Some Are Smarter Than Others & The Collection of Jane Ryan and William Saunders: Pio Abad’s exploration of the Marcos horde

K. Montinola (The Philippine Star) - September 18, 2014 - 8:01pm

There is, in the beginning Pio Abad’s exhibition The Collection of Jane Ryan and William Saunders, a larger-scale replica of Anastacio Caedo’s statuette of Malakas and Maganda. They are the “primordial Filipino couple,” a thinly veiled representation of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos as the parental figureheads of a nation. There are many pieces like this in Marcos era works of art, intended to make the glorious patrons the foremost in not just the political, but the cultural. And like Malakas and Maganda, it is all very deliberately “native,” anything we can conceive as being true "Filipino."

At the other end of the exhibit is a painting that is supposed to be a Tintoretto. Jane Ryan and William Saunders acquired many things like it. Jane Ryan and William Saunders were names that Imelda and Ferdinand Marcos used when they were doing the acquiring.

There is a gap, a wide one, between what the Marcos regime publicly built up as the national culture of the Philippines and what the Marcos family consumed in private. Or so Abad’s latest body of work, Some Are Smarter Than Others, deftly points out. Malakas and Maganda are also on display. In relation to his Manila-based work in The Collection of Jane Ryan and William Saunders (depicting the massive wealth in art obtained by the Marcos couple during their time in power), the London-based Some Are Smarter Than Others takes the line of enquiry further.  

The premise may not be terribly complicated, but there is a lot to unpack. The Marcos regime never did anything by halves, and their acquisition of art was no exception. They answered even as they created the need for a post-colonial identity, taking control and imposing what they envisioned was the true nationalistic culture. They built a display that flattered Western democratic sensibilities and was a convincing enough narrative to be proudly ours. But the underlying priority to flatter their personal senses of gentility was always there. And as it happens, it flattered their wealth as well, behind the scenes.

Abad’s exhibition is documented evidence of the inconsistencies, even fallacies, of the way the regime sought to elevate its own civility. Everyone knows the unprecedented extravagance the couple used to elevate Filipino art in their own terms; less are aware the extent of the astonishing wealth they amassed for themselves. Even less realise the implication that the Marcos couple probably cared less for Filipino art than they appeared to. Behind the Capiz-shell chandeliers and the Manansalas was a horde of Regency silver and Renaissance paintings, most of them purchased in bulk and hidden away. The Manansalas, meanwhile, were designated to hang in the drivers’ quarters (or so I overheard someone at the exhibit say; like many of the pieces in the great Marcos collection, it will probably remain unverified and lost to history).

Various objects are reproduced, inexpensively, as if in challenge to the opulence of the objects being depicted. Visitors are given a chance to walk through images of the artifacts that once made up a huge chunk of the Marcos couple’s excessive hidden wealth. What emerges will baffle, and maybe overwhelm with its audacity: how relentlessly they pursued a kind of opulent, Baroque lifestyle that escalated to the point where taste turned to kitsch and art turned to loot.

Intelligent, thought-provoking and skillfully installed, Some Are Smarter Than Others is extremely fine work that revives and refocuses the conversation, not only of a turbulent era but also of its significant effects on recent history. So perhaps its greatest achievement will be in how well it makes the viewer think, and in how willing they will be to pose more questions.

Every now and then, the sympathetic revisionist version of the Marcos narrative crops up, ending with this conclusion: how for all their foibles and mistakes, they left us with a stronger sense of national identity and a cultural identity we could be proud to show to the world. But then, wasn’t that the point? It was for show. Beyond the supremely ordered, fiercely nationalistic trappings of the cultural gifts they bestowed was the deliberate creation of a mythos, one that was supposed to keep them in power.

What Abad’s work does, and does well, is present the evidence while taking you on a wild ride of context. It does not simply display the Marcos horde, it works to make you think about the specific motivations behind every play. The extravagant taste? Gave them the air of the celebrities. The hodgepodge of Filipino folklore, classical European art, and Hollywood heroes? Made them appear anti-communist enough to pass the Western democratic powers. The hyper-narcissistic approach to government? Well, if you aspire to godlike status, it is important to attribute as many things to your likeness as possible. And should it please you to come home to a poorly painted Tintoretto, who’s going to say a word?

For more photos: Check out this link

[The Collection of Jane Ryan and William Saunders will be at the Jorge B. Vargas Museum until September 30. It is a solo exhibition done in conjunction with Silverlens.

Some Are Smarter Than Others will be at Gasworks in London, until November 16. It is the first major solo UK exhibition by Pio Abad.]

"The title of the exhibition, the imagery of the octopus and the cover of the booklet are taken from Some are Smarter than Others: The History of Marcos’ Crony Capitalism’ by Ricardo Manapat, 1991. The holders of the copyright have given permission for Gasworks to use this material in this printed literature. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the express written permission of the copyright holder.”


  • Latest
Are you sure you want to log out?
Login is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with