Subjective Iconographies

Ronald Ventura at Art Fair Philippines 2014

“Battle Field” (2010), note that this is not exhibited at the Art Fair, but should give a good idea of what you can expect from Ventura’s installation on the 7th floor

Having grown up in flood-prone Malabon, Ronald Ventura is no stranger to the disaster-susceptible landscape of Metro Manila, which often figures into his creations not as any recognizable setting, but as an overall mood. His belief in Filipino resilience in the face of adversity is translated into the layered, complex visual language of his works.

After graduating from the studio arts and painting program of the University of Sto. Tomas, he then taught for nine years with the Fine Arts faculty. As a student, he went from winning competitions to subsidize his education to the speculative exercise of competing in the booming market for fine art.

He was a finalist in the Taiwan International Biennial Print and Drawing Competition in 1999 and also won first place in the Lithograph Competition of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. Later, Ventura was named among the CCP Thirteen Artists in 2003 and a winner of the Ateneo Art Awards in 2005. He has exhibited at the National University of Singapore Museum, Institute of Contemporary Arts in Singapore, Akili Museum of Art in Indonesia, and the Institut Valencià d Art Modern in Spain, where he participated in the 2011 landmark survey, Surreal vs. Surrealism in Contemporary Art. He has sold out shows at the Primo Marella Gallery in Milan and Tyler Rollins Fine Art in New York, among others, and has also shown work at the Prague and Nanjing biennales.

Through a combination of timing, hard work, and technical virtuosity, Ventura has carved out an impenetrable spot for himself in contemporary Filipino art and is among its greatest commercial success stories. In Ventura’s work and in the reputation it has earned him, we are able to observe the trappings of accelerationism in contemporary art production: wherein his success on the auction block is rarely paralleled, while his techniques and aesthetic remain resolutely traditional.

A Ventura piece often combines conventional brushstrokes, airbrush, and pen and ink into large-scale photorealistic compositions. Drawing directly from his imagination, a Ventura canvas is typically made up of icons from popular culture recontextualized into the experiences of the Filipino everyman. For his sculptural pieces, he often juxtaposes high-gloss surfaces with abrasive ones in a single installation.

Known for appropriating imagery from Philippine history and ethnography, he turns inward for his contribution to this year’s Art Fair Philippines by transplanting the stuff of dreams into the white cube. In the large scale fiberglass installation he has prepared for Art Fair Philippines, Ventura employs his now familiar hyperchromatic sweep over an anachromatic ground.

Using elements that have become something of his trademark, Ventura displays an awareness of the subjectivity of the iconic in a rapidly globalizing environment. Elements from past works—the masked character, the rainbow, and the combination of inky blacks and murky greys, reminiscent of the oil slicks and floodwater that characterize the Metropolis he grew up in—all figure into this space he invites us into, a space in which we learn that even a dream must carry the weight of a cautionary tale.

This is from the catalog notes I wrote for Art Fair Philippines 2014, which opens today and will run until Sunday, the 23rd on the 6th and 7th floors of The Link, on the corner of Ayala and Makati Ave (across Greenbelt 4/Ayala Museum and beside Landmark).

Tickets are available at the venue. Entrance is 150, discounted to 50 Php for students (just bring an ID). While you’re there, might as well make the most of the weekend and check out Ai Weiwei’s Baby Formula which should open on February 22 at the Ayala Museum, along with Elmer Borlongan’s solo.

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