OCTOBER IS Museums and Galleries Month! What better way to embrace the month-long celebration than by visiting the National Museum’s three main branches in Manila.
Just a short walk away from the famed historic walled city of Intramuros are the National Museum of Fine Arts, the National Museum of Anthropology and the National Museum of Natural History. For the first part of this column, we’ll be focusing on the former.
Housed in what was once the hallowed halls of the Philippine Senate and Congress during the Commonwealth era until the early 1990s, the National Museum of Fine Arts, along Padre Burgos Avenue, covers Philippine art from the 17th to 21st centuries – of course most noted for hosting the sprawling and indelible “Spoliarium” of revolutionary painter Juan Luna Y Novicio.
The museum also dedicates full galleries to a handful of Filipino National Artists, among them sculptor Guillermo Tolentino (known for envisioning the University of the Philippines’ “Oblation” and the iconic Bonifacio Monument in Grace Park, Caloocan), Fernando Amorsolo (celebrated for his pastoral masterworks and portraits of Manila’s elite), and José Joya (noted for his awe-inspiring and timeless abstract expressionism) – as well as the likes of Félix Resurrección Hidalgo, Napoleon Abueva and even Jose Rizal (who dabbled in painting and claywork), among others.
THE SECRET LIFE OF JUAN LUNA
During a full-day respite at the National Museum of Fine Arts in January this year (yes, you’ll need an entire day to wholly explore the three-storey museum without overwhelming your senses), I and two friends saved a few bucks by discreetly following a serendipitous tour group led by Manila’s most sought-after guide Carlos Celdran – infamous for his “Walk This Way” outings.
We managed to eavesdrop about Juan Luna’s less than ideal private life – the decorated artist reportedly killed his mother-in-law and wife, Paz Pardo de Tavera, in Madrid, right in front of their six-year-old son Luling. I had already learned about Juan Luna’s fiery temper and alcoholism a few months before from a lecture by celebrity historian Ambeth Ocampo, but seeing the ilustrado’s work in person while hearing about his alarming misdeeds is a whole new experience all together.
Celdran pointed out that Luna’s conflicted inner life is hinted at in his prized painting “Interior D’un Cafe’,” more popularly known as “The Parisian Life” – a seemingly idyllic image from a day in the painter’s life in France. However, the subtle placement of a window frame behind the beautiful reclining woman transforms her fashionable choker into a sinister noose.
The National Museum of Fine Arts also houses a Juan Luna oeuvre that is rumored to be cursed: “Portrait of a Lady,” which according to gossip has blighted all its previous owners with misfortune and ill luck – in some cases even death. The painting’s last owners were the Marcoses in the late 1960s, and we all know their eventual fate.
But enough about Juan Luna, elsewhere in the museum, the eras-straddling Carlos “Botong” Francisco mural, the mammoth “Filipino Struggles Through History,” traces this country’s lineage from pre-colonial Tondo to the liberation of the Philippines from the American Commonwealth – once exhibited at the Manila City Hall and left to decay, before being restored to its former glory to be exhibited at the Old Senate Session Hall inside the National Museum of Fine Arts.
The National Commission for Culture and the Arts is leading the 2019 Museums and Galleries Month (MGM) celebration this October, designated by virtue of Presidential Proclamation No. 798, s 1991. This year’s theme, “Building the Nation, One Exhibit at a Time,” highlights the prime role of museums and galleries as institutions in awakening the Filipino national consciousness vital to nation-building.
The MGM held its first ever kick-off ceremony last week, hosted by the lloilo Museum of Contemporary Art in lloilo City, to commence the month-long celebration. The event further underscored the role of museums and galleries as custodians of Filipino identity and history through the protection and preservation of various art forms.
MGM hopes to bring museums and galleries closer to the Filipino people for them to understand that these institutions are mandated to promote our culture with embodiments of the past and presentations of our contemporary environs. (To be continued/PN)