Silverlens, one of Southeast Asia’s leading galleries, will open its first New York outpost in September. The Manila-based dealers hope to facilitate a new dialogue that can better represent Asia’s diversity by featuring artists from the region and diaspora in the United States
The westward expansion of the Philippine gallery can be seen as an important milestone for Asian galleries, as few from the region have done so. Meanwhile, their western counterparts have flocked eastward in droves over the past decade.
“It’s definitely a big step, a big leap,” Isa Lorenzo, founder and co-owner of Silverlens, told Artnet News. “Now we feel it’s the right time.”
Founded in 2004, Silverlens has established itself as a major local player in Manila and across Asia, presenting a well-received program of Asian diaspora artists. They are regulars at Art Basel in Basel and Hong Kong and plan to take part in the Armory Show as well as the very first edition of Frieze Seoul. Her new New York venture is a 2,500 square foot ground floor space in Chelsea with 20 foot ceilings.
The gallery, located at 505 W 24th Street, will open September 8 with two solo presentations by artist Martha Atienza, who was born in the Philippines to a Dutch mother and Filipino father, and who was born in Kota Kinabalu and there living artist Yee I-Lann.
Directors are hoping for a rigorous and multivalent offering. “We will integrate a curator-based program with curators from New York and New York [elsewhere] that deal with specific aspects of diasporic communities and artists,” said Silverlens co-owner Rachel Rillo, who joined Lorenzo in 2007 to start the gallery. Events such as artist talks and film screenings are also scheduled to take place in New York.
“We also recognize that it is imperative that we feature American artists who have at least some heritage or connections to our origins. It will be challenging but very exciting at the same time,” noted Lorenzo.
Opening a gallery in New York has occupied Lorenzo’s mind since 2004, after she completed her Masters of Media Studies at the New School’s Parsons School of Design. But despite the city’s reputation as a global cultural melting pot, it wasn’t ready for someone like her.
“When I left New York in 2004, I was completely invisible,” Lorenzo recalls. “I was the wrong gender, the wrong Asian, and the wrong minority. We couldn’t be identified as Asian because we didn’t look Chinese or Japanese.”
“They were so confused. Why are your names in spanish? It was like history lesson 101 every 30 minutes. So that didn’t work,” noted Rillo, who also spent time in the US to study at the Academy of Art College in San Francisco before returning to Manila.
Over the years Lorenzo and Rillo, both trained as artists, have dedicated themselves to growing Silverlens into a leading gallery in the region, representing artists such as James Clar, Maria Taniguichi, Mit Jai Inn and Pacita Abad. “Over the past 18 years we have built a global network of friends and collectors, collaborators and gallery partners,” said Lorenzo.
But during the pandemic, Lorenzo and Rillo realized that opening a gallery in New York might not be impossible. The gallery saw a wave of interest from the US, including those from institutions. More than 30 percent of the gallery’s online viewers, including those recorded on its website and social media platforms, were from the United States. “We’ve never had such an interest before,” noted Lorenzo. “Maybe there is a place for us. We didn’t feel so invisible anymore.”
And then there was the right location. The duo found an “affordable” venue that met all of their criteria. They took this as a sign and quickly decided to purchase the property. “We just couldn’t get the place,” Rillo said.
Silverlens’ expansion in New York could have implications that could lead to reshaping the narratives of Asians and the Asian diaspora in the US by giving these artists greater visibility, noted Abby Chen, director of contemporary art at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.
“Americans of Asian descent are very severely underrepresented,” she told Artnet News, adding that Asian Americans, the Asian diaspora, and Asia as a region in general, “share an intricate, active, and enduring connection that keeps the narratives fresh. I would like to see more Asian galleries expanding into the US.”
Silverlens’ strong home base in Manila and Asia is expected to keep the doors of the New York area open for at least the next few years before the New York gallery can stand on its own, Lorenzo explained. Could New York Space be a game changer? “Hopefully. We hope so,” she said.
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