When a Milan-based friend called me to say that her boss, celebrated Italian visual artist and sculptor, Carla Tolomeo, was going to be in Manila for a few days and wanted to experience Philippine art and culture, I knew that I had my work cut out for me. The diversity of this archipelago means that the definitions and expressions of “art” and “culture” would be as vast as our seas, and that it would not do the Philippines justice to limit one’s experience of the country’s cultural gifts. Still, with only three half-days (and a lot of Manila traffic) to organize the tour, we prepared an itinerary that proved to be as full of surprises as it was with artistic juice.
Ayala and Yuchengco Museums: Proud bearers of Philippine history, art, and culture
Any museum and gallery hop in Makati ought to have, first and foremost, two of the country’s largest and most celebrated museums: the Ayala Museum (open Tue-Fri, 9AM-6PM; Sat-Sun, 10AM-7PM) and the Yuchengco Museum (open Mon-Sat, 10AM-6PM).
Inside Ayala Museum
The Ayala Museum is perhaps the best the Philippines has ever seen, with historical dioramas, ethnic artifacts, and an exhibition of pre-Hispanic gold (many dating to a thousand years) that will leave its viewers in utter awe and amazement of everything that Filipino ancestors had been able to create and amass before the Spanish started labeling us “indios”. In the midst of our tour, our Italian guest, Carla, exclaimed that this was probably the best collection of gold she has ever seen. For someone who breathes art and who lives in the continent of museums and historical artifacts, you can tell that this is no exaggeration.
Meanwhile, the Yuchengco Museum, while more modest in its assets and approach, is by no means a cultural lightweight. Its Masters Collection houses pieces from some of the country’s most celebrated maestros, including Juan Luna, Fernando Amorsolo, and Carlos “Botong” Francisco; as well as pieces by National Artists Vicente Manansala, Ang Kiukok, Napoleon Abueva, Victorio Edades, Cesar Legaspi, and Jose Joya; among others. Our group also witnessed the homecoming exhibition of Edd Aragon (who you will find has an interesting connection to the museum’s patrons), who uses ultraviolet (UV) light to make his works come alive.
Paper stones exhibit at Yuchengo
For a truly patriotic treat, visit “Rizalizing the Future,” Yuchengco Museum’s tribute to the 150th birth anniversary of the Philippines’ national hero, Dr. Jose P. Rizal, which runs from June through October 2011.
Pasong Tamo Extension: Some of the best in contemporary art all in one straight line
Art is by no means linear, but a short and straight line along Pasong Tamo Extension reveals a lot of artistic surprises. Our group started off with a quick viewing at the Manila Contemporary (open Tue-Sat, 11AM-7PM; Sun, 11AM-4PM), a large and beautiful space housed within the expansive event venue Whitespace, where we witnessed the closing of a group show by Felix Bacolor, Jon Cuyson, Christina Quisumbing Ramilo, Joseph Tecson, and Costantino Zicarelli. Although most of the exhibit pieces had already been taken down, we found a section of old toys (with Rubber Duckies of all shapes and sizes, and paper butterflies that we gamely played around with) that made it worth the trip for our five-year-old guest, Philip.
Inside Manila Contemporary
From June 4 to 26, 2011 Manila Contemporary will host international artists Mella Jaarsma (from the Netherlands and Indonesia) and Melati Suryodarmo (from Indonesia and Germany), who, together with Manila-based artists Bea Camacho and Raquel de Loyola, will explore performance art in a program that “aims to create dialogue, exchange, sharing, collaboration, and knowledge production” of the art form across continents. For those who see art beyond the stasis of framed objects and museum pieces, this is a must-see.
Silverlens Gallery (open Mon-Fri, 10AM-7PM; Sat, 1-6PM), owned by photographer Isa Lorenzo, is another must-see in this strip. Located beside DPC Place, right before Pasong Tamo Extension curves to the left, Silverlens and its “sister” gallery Slab are known to feature photography exhibits from both world-renowned photographers and emerging visual artists. This month, Silverlens is home to “Strip 2011: Painters as Photographers”, an exhibit by Patricia Eustaquio, Yasmin Sison, Geraldine Javier, and Nona Garcia. While some of the images will be downright shocking and repulsive, they nonetheless show a bold, passionate quality that is difficult to resist and haunting at best.
