Artbooks.ph: An Art- & Book-Lover’s Dream
There is a quiet, well-appointed room beyond the entrance doors of Pioneer Studios in Mandaluyong. At the center is a large table, and flanking it on the right are rows of shelves with neatly-stacked books and magazines. At the end of the room is a tempting, deep sofa, and pieces of serene, modern art decorate the walls. It is perfectly lit—it is located within a photography studio, after all—and perfectly inviting, what with its neutral palette and calm, hushed atmosphere.
But the composure of the space belies the fervor and the sharp intention that established this venue in the first place. Less than a year ago, artists Katya Guerrero, Ringo Bunoan, and At Maculangan founded Artbooks.ph, an online bookstore focused on Philippine art books, zines, magazines and more, and which is the online counterpart of this “room”—a bookstore that feels less so than a hybrid between a modern, modish library and a friend’s cool, Scandinavian-style living room.
“Because there really is none,” says Bunoan, when asked what brought about the concept of a bookstore dedicated to art books. “We felt there was a need for a place for these books”—and, it must be noted, there is no lack of them—“and they’re just everywhere. We wanted to have a space where they would be more accessible. It’s not exactly easy to get around Manila.”
So, as owners, they do the legwork—which, they admit, is the best part of the whole endeavor. They source titles from independent publishers, self-publishers, larger, commercial publishers (like Anvil), university presses, galleries, museums, artists, and even from publishers based abroad.
Artbooks.ph aims to solve a problem: the more popular bookstores carry a lot of local titles on Manila art, but there is—as yet—no offering by bookstores that is comprehensive, or comprehensive enough, to include more of the local contemporary art publications that have more recently inundated the field. In most cases, art books are cut from the same mold, which is the traditional coffee-table book format–not that there is anything wrong with that, but they do sense that the forms in which most art books are presented need to evolve to represent the contemporary art movement fittingly as well as cater to the changing art market.
“We try to encourage that aspect, because the new generation has to start being more prominent,” Guerrero, a photographer and artist, points out. “The whole shift has to be hand in hand: the writing, the visuals, the design, [because] the audience is changing, and yet, many [publishers] are still attached to the older establishment.
“No one could really figure out Filipiñana,” she continues, and that is spot-on; “Filipiñana” as a book category attempts to lump together in one or so shelves in a bookstore dozens of books on diverse subjects, so long as the books are published in the Philippines. Not that artbooks.ph aspires to be comprehensive, however (although its owners seem to do an excellent job in that aspect). Rather, artbooks.ph, in the best use of the term, curates their collection of Filipino art publications to include a range of types: monographs, artist- and curator-produced zines, and yes, traditional, coffee-table books, too, as well as rare and out-of-print books. The categories are organized and specific, which makes online navigation, as well as the shelves of the actual bookstore, easy. Also, one can flip through the books at the Pioneer bookstore, and the website offers “peeks” between the books’ covers.
Being inclusive is part of the bookstore’s objective to be a first-rate resource not only for earnest collectors, but also for serious researchers, who Guerrero and Bunoan notice are growing in number. “Although we are not a library, we have a lot of researchers [who buy our books],” says Bunoan, “and not just Filipino researchers. There seems to be a high demand from Southeast Asian researchers looking for sources on Philippine art.”
The scope is wide: titles are available on visual arts, dance, music, film, architecture, design, and art history, as well as a few books on urban planning, anthropology, and environmental studies that the owners tie in to the breadth of Philippine culture. Within each branch of the arts, they also wanted to offer a wide variety.
“We didn’t want to be snobs,” says Guerrero, half-jokingly. “Even with the selection of books, in the end, we weren’t being super selective in the sense that [we excluded] ‘bad’ books. We included them, too. In my point of view, it’s good to see them [in the listings], because they’re still a part of history; they’re not great books, but they’re still something to refer to and learn from. There is still value in it. We don’t want to impose our tastes too strongly, otherwise it’s just going to look like us!”
That, coming from a group of artists like Bunoan, Guerrero, and Maculangan, is quite remarkable and generous. They are each well-regarded and well-respected for charged, conceptual ideas in their art, and to find them dedicated to representing a whole range of topics, each with their own proprietary forms, and even beyond their own distinctive tastes, only further demonstrates their deep respect for Philippine art and, more so, of its proper documentation. Beyond that, their vision for Artbooks.ph includes more than just being a resource for books or branching out into a publishing house itself: they would like to build a network that connects art studies graduates, designers, writers, and the like in the production of high-quality books on art. “In college, they don’t really touch on [book design],” Guerrero explains. “Graphic design is geared towards advertising layouts, projects like that. Book designing is not quite like making layouts for brochures or even magazines, so we’d like to encourage a new generation to get into it.”
But, in the meantime, they are more focused on advocating cultural literacy and arts education through their books. “The thing is, people forget, which becomes bothersome,” Guerrero says. “There are artists whose works are totally overlooked, even if they did incredible work. Sometimes, we’ll show a book [to arts enthusiasts] and they will say, ‘Oh, I never saw their work, I didn’t know he/she existed.’ It’s more about that.”
Having a “one-stop shop” like Artbooks.ph only serves to make the books “more accessible and visible,” says Bunoan, “and in the end, of course, you want to encourage more cultural awareness, to educate people more.”
To that end, Artbooks.ph is well on its way.
Find out about Katya Guerrero’s and Ringo Bunoan’s recommendations from artbooks.ph at The Art Report’s Instagram account (@theartreport).
Go to the directory listing of Artbooks.ph by clicking here.
Images courtesy of artbooks.ph.