Arts of the Philippines :: Gallery Owner: Silvana Ancellotti-Diaz of Galleria Duemila by Christiane de la Paz
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by: Christiane de la Paz

Italian-born beauty Silvanna Ancelloti-Diaz has spent the last thirty-two years in the Philippines promoting and exhibiting the works of the country’s blue-chip and contemporary artists. After settling in Manila, following a long stay in New York, she tried her hands on organizing exhibitions for Miladay gallery, together with pilot-artist Lino Severino, and eventually moved on to open a gallery of her own.

On December 5, 1975, three years after the Martial Law, Diaz opened Gallerie Duemila in Vermida building in Makati City. Duemila, in Italian, means twentieth century contemporary modern art. In a country that cherishes its past, Gallerie Duemila has truly become an unlikely landmark. She introduced modern art to Filipino and foreign collectors and has brought our local artists to international fame and recognition. She also holds the distinction of running the oldest gallery in existence in the country.

In this interview, Silvanna Diaz talks about her experiences, roles and responsibilities as founder and artistic director of Gallerie Duemila.

How did you get started with art dealing?

In 1974, after moving to the Philippines from Italy to get married, I worked in an art gallery "Miladay Art Center" situated in Makati.  The Ayala QUAD, what is now Glorietta Center used to house 2 art galleries with big spaces.  One was Quad Gallery owned by Alejandro Roces and the other Miladay Art Center owned  by Mila Dayrid, the famous jeweler and Lino Severino, who was the Artistic Director and an artist himself; famous for his "Vanishing Scene" subject.

When the owner decided to close the gallery, I was so broken hearted that I decided to open my own.  My dearest friend, Ms. Christy Pagaspas Hagedorn was partner.

Together, we opened on Dec. 5, 1975, Galleria Duemila situated in Vernida Building, Amorsolo St., Makati.

In 1975, we formed the group called Samahang Tubiglay with Vicente Manansala, as head member, Romulo Olazo, Lino Severino, Edgar Doctor, Ang Kiukok and many more watercolorists of that time.  We planned to have a major activity once a year.  I was elected as the secretary of the group.

The gallery at that time was not making enough money to support related events, so I was taking extra jobs like working part time as interpreter for the Italian Embassy Trade missions since I speak Italian, French, and English. 

Who were you selling back then?

At that time, I was selling Legaspi, Manansala, Olazo, Nuyda, Samonte, Onib Olmedo, Ocampo, Lebajo, Isabel Diaz, Albor, Lao, Zobel, Saprid Severino, Manuel Rodriguez, Boy Rodriguez & many others.

How did the market accept your first attempt to sell?

It was slow moving and difficult. The reason was that my interest lay very much in modern art and at that time, it was a novelty, not very much understood nor appreciated, but through perseverance was proven right as all the artists mentioned above became very notable and even National artists of the country..

What standards do you follow in choosing which artist to exhibit or sell their works?

The artists are chosen for their unique original contemporary creativity.  I select my artists in keeping myself exposed to the many exhibitions here and abroad that I attend and visiting their studios. One of the characteristics of a passionate and dedicated gallery is that the artworks are never seen as goods to be sold. I relate to the artist and each and every work that comes to my door. Part of my service is documenting the careers of each of the artists that I carry. Thus when a client or interior designer asks me to see a location where they need paintings, I am armed with both the knowledge and experience to suggest artworks that best fit the client and the ambiance that he has created around himself.

Galleria Duemila building has 2 galleries.  Sometimes, one artist may use both spaces, other times 2 artists simultaneously.  I organize one exhibit a month and we accept proposal for exhibition from curators and artists.

What are some of the changes you’ve seen in terms of dealing with artists when you were starting to now?

Before, there were fewer artists. Artists would mount one-man exhibition once a year and they were very concerned with the quality of their work. They were more selective about which works would represent them.

Today, the whole system has changed. There are many more places that exhibit artworks so we can find a little art everywhere. Before, we had artists that were known to be exhibiting only in one gallery or two. Today, such exclusivity is rare.

Who are these artists who create very good works?

The Philippines has excellent artists. All the ones listed below that I have the pleasure to exhibit are some of the best the country has, and many more are represented by other reputable galleries in the country.

Pacita Abad, Lee Aguinaldo, Leonardo Aguinaldo, Gus Albor, Alfredo Juan Aquilizan, Virgilio "Pandy" Aviado, Gabby Barredo, Ben Cabrera, Norberto "Lito" Carating, Ed Castrillo, Valeria Cavestany, Lina Llaguno Ciani, Maria Cruz, Charlie Co, Edwin Coscolluella, Jon Cuyson, R. M. De Leon, Duddley Diaz, Isabel Diaz, Ramon Diaz, Kiko Escora, Lamberto Hechanova, Nilo Ilarde, Lianben Lao, Raul Lebajo, Gerry Leonardo, Julie Lluch, Arturo Luz, Shoko Mafune, Fernando Modesto, Jerry Elizalde-Navarro, Justin Nuyda, Jonathan Olazo, Romulo Olazo, Onib Olmedo, Impy Pilapil, Dan Rarallo, Roberto M. A. Robles, Ginés Sèrran-Pàgan, Tony Twigg, Denise Weldon, Betsy Westendorp, Edwin Wilwayco, Luis "Junyee" Yee, Jr., Phyllis Zaballero.