Right next-door, and connected by a short bridge, acclaimed author, playwright, and (now) painter Gilda Cordero-Fernando’s exhibit “Claiming a Piece of Paradise & Facebook” shows the 81-year-old’s take on “a utopian topsy turvy world that integrates spiritual beliefs coming from different parts of the world with everyday Filipino life.” Some of the pieces show the juxtaposition of myriad elements from multiple mythologies; others were like interpretations of what would otherwise be Facebook profile photos. All of them were painted with what Carla Tolomeo called “naiveté”—artwork that is innocent in technique but passionate and bold in expression.
To cap off our Pasong Tamo Extension hop, our group also paid a visit to the aptly named Department of Avant-Garde Clichés (D.A.G.C), or “Duck” Gallery (open Tue-Sat, 11AM-7PM), where Berlin-based artists Christian Gfeller and Anna Hellsgard are currently exhibiting large-format prints from their series “Reality is Only a Rorschach Ink-Blog, My Dear”. Exuberant to some, confusing to others, the prints show how there is much room for exploration and discourse in this side of the world.
Visiting the “Duck” Gallery
The Collective on Malugay Street: SoHo in Makati
The minute we entered The Collective (open 4PM up daily for most shops) on Malugay Street, the former warehouse turned neo-bohemian hub, Carla immediately said, “SoHo!”, in reference to Manhattan’s artsy village. Of all the places in Makati, The Collective probably packs the most creativity per square inch, housing galleries and art spaces, as well as cozy boutiques filled with everything from indie labels and designer kitsch to sustainable food and décor pieces.
We spent some time in the toy and art gallery, VinylonVinyl, where Carla made a “30-second sketch” for VinylonVinyl’s proprietor, Formula Three racecar driver, Gaby dela Merced, before tasting some “Kama Sutra” (the cake, not the book!) at Good Spirits Café, the chill-out wine and dessert spot co-owned by filmmaker Jim Libiran, among a few others. The afternoon was capped off by buying organic soaps and other goodies atRitual, the sustainable store that makes everyone who passes its way feel good almost instantly.
Reposo: The home of designer furniture
For new concepts in Filipino interior design, Reposo (now called Nicanor Garcia) Street, at the corner of the Yamaha showroom on Sen. Gil Puyat Avenue, is definitely worth a visit. Since our guest Carla was also a designer of “Sculptured Chairs,” furniture pieces in the KISH Showroom and the LRI Design Plaza were the main items on our viewing agenda.
The KISH showroom, near the corner of Jupiter and N. Garcia, is the latest incarnation of Ito Kish’s bold vision and passion as an interior designer. Now occupying the old space of Budji Layug’s showroom, the new KISH showcases an eclectic but tastefully assembled mix of furniture and décor pieces from different parts of the world. As soon as we entered the space, we were drawn to large, sun-shaped brass mirrors from France. Another prize piece was an early 20th-century “altar of house spirits” found in Bohol, which now fetches the same price as a brand-new sedan. With each twist and turn within the space, we found our Italian guests exclaiming, “Che bello! (How lovely!)”, over and over again.
LRI Design Plaza, across Alliance Française de Manille, was another treasure trove of creative discovery. Currently housing over 30 furniture shops, galleries, “creative cafés”, as well as some classrooms under the Alliance Française de Manille, LRI Design Plaza includes such shops as Diretso Design Furniture, which our guests appreciated for its unique abaca designs and Filipino hardwood furniture, The Room Upstairs, a unique shop that fuses décor and desserts, and Heima, a contemporary design boutique that features paper products as well as interiors.
All these may seem to be too much for three (half) days, but they are truly just the tip of the iceberg for this city that proudly showcases the creativity and artistry of our people. For a truly meaningful museum and gallery hop, why don’t you check out some new art spaces and create your own itinerary? You’ll discover not only the country’s creative gems, but also a little bit more about your own artistic sensibilities. What you uncover just might surprise you.