It is difficult to read through respected art critic and historian Patrick D. Flores’ Art After War, the new coffee-table book from publisher The Modern Reader, without thinking of Vasari’s Lives, one of the earliest and most influential works of art history, even if the book explicitly does not aspire to it.
The introductory note on the series admits that Philippine Artscape, of which Art After War is the first entry, “does not stake out too deep a ground in terms of the biographies of artists or the criticism of their works… It holds out instead a broad matrix within which, in future forays, fuller explications may fill out the gaps, flesh out the structure, and further widen the horizon.” Whereas Vasari filled his magnum opus with everything down to the gossip surrounding the key artists of his time, Art After War, which spans only twenty years of the last century, holds back details, and even then, it cites early on an older groundbreaking work of art history that covers a wider range of four centuries. Art After War could not be any different from its ancestors.
Yet one is still compelled to think of Vasari’s work because of how, at present, nothing can come to mind that will remind us of it. Art After War is not just the first of a series. It will seem to many present-day readers like the first of its kind.
The book opens on the broad stroke of ruin—the first chapter entitled “1948: To catch up with the rest of the world”. Emerging as an independent nation-state from the ruins of the colonial era and several terrible wars, the Philippine art scene falls short of being depicted as a phoenix, shedding off the skin of its old identity in an attempt to create something new. Moving past the ideas of mere representation, the artists are shown trying to adapt the trends of the era to the Philippine context, if not trying to generate new movements of its own.
Although it covers only two decades, the book names over fifty key artists, art critics, and art patrons in that period, drawing the connections between them. We hear about the creation of the Victorias Mill and UP’s Parish of the Holy Sacrifice, and how the famous 1955 walkout of conservative artists from the Art Association of the Philippines Competition was the culmination of several heated debates between them and the rising modernists. We see how the modernists derive their material from the post-war conditions of their environments and the way of living that permeated both the urban center and the provinces. We are told the stories of these changes and are immediately shown these changes taking place, as archival photographs and images of the works cited punctuate the story. Before long, painters share the page with cartoonists and a still from Manuel Conde’s Genghis Khan interrupts the story. Naturally, the book gravitates towards painting and sculpture, but it opens the doors for readers to navigate the stories of the other arts on a similar scale. By creating a kind of master narrative for post-war art, the book lays the foundations for readers, especially those seeking an accessible introduction, to sculpt the details or to build their own counter-narratives.
In this sense, Patrick D. Flores’ Art After War: 1948-1969 is a cornerstone for contemporary students of art history. It is a map that marks the titans and where one might find them, so that the young explorer might be able to seek them out and draw over the map.
Art After War: 1948-1969 is now available for purchase at Finale Art File and will be available at Tin-Aw Art Gallery, West Gallery, Artbooks.ph, and Fully Booked (Rockwell and Bonifacio High Street branches) starting November 11, 2015. For more information on the Philippine Artscape series and its publisher The Modern Reader, visit themodernreader.com.