Contemporary art in Manila: Art Radar guide

An Art Radar guide to the vibrant contemporary artscape in Manila.

In our latest City Art Guide, we look at Manila, the capital and second largest city in the Philippines. This guide covers must-visit sites as well as alternative spots that will give you a good dose of Filipino contemporary art.

The live tattoo session component of Big Bad Wolf’s ‘Inked’, 2013. Image courtesy Nike Amistoso.

The live tattoo session component of Big Bad Wolf’s ‘Inked’, 2013. Image courtesy Nike Amistoso.

Consisting of strong Malay and Chinese influences, as well as those of Spanish and American colonisation and the effect of American globalisation, Manila has developed into Southeast Asia’s most progressive art hub. The city is paving its way to becoming an international art destination.

Currently, many old buildings are being turned into galleries and alternative spaces. Filipino artists are increasingly participating and being included in international art fairs, auctions and biennales, with contemporary pieces being acquired by key collectors and museums all over the world. Filipino artists are also often invited to residency programs abroad, and conversely many foreign artists visit and complete residencies in Manila with growing frequency.

However, with all of these developments, Manila’s contemporary art scene is far from its peak or exhaustion. Revisions and improvements are clearly needed – and fortunately, individuals from the local and international art scene, the government, the corporate community and the general public are tirelessly responding to this demand.

Individuals from various fields gather around Kanto Artist-run Space. Image courtesy of Kanto.

Individuals from various fields gather around Kanto Artist-run Space. Image courtesy Kanto.

This makes the art scene in Manila – contrary to all the stereotypes of it being decadent, inspiring, chaotic and laidback – worth touring and revisiting several times. Art Radar reveals when it’s best to mark your calendars, how to efficiently navigate the city and gives suggestions for several prestigious and down-to-earth art venues that would help you make the most of Manila’s established yet flourishing art scene.

When to visit

Weather-wise, the ideal times to visit Manila are during its cool-dry season (December to February) and its hot-dry season (March to May). However, the months of June to November are fine too, for most galleries and art spaces change their content fortnightly or monthly. Since the art scene is constantly shifting, you are bound to catch worthwhile exhibitions at any time of the year.

The country’s largest contemporary art fair, Art Fair Philippines, happens in February. This weekend event brings the country’s best galleries together so that art may be more appreciated, understood and accessed by the public. For the past two years, this visual feast was held at the car park of Ayala Center’s The Link in Makati City, and in 2014, twenty-eight galleries from the country and Southeast Asia participated in this event.

Another visual feast (and a feast for the pocket) is Art in the Park. Usually held in March, the country’s most popular affordable art fair gives people the chance to purchase sculptures, paintings, prints, photographs and new media for USD667 and below. The main objectives of this event are to raise funds for the operations of the Museum Foundation of the Philippines and to encourage the younger generations to start collecting art. Art in the Park has been around since 2006, and it takes place in Jaime Velasquez Park, Makati City.

How to get around

Many outsiders have claimed that Manila is difficult to navigate due to the number of vehicles on the road, inefficient traffic rules and poor urban planning. This shouldn’t be a discouragement though as the locals, being generally hospitable and fluent in English, can help you find your way.

Regarding public transportation, trains, buses, jeepneys, cabs and tricycles are available all around Manila. These become scarce or difficult to grab during the rainy season. For rainy days, it’s best to opt for car rentals.

Trains and jeepneys are popular choices for gallery hopping due to their affordability. When commuting, wear comfortable footwear as a number of art venues require an 8-15 minute walk from the closest terminal.

Art Radar MNL03

Jon Cuyson, ‘Untitled (Your Faces Are Cymbals That Never Strike Each Other But Glide in Silence Over Each Other’s Waters)’ from a solo exhibition entitled ‘Kerel’ at 1335 Mabini, 2013. Image courtesy 1335 Mabini.

