The Lopez Museum and Library had been on my list of museums and galleries to eventually visit and I finally checked it off the list last October during their celebration of National Month for Museums and galleries. What got me out of the house was the free entrance. At least twice in a year, the Lopez Museum and Library opens its doors to the public completely for free in observation of the international museum month and national museum month. In ordinary days, the entrance fee for regular visitors costs a hundred peso.
It is a privately owned by the Lopezes who, if you’re a Filipino living in the Philippines, should need no introduction. They are the moguls behind broadcast and entertainment giant ABS-CBN and Star Cinema and they have complete monopoly on electricity in Metro Manila through Meralco. The Lopez Museum and Library specializes on Filipiniana which means that their vast art and library collections are mainly composed of works by Filipino artists or pertaining to the Philippines.
However, the size of their collection is not apparent through the actual physical size of their museum and library. The Lopez Museum and Library is tucked inside BenPres Building in Meralco Avenue, Ortigas, Pasig and it only occupies a single floor. BenPres Building was not constructed or designed with the idea of housing a library, let alone a museum. This was not the original venue of the museum and library; the ceilings seem rather low for installing large scale artworks. They had to leave their first home because they were evicted by the Marcoses during martial law (but don’t quote me on this, I have a vague memory of hearing this info from our guide but have not done actual research yet). The curator told us that they are moving to a new home next year, 2018.
Exhibit: The Given Order
The Lopez Museum has an expansive collection of artworks but given the limited space not all artworks are available for viewing at once. Instead, they take out pieces from their collection, which suit the theme of their current exhibition. On my visit, their ongoing exhibition was on religion entitled “The Given Order” and the library was hosting “What do I say to a giant?” an exhibit on the late national artist for literature, Nick Joaquin. The Lopez Museum and Library also invites contemporary artists to exhibit their pieces.
“The Given Order” featured works by two local artists, Anton del Castillo and Jason Dy, S.J., on the same topic – religion, although their works could not have been more worlds apart.
Anton del Castillo has a complex relationship with religion. I could not say whether the artist still has an ongoing struggle of trying to figure out religion and faith or if he has made up his mind and owned up to being a “non-believer”. Is he still looking for an answer? Has he come to terms with his “faithlessness”? I’m not sure and he also probably is unsure too. Anyway, I thank his uncertainty and turmoil for without them, he would not have produced the following pieces:
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Anton del Castillo 2017 Light bulbs were used in lieu of heads because if you stare at them too long, your eyes would hurt. The artist was inspired by the verse that goes something like "but you may not look at my face because no man can see me and live". (Ang saya pag guided tour, for once medyo "gets ko" yung artwork) #artph #museumph #museums
The other half of the exhibit is by an artist-priest, Father Jason Dy. It is safe to say that Jason Dy is sure and confident of his spiritual belief which allowed him to produce an artwork that is not just a solitary exploration of religion but one that involved a community. The creation of his original work (the one in Lopez Museum was a re-staging) involved the help of his local flock. The “plastic balloons”, which made up the ceiling of his makeshift altar, contained pieces of paper bearing the personal prayers of the community. His artwork did not stem from a question of faith but rather from the need to express not just his, but other people’s faith.
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The ceiling of Father Jason Dy's restaged art installation in Lopez Museum. In its original staging, the plastic bags contained prayers written by the members of Father Jason's community church. I forgot to ask the museum guide what notes their staff inserted in the bags (parang may naaninag akong movie ticket). #lopezmuseum #artph #museums #art
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The artist-priest, Father Jason Dy, wanted to build a makeshift church that his people could relate to. So, he used materials that could already be found in the community (e.g. donated bedsheets, scraps of wood). I love Catholic churches mainly for their grand architecture but this is good too; the church is a product of the community's effort. #artph #lopezmuseum #museums
The transition from one to the other was jarring. Despite the stark contrast in their exploration of religion, they complemented each other. Religion is multi-faceted and complicated; IMHO the exhibition would have missed this had they featured works from artists with the same interpretation of religion.
Exhibit: What do I say to a giant?
The story behind the title of this exhibit was this – one day Nick Joaquin asked another writer to sign his book for him. There was Nick Joaquin, a celebrated writer both in the world of fiction writing and journalism, asking a newcomer for an autograph. The writer ended up inscribing “what do I say to a giant?” because, what could you?