Bobi Valenzuela: The Curator as an Outsider

BY JAY BAUTISTA The following is an updated version one of the articles I wrote that was featured in the Philippines Yearbook for 2005 with the theme Defenders of Our Cultural Heritage. I am posting again this as a tribute to my good friend, Bobi Valenzuela who died last Decemeber 12 after suffering a third stroke three weeks ago. He was still recuperating from a second stroke two years ago that has paralyzed half of his body and forcing him to be bedridden and detached from his artist-friends and curating exhibitions. It is my fervent hope that one day his lifetime work would be formally recognized and that he could continue inspiring today’s generation of young artists as he did for the last three decades.

Contemporary Philippine art in the last thirty years could be The Tale of the Three Robertos – Chabet, Feleo, and Valenzuela. The last one known to the art community simply as Bobi.

Even with more than a thousand exhibits to his name, Bobi has always been literally an outsider in the 24 years he has been a curator.

He rarely attends even his own exhibit openings and hardly socializes with the art world denizens. An art writer used to describe him as “very low profile yet charismatic curator. Bobi Valenzuela is almost invincible; no one knows how intense and far-reaching it has become.”

Thus, he has always been misunderstood, controversial, or much less uncompensated for his contributions to the cause of Philippine contemporary visual arts.

“Strangely enough, I never really took art seriously, at first” Bobi quips, “I found it too ridiculous that art will just be ultimately consigned to the empty walls of a bored housewife’s mansion.”

Bobi reminisces his early beginnings: “The 80s was the height of excessive commodification of art. The genre then was either flowers or abstract art. Tell me, how many Mother and Childs do you need to see? How many million flowers or butterflies do you need to excite you?”

He co-founded the biggest little gallery of our generation, the Hiraya Gallery with owner Didi Dee. “Because we didn’t have a word for art, I named it ‘Hiraya’ which is an archaic Visayan word for ‘imagination.’ Art is the soul of the people, its dreams, expressions, and aspirations. However ours has been polluted as a result of Spanish and American colonization.”

For a people too busy in bringing food on the table than appreciating art, a good curator is even rarer than a good artist or even a great work of art.

“Ang curator, kasama na ang mga artista natin, ay dapat tumugon sa pangangailangan ng panahon. Hindi tayo pwedeng magpinta nang magpinta nang di nag-iisip. Maybe alternative or relevant noon, pero pwedeng hindi na ngayon.” Valenzuela feels it was natural for him to find a visual story while hanging paintings on the walls.

His apologies to would-be-curators but everything he knows about curatorship is gut-feel, he does not even have any formula or fix rules in curating: “Just don’t insult the intelligence of your audience. The least you can do is to respect those who will come and see the show.”

He laments that “Philippine art has been relocated to interior designers whose aesthetic preference for art relies on how much its brush strokes blend with the colors of the walls or curtains of one’s house.”

Among his most memorable shows is Roberto Feleo’s first solo exhibition entitled ‘Sapin Sapin’, and as he takes pride in, “even before Bobby became a myth.” Another is ‘Ang Delatang Pinoy, Yes The Filipino Can’, a collaborative exhibit of more than 100 local artists, which literally opened the doors of Hiraya to the general public. Even the international press took notice and reviewed the event.

Hiraya Gallery became known for the many significant developments in Philippine Art. However due to health reasons Bobi left Hiraya and became an independent curator.

Having curated the ‘3rd Viva Exhibit Conference’ in Dumaguete in 1994 and the ‘Sungduan (Confluence)’ that toured around the country in 2000, Bobi is the only curator who has really touch based in Visayas and Mindanao. “I like going to the provinces because contrary to what others say that Manila-based artists will lead the way, visual artists from Visayas and Mindanao still have fresh untold stories to express about who and what we are.”

‘In Memory of a Talisman,’ Bobi’s last curated exhibition at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, is his personal tribute to a beloved friend. Wearing a shirt with a Bose painting on it during the interview, Bobi expresses his grief, “Santi was way, way ahead of his time, and he was consistent with his art. When he died, parang nawalan na rin ako ng gana sa art.”

These days Bobi is too tired to ponder what’s going on in the art scene: “In hindsight, I lament how some artists I used to work with either continue to deteriorate only to lose their luster ultimately.”

“Our misfortune is the lack of credible artists these recent years,” Bobi continues. “They are in the arts either for quick fame or easy money. You start repeating yourself and that’s the start of your end.”

Of the younger generation of artists, Bobi has deep respects for Leslie de Chavez, who in the words of an art critic “comes out strong at the forefront of his generation.”

In a profession that requires the illusion of three academic letters after your name, Bobi has opted to stay in the peripheries. He ends, “Art thrives kasi marami pang dapat baguhin sa mundo natin. Pag bumuti-buti ito, unti-unti na ring mawawalan ng silbi ang art. In the meantime, between art and life, I will choose life anytime.”

(published for the Philippines Yearbook 2005)


Tabuena art central said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tabuena art central said...

My Prayers goes out to Bobbi's family & friends, I'm sure his influence and lifeworks on Philippine art will echo through generations.

E Tabuena

Marie-Paule Neu said...

This is very sad. At the moment I discover how Bobbi creativwely fostered the Philippine art scene, I also learn that he left us. I remember him as an openhearted, joyful person. Thanks Bobby.

Blogger said...

Just received a cheque for $500.

Many times people don't believe me when I tell them about how much money you can earn by taking paid surveys online...

So I show them a video of myself getting paid over $500 for taking paid surveys to finally set the record straight.