Monday, July 1, 2013


I'm lucky that I have friends who share my enthusiasm on learning more about Philippine culture and who love to visit museums. And we do it every June 19, so far, complete with a stop over at Jose Rizal's monument at the Luneta.

This year, aside from dropping by the museum at the CCP, we looked at the various art exhibits there and dropped by the nearby Metropolitan Museum in Manila. Just by looking at so many artwork from a wide range of genres, I could say (not being an expert at all) that the Philippine visual arts scene is thriving.

When I first saw copies of Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo's paintings "La Barca de Aqueronte" and "Las Virgenes Cristianas Expuestas al Populacho", I understood why he won reknown as an artist: I was blown away by his depiction of adversity and discomfort and by his play with light and shadows. These paintings, including Juan Luna's "Spolarium", are some of the best I've seen. They're priceless!

Aside from these Neoclassic pieces, there were more ancient art: such as the religious wood carvings featured in the Met Museum's basement. They could easily predate the Hidalgos by 200 years! While viewing the handicraft collection, I was amazed at the Filipino artisan from centuries back because of the intricacies of the carvings and the fine details of the rosaries. Then there were the even older art work: prehistoric jewelry. I knew, after visiting the Ayala Museum and the CCP, that the pre-Hispanic period inhabitants of the Philippines were vain: they loved to decorate themselves with tattoos, ornaments, and jewelry. The Met Museum's collection included a lot of gold, glass beads, and semi-precious stones. If ornate earrings and headpieces these days are typically design for women, men had equally complex earrings and head covers before the Spanish colonizers arrived (as shown in the Met Museum and the CCP Museum).

Then there's modern art. Filipinos have embraced the various media available to them: film, music, mixed media, paint... Even space! Yes, there was one exhibit that appeared to be a study of the emptiness space! My impression of modern artwork, which I first had back as a post-grad student visiting museums in Sydney and Brisbane, is that the artists are generally sad. A lot of them painted a world that is darker than what it really is (for me, the perpetual optimist). That same impression persists after seeing some of the modern artwork at the Met and at the CCP art galleries. I noticed a lot of paintings with activist messages, a lot of sad faces, paper money made into airplanes, desolation on open roads... And here I am, thinking that Filipinos are a generally jolly bunch of people and that must be captured in art somehow, somewhere. I therefore conclude that after a day of looking at modern art, I still have to acquire the taste for it.

On a different note, I particularly enjoyed viewing the art pieces of  Lexygius Calip at the CCP's Pasilyo Vicente Manansala. The artist had a very interesting view about people's memories and the juxtaposition of emptiness and presence. I nicknamed one of the artworks "lost in space" because of all the holes in it. And from this artist's work came the most profound of messages that I've seen on this year's museum excursion:

"The void is not empty. It is space filled with the vitality of the universe and at the same time with the feeling of loneliness." (MVT Herrera, exhibit brochure)

In other words, the void is the presence of what's not there.