The impresario behind one of Manila’s hottest dining destinations at the moment, Carlo Calma is a whirlwind of infectious energy and an eclectic art lover.
After studying painting, sculpture, and lighting design at the California College of Arts & Crafts (CCAC), Carlo went on to pursue architecture at the Architectural Association in London, living in Europe for almost a decade before returning to his native Philippines, where he opened Gallery Vask, a modern Spanish tapas restaurant, bar, and gallery in Manila’s burgeoning new downtown district of Fort Bonifacio.
We asked Carlo to share his thoughts on the creative scene in the Philippine capital, and the concept behind his own genre-bending space that blends innovative cuisine with creatively staged showcases of art and design.
What do you think are uniquely Philippine strengths in the fields of art, architecture and design? Conversely, where do you see room for improvement?
We are always looking at our roots, finding ways to learn something from the past and trying to make that modern. Having been colonized by different countries, the Philippines are a kind of a mish-mash: we are very American in how we think, but we also have Spanish moral family values and other layers that make us unique. As a result, I think people can relate to us more than any other Asian country in terms of both the language barrier and culture.
Our art started from the bourgeoisie, during the Spanish colonial period of Juan Luna. In the field of architecture and design, we have certain origins such as the “bahay-kubo” (before the Spanish) or “bahay-na-bato” (during Spanish rule) styles. But I think our real strength lies in our non-linear way of looking at materials, construction, precedents, and the existing fabric of the city — we are able to transform all fields of design in a very sustainable, sensitive and even very future-forward way.
Which Philippine artists do you think are ones to watch?
For local artists, but not in order, I like Manuel Ocampo, Marina Cruz, Rodel Tapaya, Kawayan de Guia, Louie Cordero, RM De Leon, Anton Mallari, Mideo Cruz, and Alwin Reamillo, among others. I think my taste is pretty diverse, and I really take the time to find out more about the context and process of each artist.
What else in Fort Bonifacio, and Manila, should art and design buffs check out when they’re in town?
In the Fort, Pablo Gallery and MO Space are the ones to watch — they’re both quite progressive. The Science Museum is an incredible piece of architecture that is right smack in the middle, almost like an organic blob amongst a sea of buildings. In the Makati area, ABV and Finders Keepers are speakeasy bars and clubs that I normally go to — discreet, with good drinks and a fashionable crowd.
In terms of art, local exhibitions such as Art Fair Philippines, Manila Art, and Art in the Park have been attracting different demographics. But if these are too chichi for you, go walk around the streets in Manila to see why graffiti and similar forms of art are out there, and why we should make our own voice.
Gallery Vask is a modern Spanish tapas restaurant, bar, gallery rolled into one. What sort of customers does Vask attract, and what sort of environment did you hope to create here?
I lived in Europe for almost 10 years, and I feel that programmatically it is sort of passé to brand yourself as only one thing. As a designer, I wanted to introduce different rooms during different times of the day and night. For there to be a sense of urban progress, I think you need to have spaces that can transform and adapt to different “performances.” The manifesto of Gallery Vask consists in a fusion of art, fashion, architecture, and food as it constantly evolves. I see it as a meta-space where the art and food curate an experience for the viewers.
The top floor of the building that houses Vask is a penthouse gallery called Manifesto, a space that you designed yourself, right down to the spectacular skylights that flood the space with natural light. How did you go about designing the space here and selecting what goes on display?
We want to constantly push the dining experience, so to have a uniquely curated space in the penthouse is really what our brand is about. Here, we push young and vibrant artists as well as established artists, and they are all planned to contribute to the unique dining experience. We have had around 6 exhibits already so far in the penthouse and the 5th floor restaurant. I think what we are doing is a modern take on the gallery set-up. We don’t need to follow the rules. We make our own rules.