Who are your favorite foreign artists?

Giacometti Tapies, Paul K. Lee, Pollock, Marini, Kiefer, Brancusi, Chilida, Bill Viola, Zaha Hadid and really so much more. These artists have made the world change the way they see innovation and creativity. Affecting the mindset of humanity is something special and a feat that deserves admiration.

Who among the Filipino visual artists do you greatly admire?

The modernists – Luz, Zobel, Legaspi, H. R. Ocampo.

How does exclusivity work between the artist and gallery owner?

When an artist is exclusive to Galleria Duemila, we promote him into international magazines, exhibitions. We expose him to different dealers – we invest in him and make sure that he gets exposure through the media and access to our network of artistic institutions.

How do you deal with artists who sell directly from their homes?

It depends on who the artist is and his way of selling. The gallery respects and deals with the artist that sells his work from his house at the same price as he sells it in the gallery that represents him.

What are the responsibilities of a gallery to an artist?

The bond of trust and respect are essential in our business. The gallery promotes the artist’s works through documentation, exhibitions, lectures, publicity and projects as well as introductions to Museums and Institutions locally and internationally. It’s a long term relationship and not just a transactional one.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of situating your gallery in a mall and/or a purpose-built facility?

I had a gallery in the SM Megamall for thirteen (13) years. At the start, I saw the necessity of such new location because it would expose the art of the contemporary artists to all sections of society. This awareness, I thought, is essential for the growth of the aesthetic value and culture.

Now there were changes in the Mall environment and it was time for me to make a move, so I built an exhibition building that can accommodate not only exhibitions, but also installations, conferences and videos. We sometimes even have sculptors use our power tools to create their works when they are in town. In a few words, I’ve created a new playground for more artistic events.

How do you increase people who buy art in your gallery?

I continuously propose interesting exhibitions and lectures, sometimes cultural events and congregating artists and clients. It’s all about getting the word of mouth going. Nothing can beat this interaction. I learn from all the guests who come to the gallery and I do my best to share the knowledge that I have as well. When both come out having learned something great, recommendations are sure to follow.

If someone walks through that door, could you actually tell his taste in what to buy?

Few key questions will make me aware of the knowledge of the person that I meet, what surrounds him, his house will show his taste.

Is the 30-40% mark up standard to all galleries?

It is the standard commission, but we seldom net that. Filipinos are very good bargainers.

Are all the works available in your gallery commissioned by you or the artists are free to sell what they finished?

Most are paintings chosen for the exhibitions, while others are from the artist’s or from private collections.

Do you influence your artist on what to create?

No, never. It is possible to discuss and interact about a project, but the artist is free to create his art. The gallery is there to take care of many of the other issues surrounding the exhibition. This trust is what makes a gallery and artist grow together.

How would you describe a collector?

A real collector is the person that really loves the works of art, goes out of his way to know all there is about the artists that interests him. He collects the artist’s works throughout his different periods in his career. A collector then is one that identifies himself to the creation of one or more artists. Art collecting is not a monogamous relationship.

Has your gallery been involved in any issues in the past?

We had an issue in the past on matters of authenticity but we were able to prove we were correct through documentation, research, and diligent archive research.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in art dealing?

To love, protect, respect and document the works of the artist because someday it will become our cultural heritage.

What is it that you love as an Artistic Director of Galleria Duemila?

The excitement I get from discovering beautiful works and learning the process of their creation. I deal with so many interesting people and this is career is a fascinating continuous learning process that keeps me feeling young and vibrant.

What do you think of the following players in the art world?

Art Critics –They relate the passing of the different trends and their writing initiates debate and analysis which stimulates the dialogue about the art. This debate inspires inspiration as well so art critics are not just archivists of Art’s movement but active change agents in its development

Curators – They are a vital force in the life of a Museum. He organizes exhibitions and its documentation. His judgment is key to art acquisitions. As head of Museum and Cultural Institutions, he must have vision of the museum’s direction and great knowledge of the history of Art to be able to present to the public worthy cultural events. In essence, a curator is a gatekeeper of our culture and identity as a people.

Collectors – They are the wheel that makes art move and artists continue creation. Money makes the world go round and though artists will always create paintings, the industry allows them to pursue their passion fulltime.

Artists – They are the soul and blood of the country with their unique individual minds and vision. They reflect who we are as a people and what we have created as Filipinos, as individuals, or just as simple human beings.

Among the players I have mentioned, who plays the most important role?

The artists, of course, but all are indispensable players that are needed to achieve the overall success of a national cultural identity. Each of them plays a valuable part in increasing the awareness that people need Cultural Growth, a sense of identity as a people, just as much as they need economic growth.

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