EVERY EXHIBIT HAS A STORY

We were all quite excited to see the Gold of Ancestors exhibit at the Ayala Museum, but there were other interesting exhibits on the other floors I hadn’t even gotten around to blogging about yet.

Southeast Asian Ceramics

On the fourth floor, along with the gold, was a fantastic collection of Southeast Asian trade ceramics from the Roberto T. Villanueva collection. Popular historian Ambeth Ocampo writes about it here. They were arranged according to style/country of origin. All celadons together, all iron glazed together, all Thai together, all Vietnamese together, all blue and white together. Every glass shelf tells the visitor about the pieces displayed, identifying the style, the estimated age, and the location where the item was found. In the middle of the collection there is a fascinating section telling the story of the Grau sisters whose lives were dedicated to this collection. Consuelo Grau was married to Roberto T. Villanueva, while her sister Remedios curated the collection. Both sisters were students of renowned anthropologist H. Otley Beyer in UP. Because they were known collectors, people would actually bring them their finds on a near daily basis! When I looked all around, it was likely that there were more pieces that weren’t on display.

The first time I visited, we were in such a hurry to get into the 30-minute interval when the bank-vault doors opened into the gold exhibit that I totally missed the inner room. This room had a sofa with a big video screen, and the video told the story of the development of ceramics in China, to the development of the trade route from southern China to the Philippines, to India, all the way to the Middle East. There is a map of Asia on one side of the screen which shows little lights all along the trade route, timed to match the video dialogue! (Ok, I love that sort of thing.) And every time a notable piece is used as an example, the actual piece is spotlighted. Timed as well. My favorite piece is a delicate white flower-shaped footed bowl (“Yung gulaman container!” we joked), one of the oldest in the collection. My next favorite was a painted elephant with a rider, a piece from Vietnam. My third favorite piece was of a little brown carabao. Almond and Roland both loved the blue and white ceramics.

Embroidered Multiples

Ricky later led us to his personal favorite exhibit, embroidered national costumes from the period of Damian Domingo. These consisted of baro’t saya, kerchiefs/fichus and men’s costumes, all beautifully embroidered. Fabrics were in abaca, pina, jusi, silk and cotton. I believe Ricky was involved in making sure the items were displayed to best effect, yet adequately protected in a temperature controlled environment. The items were beautiful, the embroidery exceedingly fine. These items are the best and only examples of their kind, and the irony is that we are only enjoying them because of a five-year loan to the Ayala Museum by the Leiden National Museum of Ethnology (Netherlands), which acquired them from a French diplomat in the late 1800s. Some items on loan include heirloom garments from the Pardo de Tavera collection now owned by collector Rina Ortiz.

Looking at the items, I realized that Filipinos were very small and dainty then. The blouses were so sheer that some included modesty panels. If you look at the Damian Domingo paintings you’d realize women probably wore fichus in those days to cover up their chests. The fichus eventually developed into panuelos. I wanted to buy the book for my mom at the Museum Shop (3rd floor), but it was PhP 1,500 and I didn’t have the cash on me.

The Juan Luna BPI Collection

My mom attended Ambeth Ocampo’s lecture telling the story of this collection when it first opened. Most items in the collection are small works, mostly studies in preparation for bigger paintings. The first time we went to see it I was wondering why the frames were so thick. It was only on my second visit that Ricky explained that some items were reversible. The photo facsimile displayed next to the work showed its other side. On my own I wouldn’t have guessed that, since I didn’t have a brochure of the collection on hand.

Juan Luna is best remembered for two things: his award-winning painting “The Spoliarium” (famously) and for the murder of his wife Paz Pardo de Tavera and his mother-in-law in Paris (infamously). Ricky filled me in with the juicy details: when Juan Luna’s son Andres Jr. died, he left the paintings to his American wife, Grace, who later tried to sell this collection to the Philippine government so she could return to the US. However, the cash-strapped government didn’t bite, and for some decades no more was heard of these paintings. Eventually Grace Luna died in an American old-age home. When the paintings resurfaced for sale, buyers were confused about the provenance of the collection because Grace Luna had left them to her caregiver in her will. They ended up in the collection of Far East Bank and Trust Company, an acquisition hounded by controversy as the FEBTC was the agency that originally determined the collection’s value in the first place. This collection was later acquired by the Bank of the Philippine Islands with its buyout of the FEBTC.

The major Lunas on display were from the collections of Don Jaime and Beatriz Zobel de Ayala, and from Don Jaime’s aunt Dona Mercedes Zobel de McMicking. You would recognize some of them from books, particularly “La Marquesa de Monte Olivar“. The accompanying plaques note that Juan Luna signed his paintings in old Filipino script BU+LA (for “bulan” or moon, ie., “Luna”). I didn’t notice that the first time I went, but Ricky pointed it out. He also noted that the Zobel-owned paintings had been gifted to the Ayala Museum since he last worked there.

Fernando Zobel, Artist

My generation knows Fernando Zobel de Ayala as the brother of Jaime Augusto, and the husband of Catherine “KitKat” Silverio. The original Fernando Zobel was their uncle the artist. His work, modern and abstract, in different media, occupies the space next to the Amorsolos. His sketchbooks were also on display, as well as letters. There was also an interactive website visitors could access. I didn’t know much of him since his works are not part of general study, but as I google I find that he is alternately considered a Spanish artist and a Filipino one. Here are some works in an online auction. His charming dachshund and horse doodles (from travel sketchbooks) are on notebooks and mugs for sale in the Museum Shop.

The Dioramas

It is rare for a child to grow up in Metro Manila and not experience the Ayala Museum dioramas. They illustrate Filipino history in detailed 3d miniature. Ricky however, made our trip as adults more entertaining with the ff. trivia:

1) Each figure, made by hand in Paete, costs at least P2,000!
2) There are realistic details, such as: urinating men, a rat under Rizal’s tocador, tiny torn-up buntal hats, a gay Katipunero, a lesbian one, a dwarf, a giant, faces of the artists/museum staff in cameo appearances, folded merchandise in an Escolta store window, others.
3) Imelda complained that there was no Marcos figure in the Death March diorama! A figure was hurriedly made! Later on (post-Edsa Revolution), because it could not be concretely proved that Marcos was actually there, it was decided that the figure be removed! Now no one knows where it went!

The latest addition to that display was a Corridor of Infamy into the Marcos Years, with an interactive presentation narrated by Cheche Lazaro. Oddly enough, the door at the end led to… the stairs leading down to the toilet. No, I joke, it leads down to the ground floor, where there is an artist’s space occupied during our visit by painter Nestor Vinluan, who is now less obsessed by the diaphanous now as he is with color on color. With its high ceiling, that space (next to the counter) shows big canvases to great effect.

By this time, we got hungry again…

Next: Como Max Brenner Para Chocolate

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