Where to see contemporary art in Manila


  • Ayala Museum – Known for their permanent exhibits that explore the country’s history, art and culture, the privately run museum also conducts retrospective exhibitions of local artists and contemporary art. Address: Makati Avenue corner De La Rosa Street, Greenbelt Park, Makati City.
  • Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) Museo ng Sining – Often taken for granted, this museum, inaugurated in 1996, pays respect to the creative endeavours of the nation. It has a visual art collection of work from the colonial period to the present and holds exhibitions and other art-related activities that highlight the significance of art in everyday life. Address: Government Service Insurance System Building, Financial Center, Pasay City.
  • Lopez Memorial Museum and Library – Dubbed as a haven for scholarly research, this museum allows access to Don Eugenio Lopez’s personal collection of rare Filipiniana books, letters, maps, archaeological artefacts and fine art. Included in their fine art collection are paintings by Filipino masters Juan Luna and Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, by national artists such as Fernando Amorsolo, Botong Francisco, Vicente Manansala and other known artists such as Fernando Zobel and Romeo Tabuena. Address: Ground Floor, Benpres Building, Exchange Road, Pasig City.
  • Metropolitan Museum of Manila – Early in 2013, this prestigious institution revealed that it would be taking a new strategic direction, which is to become a world-class home for local and foreign contemporary art. Their permanent exhibition entitled “The Philippine Contemporary: Scaling the Past and the Possible”, serves as a great introduction for those who wish to familiarise themselves with the country’s dynamic contemporary art scene. Through varied art forms, this show reveals art movements, socio-political events and figures that have influenced or contributed to the growth of Philippine Contemporary Art. Address: Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Complex, Roxas Boulevard, Manila.
  • National Museum – Being the institution that preserves and protects the cultural treasures of the archipelago, the National Museum has a vast collection of sketches, paintings, sculptures and mixed media artworks from the 18th century onwards. Address: Padre Burgos Drive, City of Manila.
  • Yuchengco Museum – Since 2005, this museum has been mounting and establishing exhibitions and programs that are concerned with bridging cultures, cultural development, design as art and vice versa, as well as Sino-Filipino works. Many know it as the venue to learn Chinese painting. Address: RCBC Plaza Corner Ayala and Sen. Gil Puyat Avenues, Makati City.
Metropolitan Museum of Manila’s Philippine Contemporary Art Gallery “Directions” section (2013). Image courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Manila.

Metropolitan Museum of Manila’s Philippine Contemporary Art Gallery “Directions” section, 2013. Image courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Manila.

Cultural centres

  • Alliance Francaise de Manille – Every now and then, contemporary art exhibitions are held in this cultural centre so as to promote French culture, diversity and intercultural awareness. Address: 209 Nicanor Garcia Street, Bel-Air II, Makati City.
  • Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) – Established in 1996 to promote various forms of art in the country, CCP has become a major tourist attraction. Its Visual Arts and Museum Division is particularly impressive. Aside from actively coming up with exhibitions, workshops and lectures, it also presents non-conventional projects ranging from multi-media collaborations and installations to performance art and other experimental forms. Address: CCP Complex, Roxas Boulevard, Pasay City.
  • Korean Cultural Center in the Philippines – Watch out for their flagship project, the Philippine-Korean Contemporary Art Exchange Exhibition. Held annually, the works of prominent Korean and Filipino artists are showcased here, revealing the current state of the arts in the two countries, as well as the socio-political issues and trends that fuel their artists. Address: 2nd Floor MANCOR Corporate Building, 32nd Street, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig.
Korean artist Joo Dae-hee’s ‘Please’ was part of the 2014 Philippine-Korean Contemporary Art Exchange Exhibition held at the Korean Cultural Center in the Philippines. Image courtesy the writer.

Korean artist Joo Dae-hee’s ‘Please’ was part of the 2014 Philippine-Korean Contemporary Art Exchange Exhibition held at the Korean Cultural Center in the Philippines. Image courtesy Javelyn Ramos.

