philippine art at the ayala museum

Residents of Makati City are fortunate to have not one, but two top-class museums in the central business district. I visited the Yuchengco Museum with my PhD classmates and our professor a couple of months ago, enjoyed the experience very much, and decided to take my offspring on a trip to the other one – the Ayala Museum in Greenbelt Park.

The Zobel de Ayala family, a prominent one in Philippine business and society, are generous patrons of the arts; some members of the clan are artists themselves, notably Fernando Zobel (painting) and Jaime Zobel (photography). To sh0wcase and store their art collections, mostly of Philippine provenance, the family established this museum, a venue for sharing their beautiful possessions with the public.

The facade. The museum is connected by first- and second-floor walkways to Greenbelt mall at Ayala Center.

Painted metal sculptures grace the front courtyard.

The guards at the museum advised us to start our tour at the top floor, where tradeware in an array of colors was displayed – blue-and-white, celadon, and brown-and-white among them. There were many pottery items whose uses and functions seem strange to us now – tiny water droppers that barely hold a quarter cup of liquid and miniscule dishes among them. Other artifacts are now made in other materials, such as pen boxes.

Porcelain jars. Image from here.

After our tour of the porcelain, museum guards directed us to a dimly-lit section barred with steel. We entered with trepidation, and were told to sit in front of a dark screen. A switch was flipped, lights, sound, and video came on, and we were treated to a wonderfully-produced, well-written documentary – “Gold of Ancestors”. I won’t spoil it by giving away the narrative – I highly recommend you go see it.

After the show, more lights came on and we made the rounds of display cases filled with gold objects – jewelry, funerary masks, containers. By far the most spectacular piece was something that looked like a belt. From the flyer “Gold of Ancestors: Pre-Colonial Treasures in the Philippines”, written by Dr Florina H. Capistrano-Baker: “A magnificent gold halter…weighing almost four kilograms, is believed by some to be an upavita, or sacred thread. In traditional Hindu society, only members of the elite Brahmin class were entitled to wear an upavita after a purification ritual.”

The Sacred Thread: a magnificent item of jewelry, and a work of art. Image from here.

There were also paintings by Amorsolo and Luna. Of course my favorite was Luna’s “Lady at the Racetrack”.

Image from here.

We saw many other beautiful things in the museum’s collections – an exhibit of 19th century daily wear, heavily embroidered and quaintly tailored; a full suit of Jose Rizal’s everyday clothes; carabao horn salakots and top hats; intricate models of galleons and other sailing ships; and other curios.

Unfortunately, museum rules strictly prohibit photography of the collections and exhibits, which is very frustrating and annoying since other museums such as Yuchengco and the Getty and LACMA in Los Angeles allow it in certain areas. Ayala Museum even forbids photos in the lobby! Visitors who want a souvenir can only pose in front of a bizarre display of unrelated and not-to-scale stand-up figures off to one side of the lobby.  We hope the museum administrators will soon rethink this policy.

A visit to the museum’s gift shop yielded bookmarks, a tote bag, books, a metal pencase, and other little treasures. It’s a great way to spend a geekend afternoon.

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1 Comment on philippine art at the ayala museum

  1. Bea
    18 November 2010 at 7:27 am (2530 days ago)

    I received an email from them, informing me about their latest exhibits. I believe you might have gotten an email too. Let’s go back!

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