From local exhibitions to impressively ornate displays, the best galleries in Manila, capital of the Philippines, showcase contemporary art with a distinctly Pinoy flavour.
Metro Manila has an abundance of contemporary art galleries scattered across the city, with Makati in particular holding the bulk of the best. Many of the galleries below join the top art fairs in the world, making the Philippines one of the most promising markets in the Asian art scene. Here are the 10 best contemporary art galleries in Manila.
Founded by Cesar Villalon Jr. in 1998, the Drawing Room started as a gallery accommodating artworks solely made on paper (hence the name). The original collection included sketches by legendary Filipino artist BenCab and famous expressionist Elmer Borlongan. It has since expanded to other artistic mediums, reflecting the reality and dynamism of life in the Philippines. The gallery’s new home in Karrivin Plaza is bigger than its previous space, allowing each work to bask in natural light. Exhibitions are held monthly, featuring the work of notable local artists such as Diokno and Neil Pasilan. The Drawing Room is a regular participant in art fairs held in the Philippines and abroad, notably in Hong Kong, Singapore and Paris.
A pioneer in contemporary art since the 1980s, Finale Art File’s massive 450 square-meter home in the La Fuerza Compound is divided into three main galleries. The Tall Gallery is for murals, sculptures and art installations, while the second-floor gallery is for other works. The adjacent video room (and third gallery) is for multimedia exhibitions. Finale’s decorated past has left it with an impressive portfolio of exhibitions by revered masters like conceptualist Roberto Chabet and terracotta sculptress Julie Lluch. It also represents younger practising artists, holding regular auctions and art discussions.
This gallery is committed to showcasing modern-day pop culture artists instead of conventional art forms found in most other venues. It began as a loft in Makati in 2005, before moving to a bigger venue in the district to exhibit commercial art, designer toys and collectables. What sets it apart from other galleries is it carries artists who are influenced by surrealism, modernism and street art.
Established in 2004 in a local home in Greenhills, Manila, Artinformal was founded by a group of contemporary Filipino artists headed by creative director Tina Fernandez. The gallery’s aim was to bring art closer to the community through curated exhibitions, workshops and art education. It recently opened a second gallery situated next to the Drawing Room. The galleries promote a wide range of art forms, including sculpture, painting, pottery and multi-media performances. The two spaces offer viewers totally different experiences. The house-based gallery promotes curator-led exhibitions, while the newer space in Makati explores solo exhibitions of artists’ current works. Their art and design concept store, Aphro, features unique furniture, accessories and pottery only a stone’s throw away from Artinformal Makati, along the alley at Karrivin.
Silverlens was founded by Isa Lorenzo and Rachel Rillo in 2004, as a small-scale studio that showcased photography. In 2006, it converted an old piano factory in Makati into a gallery. Silverlens is a pioneer in using warehouses as art galleries in Manila. They provide not only exhibitions but also artist representation, collaborations and scheduling for gallery partnerships and art fairs. In 2017 it moved to a massive 1,200-square-meter, two-level building, complete with custom-made lighting, large exhibition spaces, a pantry and offices. The new gallery’s exterior uses distinct, 20-meter translucent window panels that provide insulation and UV protection but also outline silhouettes of visitors inside the gallery. Don’t be surprised if you spend an entire day here – the mezzanine feels like a lush flat furnished with sofas and art books to browse through.
Tucked inside a kitschy 1980s shopping center known for its cinema and thrift stores, the Underground gallery provides a venue for artists who go beyond painting and delve into the more unconventional forms of expression. After visiting the latest exhibition, drop into two more contemporary galleries nearby to make the most of the trip (Eskinita and Kanto gallery are on the same floor). If you’re hungry, before leaving the shopping center, have a meal at Aida’s, home of the best barbequed chicken in the city.
Avellana Art Gallery is located in a charming post-war compound in the heart of Manila, owned by the Cheng family. The two-level house turned gallery is surrounded by large trees and a long driveway, which make for an imposing entrance – and a stark contrast to the bustling streets of the metropolis proper. Founded by Albert Avellana in 1997, it features an eclectic selection of sculptures, paintings and antique furniture that are curated so well they look part of the gallery themselves. The vintage tiles that cover the space are a form of art in itself. The gallery caters to a community of artists hand-picked by Avellana himself. Avellena has been known to host some of the best parties and exhibitions openings in the country, with overflowing cocktails handed out across his luxurious garden area. A number of houses leading to his gallery have been converted into a fabulous boutique hotel called The Henry.
A stone’s throw away from Avellana Art Gallery, Galeria Duemila was established in 1975 by Italian-born Silvana Ancellotti-Diaz, who converted half of her house into a gallery. It is noted as the oldest running commercial gallery in the Philippines. Duemila is known for representing a large group of contemporary painters, sculptors and artists who deal with conceptual installations. Duemila has also published art books on popular artists that it represents. Its monthly exhibitions share interesting live music jams, readings and performances. It has a reputable international presence and due to the gallery’s longevity in the industry, it holds prized collections from Philippine Masters like Amorsolo, Joya and Manansala.
Reserve an entire day to explore the Pinto Gallery and wear comfortable shoes during the long drive up to Antipolo, Rizal. It is hands down one of the most scenic art galleries there is in Metro Manila. Set on 1.4 hectares of land with breathtaking views of the city, the white Mediterranean-inspired sub-galleries are set in lush gardens with an abundance of trees and fauna. A selection of sculptures are also incorporated into the gardens, which make for interesting photographs. Pinto (meaning ‘door’ in Tagalog), opens the viewer to an overwhelming number of galleries filled with tastefully curated contemporary Filipino art. The Pinto Café serves refreshing drinks and snacks in case you get hungry from all that walking. Entrance is PhP200 (£2.9) for adults, PhP180 (£2.6) for senior citizens and PWD with valid IDs, and PhP100 (£1.5) for students with valid school IDs (children below three years old can enter for free).
This is a relatively new gallery established in 2015, named after its address in the 1902 colonial Casa Tesoro’s building in Manila’s Ermita district. It has recently moved to Karrivin Plaza beside other notable galleries. The new space examines globalization correlating to Filipino and foreign artists, with a purpose to serve as a platform for innovative art. It has a steady group of local artists it represents and promotes them locally and at international art fairs. The new gallery space lacks the soul and character of its old home but thankfully has retained its Ermita address for its Artist-in-Residency programs. A side trip to Casa Tesoro’s is recommended, as the building carries an array of Filipino antiques and crafts that make good gifts. Across it rests two local institutions, a 1980’s German Pub Munchen and Calle5 for cheap drinks and entertaining live music.