Galleries (a selection)

  • 1335 Mabini – This colonial building turned art venue defines itself as a gallery for contemporary art and an alternative space. Apart from bringing in works by foreign artists, 1335 Mabini also represents today’s successful Filipino artists, namely Catalina Africa, Poklong Anading, Kiri Dalena and Jeona Zoleta. Address: 1335 Mabini Street, Ermita, Manila.
  • Altro Mondo – Its main venue, located at the Greenbelt 5 mall in Makati, attracts plenty of corporate traffic, making it a great place to show works by seasoned local and international artists. Some big names it has brought in are Gines Serran-Pagan and Alexander Charriol. Address: 3rd Level, Greenbelt 5, Ayala Center, Makati City.
  • ArtInformal – Described by many as the “least intimidating gallery”, ArtInformal highlights works by leading local artists. Address: 277 Connecticut St. Greenhills East, Mandaluyong City.
  • Blanc Gallery – From managing three spaces to merging into a single one, this gallery has been showcasing contemporary works by established and emerging local artists since 2006. Address: 145 Katipunan Avenue, St. Ignatius Village, Quezon City.
  • Cevio Art Haus – Launched late 2013, this gallery has been supporting young, up-and-coming local talents, as well as artists that have been overlooked or forgotten by the Filipino public. Street art can also be found here. Address: 60 San Isidro Street, Barangay Kapitolyo, Pasig City.
  • Finale Art File – This gallery has been around since the 1980s, and is considered to be a pillar of the country’s art scene. Now occupying an area of 450sq meters, Finale Art File is able to show gigantic pieces, including highly experimental ones, helping push art boundaries and welcome new forms. Address: Warehouse 17, La Fuerza Compound, 2241 Chino Roces Avenue, Makati City.
  • Galleria Duemila – Another pillar of the country’s art scene, this is the longest running commercial gallery in the Philippines. Instituted by Italian-born Silvana Ancelloti-Diaz, Galleria Duemila’s artistic content starts at its gate – which was designed by Australian artist Tony Twigg – and continues in its sculpture-filled garden and gallery that highlights various contemporary works. Address: 210 Loring Street, Pasay City.
  • Mo_. – Since late 2007, this gallery has been featuring the most dynamic contemporary artists, eliminating boundaries and highlighting artist-driven projects over market-driven ones. Address: 3rd Level, Mos Design Building, Bonifacio High Street, Bonifacio Global City, Fort Taguig, Metro Manila, Philippines.
Title Wall of Mo_’s ‘Do You Believe in Angels?’, 2014. Curated by Tony Godfrey. Image courtesy Roma Pilar.

Title Wall of Mo_’s ‘Do You Believe in Angels?’, 2014. Curated by Tony Godfrey. Image courtesy Roma Pilar.

  • Pablo Gallery – Dedicated to featuring contemporary art, this gallery works with accomplished artists as well as younger artists that deserve more recognition. Address: C-11 South of Market; Bonifacio Global City, Taguig 1634
  • Silverlens Gallery – Popular for having high standards when it comes to photography. It is, in fact, the only gallery in the country that specialises in photography, but Silverlens also hosts painting exhibitions. Address: 2/F YMC Building, Chino Roces Avenue Extension, Makati City
  • The Drawing Room – A must-see for those who are fond of drawings and prints. This gallery, which began in 1997, is devoted to exhibiting works on paper. Address: 1007 Metropolitan Avenue, Metrostar Building, Makati City.
  • Tin-Aw Gallery – Apart from highlighting Filipino and Asian contemporary art which is engaging and provoking, Tin-aw has supported known artists Alfredo Esquillo Jr., Joy Mallari, Mark Justiniani and Ferdie Montemayor through its arts management programme. The gallery has been around since 2008. Address: Upper Ground Floor Somerset Olympia Building, Makati Avenue, Makati City.
  • West Gallery – Owned by artist Soler Santos, this gallery has been around since the 1980s. It often features paintings and other works by established Filipino artists. After looking at the exhibitions, visit the video/hobby store below the gallery. Video 48 sells Filipino movies that are normally difficult to access. Address: 48 West Avenue, 1104 Quezon City.
Partial installation view of Marc Gaba’s solo exhibition ‘Click: Paintings’ at Altro Mondo, 2014. Image courtesy the writer.

