Sunday, March 9, 2014

first stop: museums and art galleries

Dr Neil Bearden, associate professor at INSEAD Singapore, posits that distinctions matter. As soon as we start seeing distinctions, the world becomes a more colorful place to live in. We start seeing the details and appreciating diversity. I guess what he's saying is true. For me, cities are the same at first glance: tall buildings, traffic jams, garden patches. But once I scratch the surface of a city's culture, I learn of its colorful past, its search for identity, and (sometimes) its outlook towards the future.

What better place to learn all these things---short of immersion---than a museum and an art gallery, right? So on my first visit to cities, I normally end up visiting these. I skip the theme parks, the landmarks, and such.

In the Philippines, I've visited quite a few museums. Metro Manila has quite a few; my friends and I have yet to check off all museums in our list! Then there are the museums found in the provinces. One of the most memorable to me is the Bontoc Museum. The visit introduced me to the photographs of Eduardo Masferre, renowned for capturing, on film, tribal life in the Cordilleras. One of the most recent I've visited is the Villa Escudero Museum: a building, formerly used as a church, was converted into a display area of the family's vast collection of religious art and antiques. As a child, I visited the humble home---nipa hut, really---of Apolinario Mabini, a Philippine national hero.

On my first ever visit to the USA, I insisted on seeing the Kennedy Space Center. It's not like the traditional museums I've seen but it featured America's push towards the next frontier: outer space. I am a fan of the Apollo "space cowboy" age, which saw man landing on the moon, so I totally forgot that I was going to be hit pretty hard by jet lag. I've also since visited a zoo, several novelty tourist spots, and a few museums.

In Hong Kong, 16 years after my first trip there, I finally was able to visit a museum! Well, sort of. An exhibit on the view deck of 2IFC dwelt only on Hong Kong's currency. The city does not have a central bank; instead, its money is minted by three banks. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority regulates the minting affairs of the three banks, if my understanding is correct. While prepping for the Asia Society HK event, I asked the staff if the place was a museum. They said that it wasn't exactly a museum; it was more of an art gallery. 

Then there's Singapore. Instead of going to the usual tourist destinations, I stayed on the culture track and followed the arrows to the Singapore Art Museum. When I was there, the Singapore Biennale 2013 was going on, with the theme "If the World Changed". I can't say that I've understood the modern art pieces but it's fascinating to watch the multimedia artwork... particularly the ones that respond to the viewer. :) The National Museum of Singapore is a go-to place if one wants to learn about the country's search for identity. There were art pieces as well, but the high point of my visit was the walk through history, directed only by the audio tour guide. I felt like I was in a Walk this Way tour without Carlos Celdran.

In Sydney and Brisbane, years ago, I made it a point to visit the museums and art galleries because these normally did not have entrance fees... or there were minimum fees (perfect for the ever financially challenged student). It was quite disconcerting for me then to see musical instruments I used to play in college as museum pieces! At some point, I caught up with the World Press Photos exhibit. I once thought I wanted to be a photojournalist professionally but after seeing the gore and seeing the lengths photographers would go to get that one shot, I changed my mind. It was also during my visits to different museums and galleries when I discovered that I am a fan of 18th and 19th century art rather than what were called modern art. But my favorite part of the visits was seeing a lot of Australian aboriginal art. These unique pieces showed bits and pieces of their culture; these couldn't be found anywhere else.

Next time I find myself in a new city, I'm paying a visit to museums and art galleries... as per usual.