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March 22, 2011

Artstruck: My family's day at the Museum

While P-Noy and thousands of other Pinoys commemorated the 25th anniversary of the EDSA Revolution last February 25, 2011, my little family of three did something refreshingly different: We visited the National Art Gallery of the National Museum in Manila, and enjoyed ourselves, too.

That day, for a change, my husband, my daughter, and I were surrounded by superb, stunning works of art, and not amongst fast food stores, clothes shops, arcade games, billboards, and the various other commercial trappings of a typical mall. It was a simple, quiet, and relaxing outing that doubled as a firsthand lesson in art, history, and culture. More importantly, we bonded and did something as a family.

The stateliness of the Old Congress Building that houses the NAG made it almost effortless to like the museum and its numerous treasures. The halls were clean and wide, and the viewing rooms were all large, delightfully cool, and tastefully subdued. And although a number of rooms at the NAG were off limits to the public and under renovation when we went, they didn't detract from the natural charm of the place. We were still enamored by the many beautiful paintings and sculptures of well-known Filipino artists like Fernando Amorsolo, Guillermo Tolentino, and Napoleon Abueva.

There was the life-sized metal statue of Manuel Quezon at the entrance, and big and small busts of legendary local achievers such as Jose Rizal and Lapu-Lapu. "So that's how he looks like," remarked my daughter Andrea, who is in fourth grade, when she saw the artist's rendition of Lapu-Lapu.
Infront of a Hidalgo painting.

We also saw striking painted scenes of the war, of tragic events like the Death March, as well as a few bucolic illustrations, and outstanding portraits. I realized that these are all precious and tangible pieces of our country's past, their importance intensified by the luminous talent and skill of fellow Filipinos. When you really look at them, you get the feeling of being transported to a different era.

At the majestic Hall of Masters, we came upon Juan Luna's renowned "Spoliarium." The gigantic painting had a commanding presence on its own, which made it both fascinating and unsettling to look at. Directly in front of the "Spoliarium" was another floor-to-ceiling masterpiece, Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo's "The Assassination of Governor Bustamante and His Son." Interestingly, both paintings depicted violence and unhappy times but nevertheless remained arresting.

A few steps away, and suitably protected by a glass case, were priceless mementos dating back to the 19th century. Andrea and I marveled over an ancient letter written in small, graceful script by revolutionary general Antonio Luna to his brother Juan. It certainly was not the type of handwriting you'd normally associate with a macho military man. Complementing the note was a primitive sketch of the "Spoliarium," signed by Juan Luna and with an accompanying message in Spanish that said, "A mi amigo Felix" (in English, "To my friend Felix," I translated for my daughter). Like his brother Antonio, Juan's handwriting had a flair and elegance characteristic of an earlier century. "I bet they used a feathered pen dipped in ink to write back then, just like Jose Rizal in a picture I saw," was Andrea's comment. Needless to say, those preserved relics somehow made the Luna siblings and their contemporaries more real.

It was nice to walk leisurely around the museum and to go from room to room. The place reminded me of an old European castle; it had ambiance and character. In the classy Amorsolo room, which featured solely the brilliant art of Fernando Amorsolo, the three of us merrily fabricated a story about the unfinished portrait of a woman that was prominently positioned in the center. We speculated on the fate of the artist and the reason why the painting was not completed (Did he run out of paint? Was he tired and hungry? Did he die?). Similarly, we pondered the scores of sketches adorning the walls—their combined value, their simplicity and lack of color, and if, given the chance, we can replicate those doodles.
Under the bones of an enormous sperm whale.

We liked not just the art we saw, but the bones as well. The "Bones" room was dramatic, softly lit, and pleasingly informative. Hard to miss was the massive bone structure of a sperm whale in the middle of the room which at first glance, looked like a dinosaur's. We stared wide-eyed at the coiled bones of a python, at the menacing figure of a shark, and at the fine, spindly bones of a bat. We appreciated how each bone structure was neatly arranged in a glass case and matched with a photo of the real animal on the exterior. We got acquainted too with the skeletons of a frog, a turtle, a crocodile, a dugong, a monkey, and a Philippine deer.

Of course, our visit went smoothly and with no hitches whatsoever because we adhered to the do's and don'ts of the museum. We deposited our bags at the reception area and entered the place toting only our wallets. We toured the building and viewed the exquisite works of art as silently as we could. We didn't eat or drink inside. We respected the items on display and kept a reasonable distance from them. We used only a digital camera and turned off the flash when we took pictures.

I am glad that I made this trip with my family to the National Museum. Seeing all those exceptional works of art did not only heighten my appreciation for everything that is Filipino; it also made me forget, however fleetingly, the never-ending bills that have to be paid and chores to be done, and other pesky problems of everyday life. It was an edifying experience that will definitely be repeated.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of HerWord or BusinessWorld.

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1 comments so far (post your comment)

Congrats to this mom! I actually feel bad whenever I see entire families spending their weekends in the malls. There's so many other places that encourage families to talk, to bond, and to be a family. Within the city, there are parks, gardens and museums that need our support. Cheers!

Posted by Jay on Friday, 03.25.11 @ 14:40pm

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