Partial installation view of Marc Gaba’s solo exhibition ‘Click: Paintings’ at Altro Mondo, 2014. Image courtesy Javelyn Ramos.

Art on campuses

  • UP Vargas Museum – Located inside the country’s top university whose fine arts programme has produced the best talents of the country, this multi-level museum features modern and contemporary art. Major solo and group exhibitions of contemporary artists are held in its West Wing. UP Vargas Museum also has a bookshop, a café and space for community arts programmes and workshops. Large groups are required to schedule their visit 48 hours beforehand. Address: University of the Philippines, 1101 Diliman, Quezon City.
  • Ateneo Art Gallery – Though a museum of modern art, it is only proper that Ateneo Art Gallery be a part of this list. Other than thematic exhibitions and programmes that feature works from its permanent collection, the country’s first museum of modern art greatly supports contemporary art through its Ateneo Art Awards. Launched in 2004, this is the most prestigious award for young visual artists, and has been aiding the next generation of Filipino artists for the past ten years. Address: 2nd Level Rizal Library Special Collections Building, Ateneo de Manila University, Katipunan Avenue, Loyola Heights, Quezon City.
  • Museum of Contemporary Art and Design – Housed inside a design school, the museum mounts out-of-the-box shows that help develop its student-artists. Inaugurated in 2008, it showcases works that are related to technology and new media. Address: Ground Floor DLS-CSB SDA Campus, 950 P. Ocampo St., Malate, Manila, Philippines
The facade of the Ayala Museum located in Makati City.  Image courtesy Ayala Museum.

The facade of the Ayala Museum located in Makati City. Image courtesy Ayala Museum.

Artist-Run Spaces

  • 98B – Founded by independent curator Mayumi Hirano and visual artist Mark Salvatus in 2012, this initiative is well-known for forging partnerships among artists, creative individuals, the academe and the public. Among 98B’s efforts are helping talents sustain their practice, artist exchange programmes, talks by foreign and local talents and professionals, and an open library. Address: Escolta, Manila
  • Artery – One of the latest and most promising additions to Manila’s art scene. Operational since July 2013, this alternative art space is being developed into a studio, store, snack bar, residency, exhibition space and lounge. Though flexible and open to an assortment of artistic expressions, the content of Artery is constructive and well-planned. Soon, it will be launching the Artery Mentorship Program, which allows selected young artists to go through a free and highly critical art education. Address: 102 P. Tuazon Blvd, 4001 Cubao, Quezon City.
  • Green Papaya Art Projects – Established in 2010, this creative multidisciplinary platform offers new ways of looking at contemporary practices in the country and in Asia in general. Set up by Norberto Roldan and Donna Miranda, this initiative continues to come up with regular non-commercial arts exhibitions, gatherings that showcase the work of independent musicians, anatomy projects related to contemporary dance and collaborations and residencies for foreign artists. Address: 41 T. General Street corner Kamuning, Quezon City.
  • Kanto – A limited exhibition area does not stop it from being one of Manila’s cutting edge spaces. Kanto conducts exhibitions, performance art, art fairs, film screenings, book launches, book swaps, lectures, workshops and other art-related events by local and international artists. Address: The Collective, 7274 Malugay Street, Makati City.

