On Border-Crossing and the Contemporary Gallery with Isa Lorenzo

Isa Lorenzo (b. 1974, Manila), educated in Manila and New York City, is the founder of Silverlens Galleries (2004, Manila; 2012-2015, Singapore). Through artist representation, institutional collaborations, and exhibition programming including art fairs and gallery partnerships, SILVERLENS aims to place its artists within the broader framework of the contemporary art dialogue. Its continuing efforts to transcend borders across art communities in Asia have earned it recognition from both artists and collectors as one of the leading contemporary art galleries in Southeast Asia. As an arts and culture worker, she has served on the board of the Museum Foundation of the Philippines. She is a TOWNS Foundation Awardee (Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service) for 2016.

You have mentioned before that you consider yourself “a gallerist with artistic sensibilities and sensitivities”. What are some of the challenges, if any, that you’ve faced in running a contemporary art gallery as a creative and artist yourself? How do you position yourself within the oft-tenuous, subjective dichotomies of ‘gallerist’ and ‘artist’?

I really see it more as an advantage, having started out as an artist, that is. Both my partner Rachel Rillo and I started out as artists actually. We very much enjoy witnessing works and practices as they progress, and working with artists from the birth of their ideas  in the studio. It’s very special and intimate to be part of the creative process. And as gallerists, it helps us think through how we will present them in the gallery, and which of our clients would love the work as much as we do. We know how difficult it is to be an artist. We always put the artists and their intentions first. This is not to say that it is easy to be a gallerist. But I must say, the most exciting part of being one is seeing the works come together as a show.

Studio visit with Chati Coronel, Bernardo Pacquing, Jose Santos III, 2020. Photo courtesy of Silverlens.

Your foray into establishing an art gallery with Silverlens has been understood as somewhat of a fortuitous development, necessitated by the spatial and economic vacancy of contemporary art in the Philippines during the early 2000s. How much has the Filipino art industry shifted or expanded since then? Would you consider the increasing presence of private art spaces today sufficient in bolstering a vibrant community of local artists?

In the last ten years, there has been a boom of galleries showing all sorts of artists. A career as an artist has become a lot more viable. What we are working towards is for the support structures in the field of art to flourish in the same way – curators, writers, registrars, conservators, etc. And it is happening. Our museums and private art spaces are also quite active, but there is definitely room for more growth.

External collaborations are something Silverlens has always been enthusiastic about. How would you describe the importance of inter-gallery collaborations, especially with regards to your aspirations for Silverlens to be a dialogic, contemporary Filipino art space?

Collaborations are very important to grow audiences. That said, these need to be a two-way conversation between galleries. We like working with galleries that share  a similar mindset to ours, and it makes for a very healthy relationship that the artists, first and foremost, benefit from. Expanded audience base, increased clients, bigger projects.

While 2020 has been an especially trying year for most in the industry, have there been memorable moments that were particularly influential in the growth of Silverlens as an evolving contemporary art space?

The onsite exhibitions continued from June 2020 onwards, but the leap really happened with our media team. We formed the media team of Silverlens in 2013, so we were not caught too flat-footed by the limitations of Covid-19’s effect on physical distancing and restrictions. In 2020, we grew our media team by several people and in effect became an in-house production crew for the creation of digital content in relation to our shows and our artists. We also hold exclusive online exhibitions in our Silverlens OVR (Online Viewing Room), and we have met quite a few clients who are digital natives. The challenge is to convince the analog natives to become, as Dr. Patrick Flores calls them, digital migrants.

Silverlens New Website, 2020. Image courtesy of Silverlens.

Silverlens’ exponential development of its digital presence in the form of a newly designed website, online programmes and exhibitions has been exceptional. In what ways has this redefined the term ‘connectivity’ for the gallery?

‘Connectivity’ now is much more than just being present online; it means that we create content above and beyond the artworks. All this effort is motivated by the desire to  drive audiences to see the pieces in person, if they can. Because at the end of the day, nothing beats standing in front of a work of art and seeing it with your own eyes.