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An outstanding Filipino in the arts

When someone writes in the future about the art renaissance that’s happening in the Philippines today, a towering figure will loom large in the historical narrative.

For almost 20 years now, an unprecedented flowering of the visual arts has been unfolding in our country. At no other period in our history has there been so many artists, collectors, galleries, art auctions, art fairs, art contests, art residencies and international exhibitions featuring Philippine painters and sculptors.

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This unparalleled flourishing of the arts overshadows the art resurgence during the Marcos dictatorship, which was mostly driven by government initiatives and patronage by personalities in power like Imelda Marcos. The booming art market today has prospered because of private initiatives, and it has defied political upheavals, economic downturns, social turmoil and natural disasters.

There are many persons whose individual and collective initiatives have contributed to the current flowering of the arts. But there is one figure whose contribution has been incomparably substantial: Dr. Joven Cuanang. He is a renowned neurologist by vocation, and a legendary art patron by avocation.

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Shortly after the Edsa Revolution that toppled the Marcos regime, Cuanang invited a group of young artists to sketch every Sunday at his weekend home in Antipolo City. The young artists, who called themselves Salingpusa, wanted to exhibit their works, but they were spurned by art galleries because they were untested. But Cuanang, impressed by what he saw, urged the artists to hang their works on a clothesline at the back of his house, and he invited his friends over and encouraged them to buy.

Cuanang opened Boston Gallery in Quezon City and Pinto Art Museum in Antipolo to provide venues for promising young artists. Since then, many of the artists who were given breaks in the art scene by Cuanang have garnered prestigious art awards, and their works have become much sought after by Filipino and foreign collectors. At least three of the Salingpusa artists are destined to become national artists, by my fearless forecast.

Cuanang’s next project was a monumental undertaking fraught with financial risk. He built the Pinto Art Museum inside his expanded Antipolo enclave. The museum consists of picturesque buildings in Mexican Mission-style architecture and has charming gardens in an undulating terrain. It showcases Cuanang’s vast art collection, which is the largest and most diverse assembly of Philippine contemporary art made available for public viewing.

For three years after it opened, the museum looked like it was fated to become an unsustainable financial burden because of lack of visitors. But when buzz and pictures spread around, busloads of visitors started arriving. Today, the number of visitors reaches 2,000 on weekends. The Pinto Art Museum is now dubbed as the most “Instagrammed” museum in Asia.

Cuanang pours back the revenues earned by his galleries and museum into an array of additional projects that further invigorate the art scene. He has added an indigenous art section to his museum, and an arboretum of native plants and trees to showcase the natural beauty of our flora. He has sponsored concerts and fashion shows, and has worked to revive cotton farming in order to revitalize the inabel fabric industry in his beloved Ilocos region. He has built an academy of arts and sciences to serve as a venue for talks, concerts and other artistic endeavors that promote the healing power of art.

Cuanang seeks out provincial artists for exhibition exposure in his galleries. As a result, a good number of artists from Ilocos, Pangasinan, Tarlac and Bulacan are making names for themselves in the art scene.

Lately, he has mounted art exhibitions in New York and Tokyo, with more shows in Europe in the offing, as his way of bringing Philippine art to the world, and as a means to generate funds for talented Filipino artists to study art abroad.

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Joven Cuanang is an outstanding exemplar of the Filipino race.

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