Animanime, fiberglass resin, 38 x 20 x 23 cm. 2010


Do we know Ronald Ventura?

By Clarissa Chikiamco


‘There is much to be said, if one wants to match words and concepts with the visual interest of pictures…that what one offers in a description is a representation of thinking about a picture than a representation of a picture. And to say we “explain a picture as covered by a description” can conveniently be seen as another way of saying that we explain, first, thoughts we have had about the picture, and only secondarily the picture.’ – Michael Baxandall, Patterns of Intention[1]


Over two separate afternoons in November 2010, I met with Ronald Ventura, arguably here and abroad the most well-known Filipino contemporary artist of his generation.Venturahas been written and talked about decadently over the past few years, his skyrocketing fame proportional to the record prices his works have been fetching in auctions. The media’s hungry consumption of auction news, of which Ventura’s works have become a prominent feature, has a number of those outside or new to the art scene asking, ‘Who is Ronald Ventura?’


Indeed, who is Ronald Ventura? Perhaps that is the question that ought to be genuinely asked (vs. the ‘who is?’ that is really induced or shadowed by ‘how much?’). Before he shattered into the sphere of the wider public’s consciousness with his auction outcomes, he was already making headway in the art scene. His Human Study, for an exhibition in which he garnered the 2005 Ateneo Art Awards, was a breathtaking large-scale work on canvas, 8 by 12 feet, which was implemented in graphite to challenge the perception of drawing as an inferior medium. It made use of and played with classical images, a pastiche of orthodox grace with elements surreal and contemporary (the hovering figures, the double-headed horse, the plastic, barcode and machine parts). His interest in values—changing values, making values, being given values—in art as well as of life in the twenty-first century has found serendipity in his growing fame and prices, to which he can actually subjugate the hyped-up interest to be a part of his practice.


Talking withVentura, who is most comfortable speaking in the colloquial taglish (a mix of Tagalog and English), reveals an artist who has thrived in maturity and articulation. For all the talk that surroundsVentura, he himself maintains a quiet presence locally while being acutely aware of the ongoing discussion. On him, his work, his prices, his exhibitions, his auctions, his collectors—certainly debatable on which order is most appropriate and why—they reveal in what they accent the primary interest of whomever is speaking and the placing of subsequent significance. While the irony is that most may not really care or comprehend,Venturacolludes this in his work.


What follows is a translated and edited excerpt from the dialogue in our second session. While this text makes no claim to be definitive, putting the artist forth in his own words should progress closer to answering that rampant question—‘who is Ronald Ventura?’

[1] Michael Baxandall, Patterns of Intention: On the Historical Explanation of Pictures,New Haven andLondon:YaleUniversity Press, 1986, p. 5.