Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Day at the (Ayala) Museum

The Ayala Museum is one of the most accessible spots of culture for me because it's right smack in the middle of Makati's central business district. So naturally, when I meet a friend in Makati and he blurts, "Talk nerdy to me," how can I resist the pull of the museum, right?

Heiko and I went to Ayala Museum one Sunday afternoon, before he left for Hanoi, Vietnam. It's certainly a different experience from when I'm touring museums with the museum hoppers. It was refreshing. Finally, I was with someone who reacted with the same flabbergasted expression I always have when I "educate" myself on contemporary art. We both went, "That's art?!" when we saw scribbles on canvas, before moving on to the next art piece. This reaction is typical of me when I go to museums of modern art alone and don't get what the pieces are saying. I just found it surprising that someone else reacted the same way... and there's no need to act all art-critique-y, for a change.

(With my museum-hopping friends, in contrast, I normally try to interpret the artwork [silly interpretations at times] and put a lot of thought into it... although I still react as strongly when I feel the artist's execution wasn't thought through... to the chagrin of my companions because I tend to think out loud.)


One of the first exhibits that caught my eye (take note: in the contemporary art section) because it was pretty was this piece. To me, it looked like people inside a submarine at first glance. But on closer inspection, it actually looked like a theatre stage with the backdrop removed. That way, we see what's going on behind the scenes. Being one of the backstage theatre rats back in the day, I find this view fascinating. The backstage is where the "magic" of theatre begins, after all.

Moving on, we visited the Ayala gold artifact collection. Normally, I skip watching the video clip of Ayala Museum's pre-Hispanic gold exhibit. The first opportunity for me to watch the clip in its entirety was during this trip because Heiko's into the details. And rightly so... it demonstrates the links between the Philippines and its neighbours in Southeast Asia. Very fascinating. The gold culture of pre-Hispanic Philippines is unbelievable: the pieces recovered by archeologists show intricate details that could only mean that the jewelry makers back then were highly skilled. I also think that they have so much time on their hands... not a lot of things to distract them from their work.

One of my must-visit exhibits is the ceramic  collection. As a kid, I used to play with small bowls and plates with similar markings... so seeing similar things behind glass cases, is amazing to me. Of course, the museum collection is much larger than my toys back in the day. And there are many others with different designs. My favourite piece is still the blue jar (probably celadon, I'm not sure now)... I haven't seen something similar in museums overseas, I think.

Walking through the ceramics exhibit, Heiko pointed at something I've never thought about before: how are the embossed designs on various vases put on? I always thought that they're moulded in. Apparently, this assumption is something I need to revisit. And then there are the mini cows (the spotted figurines) and the friendly turtle. What are they used for? Who knows? Most likely, they're exclusively ornamental, even centuries ago.

As we walked through the rest of the exhibit, we found Tinker Tales... finally, an exhibit that wasn't serious, I thought. This was the exhibit I enjoyed the most because it's the least formal, the atmosphere was more children's book section than art gallery... it was time to loosen up! After all, here we had a chance to see children's original stories transformed into visual art pieces.

My favourite piece here is the tragic story of Miguel, the fish. Basically, he was on a picnic with a cat and a rat. The cat was distracted and didn't notice that he was drinking off Miguel's aquarium instead of his drink cup. Eventually, he gulped Miguel in! Oh no! 

Not all stories in Tinker Tales used a light approach for a tragic (or a sad) story, though. One of the exhibits in the middle of the space was supposed to be a typewriter. The paper fed into the typewriter read, "I told myself that as long as I had my heart, nothing was impossible..." Too bad I couldn't see the rest of the typewriter's story. Still, it was a heart-tugger for me. I just had to go back and see Tinker Tales again after I watched Ambeth Ocampo's lecture on food history.

Of course, we had to see the diorama collection as well. It's one of the must-sees in the museum too. We had a quick rehash of the Philippines' past, with the story ending at the 1986 EDSA Revolution. Each time I drop by this exhibit, I (re)learn something new. In this case, I was thinking about how unaware of the global goings-on the Filipino founding fathers were. They thought that they had driven off the Spanish colonisers. Unbeknownst to them, Spain had already sold the Philippines to the USA. The Americans were merely in the Philippines to claim what they thought was rightfully theirs. Oh... and that the British occupied Manila for some time as well.

Another pleasant visit to the Ayala Museum. Next time I'd find myself there, I'd be in detective mode...