Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A day at the museum

YOU READ IT RIGHT, the festive tarpaulins at the facade of the National Museum says entrance to the musuem is free but only for the month of October!
I'm not a museum person. At least that's what I thought when I started travelling. To think I only spend four days max in a city whenever I travel, going to museums takes much of my time, and sometimes a bit of cash that would have otherwise gone to souvenirs, a new shirt, or a better tourist attraction.

But this doesn't mean I haven't been to any. When I went to Vietnam in 2007, I've checked out the War Museum. It was kinda regrettable (who wants to see gory images of war when having some R&R?), but I don't think I wasted time there since it is just among the few things that you'll see in Saigon. I loved the Louvre in Paris (despite Mona Lisa's size), the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, the Vatican Museum at the Vatican City, and the Museum of Modern Art in Rome. It's time well-spent in these museums, but I think that's just it and I didn't bother going to the lesser known museums, much less spend a few euros on them (journalists like myself can get in for free in most museums around Europe).

But yes, shame on me for having checked out these museums and ignore the ones that we have back home in the Philippines!

And so just recently, I took advantage of the free passes at the National Museum (of the Philippines) available for the whole month of October. To be exact, I went to the National Art Gallery, which was housed at the Old Legislative Building just across Intramuros and the Manila City Hall.

I first went to this place during my freshman year in college in 1999, when we were required to do so for our Art Appreciation (Humanities) class. Back then, paintings of famous Filipino artists, done mostly during the mid- to late 1800s at the tail-end of the Spanish regime in the Philippines, were exhibited in a big hall behind the humungous, life-sized "Spoliarium" by the great Juan Luna.

Hallways were shabby at the time, and the building was in great need of repair.

But fast-forward to 2012, I should say the Old Legislative Building was brought back to its former glory. The walls were freshly painted, and every nook and cranny of this early 1900s building cleaned. The warm afternoon sun bathes the hallways were patriots and movers and shakers of Philippine history once walked at a time when this building was still the legislative's and the same venue where three Philippine presidents took their oath.

For once, I thought there's hope for Manila's old, beautiful, American-era buildings.

One side of the two spiral staircases of the Old Legislative Building that is now home to the National Art Gallery.
But more than the beautiful edifice, let me dwell on the artworks in this magnificent edifice.

The vastness of the "Spoliarium" astounded me for the second time. Going back to Luna's other works in the adjoining gallery also made me realize that the man, who is also quite well-known in Paris during his time, is at par with the European masters.

YES, the Spoliarium is that big! This masterpiece, which won the gold medal at the Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes in 1884 in Madrid, measures 400cm x 700cm. And yes, because the entrance is for free, students flock to the gallery.
The hall dedicated to Dr. Jose Rizal, touted as the "great Malayan," contained a few artworks by the Philippine national hero, enough to say that the national hero is a genius at all fronts.

Retablo, or altarpiece in big Baroque churches, where statues are placed. The patron saint normally occupies the top spot. 
Another hall is dedicated to religious artifacts, with the two intricately carved wooden retablos (altarpiece) as the centerpiece. Another gallery is dedicated to various sculptures, which I think is different from the ones I saw in Europe and Southeast Asia in a sense that the human subjects are portrayed with heightened emotions.
Brass door handles designed by National Artist Napoleon Abueva.
The upper floor, on the other hand, houses exhibits on the natural history of the Philippines, while the third floor has the old session hall of the Senate, where visitors can have photo ops.

Overall, I'm just so happy that authorities fixed this very beautiful building. But when it comes to the number of artworks, I think the pieces are far too few for this country of great creative geniuses! I hope curators will also add to the exhibit the works of Fernando Amorsolo and Vicente Manansala, which are mostly at the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (Philippine central bank), while a number of those by Felix Resurrection Hidalgo are housed at the museum of the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS).

But still, the collections are beautiful and the place is incredible. I would definitely bring my non-Filipino friends here and convince my fellow Filipinos to check this place out. What to visit next? The Museum of the Filipino People, which is just next to the National Art Gallery!

Tip sheet:
- entrance to the National Museum (both the National Art Gallery and the Museum of the Filipino People) are FREE of charge for the whole month of October. After October, entrance fee is waived EVERY SUNDAY.

- The museums are open Tuesday to Sunday, 10am till 4:30pm.

- Rates are as follows: P100 (about USD2.20) for adults, P80 (less than USD2) for senior citizens, and P30 (less than USD1) for children.

- for more information, visit www.nationalmuseum.gov.ph

- Getting there: the two museums are a short walk from the United Nations station of the LRT Line 1. If you're taking a jeepney or bus, get off at the City Hall (Manila City Hall) and from there, the museums are just a block away.

- For best photo ops at the facade of the building, try to come before dusk.

A couple of weeks after this entry was posted, Juan Luna's Parisian Life and several works by Felix Resurrection Hidalgo were loaned to the National Museum from the GSIS Museum.


Jennyjenjen said...

Nice One! Punta ako dito sa Sabado.. nice pictures.. Canon 600d gamit mo? nice nice :)

Gerard dela Pena said...

Yes, Jennyjenjen, it's my Canon 600D. :-) And oh, agahan mo para makatawid ka pa sa Museum of the Filipino People. 430 sarado na agad eh. ;-)