Auction houses

  • Leon Gallery – Known for its collection of Old Master paintings, which include those of Juan Luna, Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, Fabian de la Rosa, and Fernando Amorsolo. It claims to specialise in the sale of historically important and museum quality local art pieces. Address: V.A. Rufino Street corner Legaspi Street, Legaspi Village, Makati City.
  • Now Gallery + Auctions – A gallery that appeals to abstract art lovers. Active in displaying modern and contemporary art, Now Gallery + Auctions is the youngest player in Manila’s auction scene. Address: Unit G05 Ground Floor Ecoplaza Building, Chino Roces Avenue Extension, Makati City.
  • Salcedo Auctions – Named by BlouinArtinfo as one of the top auction houses in Asia. Established in 2010, it focuses on the decorative arts, jewelry and other accessories and fine art made by both foreign and local artists and artisans. Address: Unit 104-B, Ground Level, Three Salcedo Place, 121 Tordesillas Street, Salcedo Village, Makati City.
Street art at the Dela Rosa walkway in Makati City (2014). Image courtesy the writer.

Street art at the Dela Rosa walkway in Makati City (2014). Image courtesy Javelyn Ramos.

Places to dine for art lovers  

  • Artist’s Haven Café – For this quiet venue, the best way to wait for slow-cooked food is to look at art. One door of the café leads to the gallery-home of the Jamlangs, which is filled with numerous paintings, sculptures, antique dishes and repurposed furniture. Address: 190 Aguirre Avenue, BF Homes, Parañaque City.
  • Big Bad Wolf – Pesto-rubbed Chicken and a drink called the Strawberry Kiss aren’t the only things that make people come to this restaurant/bar. Big Bad Wolf showcases the works of independent artists, ranging from painters and photographers to musicians and tattoo artists. Address: Burgos Circle, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig.
  • Conspiracy Garden Café – This Asian fusion restaurant is where the country’s best musicians perform. This café also functions as a gallery for unconventional exhibitions. Address: 59 Visayas Venue, Vasra, Near Project 6, Quezon City.
  • Magnum Opus Fine Coffees – People who come to taste remarkable coffee and see this venue’s Dr. Who tardis-inspired washroom are also pleased by the works of independent artists displayed around the coffee shop. Address: 115 Aguirre Avenue, BF Homes, Parañaque City
  • SaGuijo Café + Bar – Found on its second floor is The Pocket Universe Art Collective. Consisting of an art gallery, retail shop, and Snow Tattoo, this serves as a creative platform for young and unconventional individuals and groups. Address:7612 Guijo Street, San Antonio Village, Makati City.
  • Sev’s Café – Just blocks away from the Metropolitan Museum of Manila, this casual dining venue is regularly used for creative workshops, book launches, performance poetry and other artistic practices. Their food, which includes organic food and drinks, is a treat as well. Address: Basement, Legaspi Towers 300, Roxas Boulevard Corner P. Ocampo, Malate, Manila.
  • Uno Morato – Established by young indie artists, Uno Morato functions as a bookstore and arts venue. Artwork, books, music and other art-related products are sold here. It also holds creative workshops and discussions. Address: Garden Area GYY Building, 1 Tomas Morato Avenue, Quezon City.
Noelle Varela’s ‘Self-Delusion’ from Galleria Duemila’s  Identity/Place/Fantasy exhibition (2014). Image courtesy Roma Pilar.

Noelle Varela, ‘Self-Delusion’, 2014, from Galleria Duemila’s Identity/Place/Fantasy exhibition. Image courtesy Roma Pilar.

Where else to find art

Land developers have been integrating contemporary art with their properties, inviting artists to use blank walls and open spaces in cities as their canvas or exhibition space. Bonifacio Global City, for instance, treats art as an essential part of the city; thus, sculptures, installations, murals, performances and other creative activities can be spotted in many of its corners.

Makati City, which is often referred to as the financial capital of the country, has murals in many of its walkways and underpasses and contemporary sculptures resting in its parks.

In addition, most shopping centres in Manila have a strip or area filled with minor galleries. Open spaces in malls are also used as venues for travelling exhibitions.

Javelyn Ramos


Related Topics: art tourism, Filipino art and artists, art in Manilacity art guides, art spaces

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