Please take selfies in the Ayala Museum
Fernando Zobel de Ayala opened the Ayala Museum’s special feature of Ronald Ventura, the contemporary painter who broke barriers in both aesthetic principles and Hong Kong auction records. I teased that on a previous visit, an overzealous guard seemed to follow me, watching if I would take pictures. My scholarship patron laughed and said the new policy is to allow non-flash photography and let museum selfies flood social media, hopefully drawing more visitors. The guard then took our selfie, which you can view if you like my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/OscarFranklinTan).
Museum selfies are long overdue. Art has evolved from being a luxury of kings and mercantile lords, and museums have likewise moved from being intimidating reliquaries. I have been to the Ayala Museum lobby, for example, for chamber concerts, the Philippine Law Journal’s 100th anniversary dinner, a Jessica Zafra talk on writing and world domination, presentations by local tech startup founders, and the sendoff concert for aspiring acoustic guitar trio Triple Fret’s European tour. Its café is the finishing touch that moves it closer to the Guggenheim Museum
Bilbao and the New York Museum of Modern Art and their Michelin-starred restaurants.
But going back to the actual art, viewing it is meant to be interactive, and this generation interacts through selfies. I truly itched to take a selfie in the Ayala Museum when I viewed the huge Fernando Zobel (the painter) exhibit with longtime University of the Philippines fine arts professor Benjie Cabangis. I am too lawyerly and left-brained for abstract art, but I was soon engrossed in Benjie’s impromptu lecture, with huge Zobel paintings for teaching aids. He invited me to look closer at how lines, dots and gradients generated impressions of force or gentleness. He pointed to a particular painting that seemed deceptively blank except for a small figure and explained how that small figure nevertheless dominated the rest of the space, an effect hardly as effortless as it looks.
Benjie zoomed in on overlooked details, from small spots of canvas left bare by the painter to fine graphite lines. He talked of crossword-like grids capturing the theme of order emerging from chaos, a theme he himself does beautifully, in bold blues, whites and oranges that allude to the first rays of sunlight breaking through a dark sky, or the last rays of sunset withdrawing from it. On our way out, he asked me which painting struck me most and declared that he was all fired up to paint, perhaps revisiting muted browns like
Zobel’s. I hope I remember the experience well as witnessing that interaction of two modern masters was not in the exhibit book I purchased.
I enjoyed seeing selfies with paintings flood my Facebook feed last February, after Art Fair Philippines, and the huge work of Zean Cabangis, Benjie’s son, was a clear hit with students. I am hoping for a similar flood this week, after yesterday’s Art in the Park fair of young artist and student works. Indeed, the only museum selfie I regularly see is friends posing with Juan Luna’s “Spoliarium.” To the National Museum’s credit, its guards have memorized the best spots from which to take selfies.
For all its haunting majesty, however, the “Spoliarium” was painted to demonstrate that the Indios can paint, and we are overdue for a modern masterpiece that better captures our independent republic’s aspirations. During the chain Facebook status craze of posting paintings instead of bad news and coffee snapshots, most of my Filipino friends posted paintings by dead Europeans. I even catch young Filipino painters sometimes forwarding one too many Berlin-Artparasites posts. I recall painter Manny Garibay’s exhortation to express our national identity as strongly as possible in our art, as it is not yet firmly entrenched in the global psyche.
After our museums allow selfies, the next step must be to allow public access to at least low-resolution pictures of their collections, like the most liberal foreign museums. Imagine making it easy and inviting for young Filipinos to not just visit museums regularly, but to also use the lines and palettes of a Zobel or a Cabangis as a PowerPoint presentation template, as part of a noncommercial poster or T-shirt design, or a Twitter profile motif. Indeed, Ronald Ventura and artist Geraldine Javier had collaboration shirts with clothing brand Bench featured at the last Art Fair. Artists vie for a place in our public psyche, and technology encourages us to make our concept of public access to museums as broad as possible.
* * *
My neighbor Antonio Montalvan II (“The perils of a scopic Mindanao view,” 3/16/15) suggested that retired Justice Vicente V. Mendoza uses “scopic argumentation,” but in the same breath as women wearing hijabs (veils) being refused cab rides or insulted as “Abu Sayyaf.” I hope he was not implying that this great man who has dedicated his life to the teaching of human rights is bigoted because of his intellectual position on the Bangsamoro Basic Law.
Justice Mendoza has prominently argued that describing a Bangsamoro identity in the law is akin to a definition of citizenship, one of the elements that makes the proposed Bangsamoro entity a separate state. Integrated Bar of the Philippines general counsel Pacifico Agabin and I disagree in our paper, “A Liberal Interpretation of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.” This Bangsamoro identity is described aspirationally because no one loses any rights for not belonging to it. For example, running for public office depends on residence in the Bangsamoro entity, not identification as Bangsamoro.
* * *
React on Twitter (@oscarfbtan) and Facebook.