The Philippines in the 32nd Venice Biennale (The First Participation)

The Philippines had its first National Pavilion in 1964 at the 32nd Venice Biennale through the efforts of the Art Association of the Philippines (AAP). As early as 1961, Purita Kalaw Ledesma wrote the Biennale, and in 1962, the country received its invitation but was not prepared to participate. In 1964, AAP appointed Emmanuel Torres as the Commissioner General of the first Philippine pavilion, which presented the works of Jose Joya, painter and multimedia artist, and Napoleon Veloso Abueva, sculptor, both of whom are now National Artists.

Joya brought to Venice several paintings of his, namely, Fishpond Reflections, Granadian Arabesque, Carcass, Episode in Stockholm, Quiapo Nazarene Festival, Venetian Daybreak, Primitive Rituals, Surging Red , and Hills of Nikko; while Abueva presented five sculptures—Allegorical Harpoon, Flight, Bird, City, and Town Black.

Flight, Napoleon Abueva
Napoleon Abueva
Napoleon Abueva

About the Participating Artists

Napoleon Abueva

National Artist, Visual Arts (1976)

At age 46, Napoleon V. Abueva, a native of Bohol, was the youngest National Artist awardee. Considered as the Father of Modern Philippine Sculpture, Abueva has helped shape the local sculpture scene to what it is now. Being adept at both the academic representational style and in modern abstract, he has utilized almost all kinds of materials from hard wood (molave, acacia, langka wood, ipil, kamagong, palm wood, and bamboo) to adobe, metal, stainless steel, cement, marble, bronze, iron, alabaster, coral, and brass. Among the early innovations Abueva introduced in 1951 was what he referred to as “buoyant sculpture,” or sculpture meant to be appreciated from the surface of a placid pool. In the ‘80s, Abueva put up a one-man show at the Philippine Center, New York. His works have been installed in different museums here and abroad, such as The Sculpture at the United Nations headquarters in New York City.

Some of his major works include Kaganapan (1953), Kiss of Judas (1955), Thirty Pieces of Silver, The Transfiguration (1979) at the Eternal Garden Memorial Park; Gateway (1967), Nine Muses (1994) at the UP Faculty Center; Sunburst (1994) at the Peninsula Manila Hotel; the bronze figure of Teodoro M. Kalaw in front of the National Library, and murals in marble at the National Heroes Shrine, Mt. Samat, Bataan.

Jose T. Joya

National Artist, Visual Arts (2003)

Jose Joya is a painter and multimedia artist who distinguished himself by creating an authentic Filipino abstract idiom that transcended foreign influences. Most of Joya’s paintings of harmonious colors were inspired by Philippine landscapes, such as green rice paddies and golden fields of harvest. His use of rice paper in collages placed value on transparency, a common characteristic of folk art. The curvilinear forms of his paintings often recall the colorful and multilayered ‘kiping’ of the Pahiyas festival. His important mandala series was also drawn from Asian aesthetic forms and concepts.

He espoused the value of kinetic energy and spontaneity in painting, which became significant artistic values in Philippine art. His paintings clearly show his mastery of “gestural paintings” where paint is applied intuitively and spontaneously, in broad brush strokes, using brushes or spatula, or is directly squeezed from the tube and splashed across the canvas. His 1958 landmark painting Granadean Arabesque, a work on canvas big enough to be called a mural, features swipes and gobs of impasto and sand. The choice of Joya to represent the Philippines in the 1964 Venice Biennial itself represents a high peak in the rise of modern art in the country.

His legacy undeniably resides in his large body of work of consistent excellence, which has won the admiration of artists both in the local and international scene.