New York According to: Katey Acquaro of Silverlens

The director of the Manila gallery’s New York outpost gives a tour of its Chelsea neighborhood, favorite galleries in the city and the “churning desire to learn” of its residents

in Frieze New York , Interviews | 26 MAR 24

This year is the 20th anniversary of Silverlens opening in Manila, and two years since it opened its US outpost in Chelsea, becoming the first gallery from Southeast Asia to open a location in New York City. One of the leading contemporary art galleries in Southeast Asia, it aims to contextualize its artists within a global framework through representation, institutional partnerships, consultancy and exhibition programming, including art fairs and collaborations.

Its New York Director, Katey Acquaro, talks about favorite galleries in NYC, what to make of the term “emerging” and a top recommendation of where to get a steamed coconut custard.

Katey Acquaro. Photo: Carlo Martí
Katey Acquaro. Photo: Carlo Martí

What’s great about your gallery’s location? 

Our New York location is in the heart of Chelsea, a neighborhood where people from all over the globe come to see world-class art. Coming from the Philippines, it felt right to land here for two reasons. One, to put the artists we work with in the context of their peers. And two, to offer the Asian diaspora a place to see a piece of themselves in the center. 

Why would you recommend your neighborhood area to art lovers new to New York? 

The density of galleries. In Chelsea, you could see 100+ exhibitions in a day, often of museum-quality work, all free of charge. In the United States, where institutions are necessitated to charge entrance fees in lieu of government support, this is an invaluable access point to art for the public. 

Can you explain the ethos of your gallery and what unites your artists?

Silverlens was founded 20 years ago in Manila in the Philippines as a photography gallery in an apartment. Since then, owners Isa Lorenzo and Rachel Rillo have expanded the program to feature a roster of 30+ artists working across media. In 2022, the gallery opened its New York location.

The majority of the artists with which we collaborate are based in Southeast Asia, including the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. However, by opening in New York, Silverlens aims to create a two-way portal—giving Southeast Asian artists a platform in the US, and the diaspora a doorway to “home.” Looking to the future, our program will evolve to reflect a story of global migration. The histories of Asia, Latin America and the US remain entwined. The world is much closer than we think.

Édgar Calel, B’alab’äj (Jaguar Stone), 2023 at SculptureCenter, 2023. Courtesy the artist and Proyectos Ultravioleta, Guatemala City. Commissioned by SculptureCenter, New York and Hartwig Art Foundation, Amsterdam. Photo: Charles Benton.
Édgar Calel, B’alab’äj (Jaguar Stone), 2023, at SculptureCenter. Courtesy the artist and Proyectos Ultravioleta, Guatemala City. Commissioned by SculptureCenter, New York and Hartwig Art Foundation, Amsterdam. Photo: Charles Benton

Favorite museum, gallery, or art space in New York?

So many! To name a few:

In Manhattan, El Museo del Barrio uptown has an incredible collection of contemporary art from Latin America and the Caribbean. They host free community programming, including weekly exhibition tours and mambo mornings. In Chelsea, Kurimanzutto (originating in Mexico) and Nara Roesler (originating in Brazil) are formidable galleries from “elsewhere” that have opened US outposts. Downtown, P.P.O.W., which has been staging ambitious shows by BIPOC, queer, and women artists for 40+ years, as well as Artists Space and Canal Projects to see the cutting-edge. In Queens, SculptureCenter, to see installations by the next generation, often global artists showing in New York for the first time, and MoMA PS1, of course. And in Brooklyn, Asia Art Archive in America.

“Pacita Abad” at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. Photo by Eric Mueller, courtesy Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.
“Pacita Abad” at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. Courtesy Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. Photo: Eric Mueller

Last exhibition you went to?

Pacita Abad’s traveling retrospective at MoMA PS1! In addition to PS1, the show tours The Walker, SFMOMA, and Art Gallery Ontario. Pacita was born in the Philippines but traversed to over 60 countries throughout her vibrant life. She is known for her massive, quilted paintings, with subjects spanning underwater landscapes to the immigrant experience.

Which emerging artists or media excite you at the moment?

“Emerging” is a funny term… emerging where? Many non-US artists, and artists from the Global South, are recognized by institutions and biennials across continents, yet remain “emerging” in the US market. That being said, Esteban Ramón Pérez manipulates leather, using skills honed working in his father’s upholstery shop. In the artist’s words, he “intertwines cultural and artistic sensibilities of his Chicano heritage with the visual language of postmodernism as well as issues rooted in postcolonial history.” CFGNY is an artist collective working across fashion, video, performance, etc. They “continually return to the term ‘vaguely Asian’: an understanding of racial identity as a specific cultural experience combined with the experience of being perceived as ‘other’.” 

“Surface Trend,” 2019 at Seward Park, Manhattan. Photography by Oto Gillen, courtesy of CFGNY
“Surface Trend,” 2019 at Seward Park, Manhattan. Photography by Oto Gillen, courtesy of CFGNY

What’s different about the New York art scene to that of other cities (your local art scene in particular)?

The voraciousness of the audience. New Yorkers have a churning desire to learn. 

Favorite places to eat in your area?

Juban for fresh Japanese food in a casual, lively setting. Get the grilled shishito, raw octopus, and spicy cauliflower tempura. Further away, Gugu Room (Lower East Side) is a Filipino-Japanese Izakaya with great cocktails. Fish Market (South Street Seaport) is a confusingly located and dive-y sports bar, serving incredible Chinese-Malaysian-Italian food and free shots of Jameson. Sarisa Café (Midtown East) for handmade Thai desserts and tea. Get the steamed coconut custard. 

Fish Market in South Street Seaport
Fish Market in South Street Seaport. 

Best bar near the gallery?

The Lobby Bar at Hotel Chelsea is classically New York. Hotel Chelsea has been home to numerous writers, musicians, artists and entertainers over the past 150 years. Glamorous and haunted.

Your most recommended local business?

For dessert, Kora: Filipino pastry. Get the ube fried brioche or the calamansi cornmeal and rosemary cookie. 

For florals, FDK, founded by Fernando Kabigting, a queer, first-generation Filipino-American. He has cultivated a star-studded list of clients, including The Whitney, Gucci, Herman Miller, et al. 

Liempo (grilled pork belly) by DILA. Photo: Tammy David
Liempo (grilled pork belly) by DILA. Photo: Tammy David

For culinary pop-ups and events, DILA, a kitchen run by LJ Almendras, a chef who does imaginative Filipino food with Western influences. 

For gifts: Artist books from Printed Matter, a leading art publishing non-profit. And merch by Tammy David, whose absurd tote bags and pillows are inspired by a rhetorical question she asked her mother at age 14: “Did I ask to be born?”.  We have them available at the gallery.

Best thing about New York?

The strong LGBTQIA++ community. New York is a great place to be gay. And of course the walkability.

Worst thing about New York?

Noise pollution.

Silverlens is taking part in Frieze New York 2024 (stand B02). 

Further Information

Frieze New York returns to The Shed, May 1–5, 2024.


Early-bird tickets are sold out. Limited full-price tickets are available to purchase. 


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Main image: Silverlens New York, Chelsea, NYC. Photo: Tammy David