wines, and a host of tapas to fill the tummy. Down the road is a hub called Karrivin Plaza which just opened a new art space called Artinformal, adding to the three other galleries in this breezy compound: Art Cube, Drawing Room and Bellas Artes Projects. Apart from art, Karrivin offers home and fashion shopping (Lanai), artist-made objects (Aphro), and food—one can have Filipino lunch at Mess Hall (open only until 5pm), dinner at Toyo which offers an imaginative take on Filipino food, and an afternoon snack at the newly opened specialty bread shop, Panaderya Toyo.

Finale File Art

Artworks at the UNNATURAL 3 exhibit, curated by Norlie Meimban




Still in Makati, Lorenzo and Rillo highly recommend a visit to the swinging neighborhood that is Poblacion, with its host of bars and restaurants attached to a distinctly Manila residential neighborhood and an always energetic red-light strip. For a more relaxed setting, cocktails come with an impressive selection of vinyl records to choose from at the bar called 78-53-86 which is run by the audiophile and gallerist Jay Amante of Blanc.

In the BGC area, the couple advise a visit to Mo_Space, a gallery in Bonifacio High Street which features a two-man show by Kawayan de Guia and Louie Cordero opening this weekend (February 24). For after-show drinks, the Bank Bar is a wise choice, or for a quieter atmosphere, Lit, the whisky bar at Serendra run by a Japanese bartender, is a good place to just sit back and enjoy a drink.

Bank Bar’s dizzying array of alcoholic drinks


Down north, there are three galleries worth making a trip to: Blanc in Katipunan Avenue, West Gallery and Artinformal in Greenhills. The Ateneo Art Gallery just opened a new building called Arete which currently showcases the much raved about “That 70s Show,” a gathering of artworks from 70s Manila. A short ride away is the University of the Philippines, home to the Jorge B. Vargas Museum. If one gets hungry from all the art-watching, Nono’s at the off-campus U.P. Town Center offers comfort food done right.



West Gallery exhibit in Quezon City 


Jorge Vargas Museum


Finally, Lorenzo and Rillo offer a very smart advice at the bottom of the guide. To best navigate the traffic in the metropolis and make an efficient use of one’s time, best to rent a car and driver. “Or Uber works, too, if you can wait,” the guide says. “Traffic is bad, so plan your activities around just one area per day.”