Pinoy artworks on view at the National Gallery Singapore: When art falls between declaration and dreams
MANILA, Philippines – The artworks of two great Filipino artists of the late 19th century, Juan Luna and Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, are currently on display in Gallery 1 of the UOB Southeast Asia Gallery at the newly opened National Gallery Singapore. Luna’s “Espana y Filipinas” is from the National Gallery Singapore collection, while Hidalgo’s “Christian Virgins Exposed to the Populace,” which won a silver medal at the 1884 National Exhibition of Fine Arts in Madrid, is on loan from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas collection. Another artwork on loan from the Bangko Sentral is “Portrait of Cirilo and Severina Quiason and Their Two Children” by Simon Flores. “Portrait of Fr. Juan Antonio Zulaybar O.P.” by Juan Arzeo is on loan from the Collection of the University of Santo Tomas Museum. Another Hidalgo on display, “La Banca,” is from a private collection.
“As a visual art institution that aspires to be of international standard, we want to showcase the best artworks in our museum as far as we can, but unfortunately, these are not all with us, so collaboration and partnership with other museums is very important,” says National Gallery Singapore CEO Chong Siak Ching. “Our curators worked very closely with the other museums in the region and also with private collectors.”
The inaugural exhibition at the Southeast Asia Gallery titled “Between Declaration and Dreams” presents the development of art in Southeast Asia from the 19th century to the present. “The Philippines has one of the longest traditions in art,” says gallery director Eugene Tan. This is evidenced by the presence of Filipino artworks in just about all of the historic periods represented in the exhibition. In Galleries 3, 4 and 5, which cover the period from the 1900s to 1940s, can be found artworks by the Philippines’ first National Artist for painting, Fernando Amorsolo namely, “Fishpond in Malabon,” “Marketplace During the Occupation” and “Defend Thy Honour.” The last two present images set during the Japanese Occupation. All three artworks are from the collection of the National Gallery Singapore.
Also from the National Gallery Singapore collection are Galo B. Ocampo’s “Igorot Dance” and Ricarte Puruganan’s “Give Us This Day.” “Under the Mango Tree” by Carlos “Botong” Francisco is on loan from the collection of the University of Santo Tomas Museum, while “The Wrestlers” by Victorio Edades is from the collection of Stanley and Abby Chen.
“Mother Nature’s Bounty Harvest,” the unusual square-shaped painting that was “the result of a fruitful collaboration” between three artists — Victorio Edades, Galo Ocampo and Botong Francisco — is from a private collection.
Galleries 6 to 11 cover the period from the 1950s to the 1970s, the time after the second World War, which saw the international trend towards abstract art. In Gallery 7 is Hernando Ocampo’s “Dancing Mutants,” which shows the artist’s reaction “to the plausible horrors of the atomic bomb.” This artwork is from the collection of the National Gallery Singapore, together with two others — “Old City” by Arturo Luz and “Fiesta in Angono” by Carlos “Botong” Francisco. From the collection of the Ateneo Art Gallery are “Judas Kiss” by Napoleon Abueva, “Still Life with Green Guitar” by Vicente Manansala and “Sheaves” by Anita Magsaysay-Ho. In Gallery 9 is an untitled artwork by Fernando Zobel from the Ayala Museum collection as well as Jose Joya’s “Hills of Nikko” from the collection of the National Museum of the Philippines.
Filipino art lovers and visitors will certainly appreciate the rare opportunity to view all these artworks by important Filipino artists that were brought together conveniently in one venue, which Filipinos otherwise might not have the chance to see, especially those from private collections.
“The Philippines is one country where we have the most partners in terms of institutional partners as well as individuals,” Tan says. “We are very pleased that all the works arrived before the gallery opening. The artworks on loan vary in range from one year to five years.”
“The artworks were organized in a chronological order, and then arranged according to a thematic narrative,” curatorial and collections director Low Sze Wee explains. “Identifying commonalities among the different countries, reflecting their perspective of what was important during that particular period, and telling the story of their social, economic and political histories.”
The story begins in the 19th century when most countries in Southeast Asia were under colonial rule. They went through a succession of wars including the Second World War and the Vietnam War as well as a number of political upheavals. And to all of these, the artists responded in a certain way. An artwork by Edgar Fernandez, for example, “a molded canvas over wood armature” titled “Kinupot,” is a commentary on kidnappings when martial law was imposed during the Marcos regime. The Vietnamese war drawings, done by artists who were with the soldiers in the frontline, present a very different picture of the war. Instead of depicting the violence and devastation, a lot of the drawings were about everyday scenes — soldiers resting, or sunrise out in the battlefield.
“Of course, what these artists do is quite unique to themselves. But their works also have dialogues with other artists,” Low remarks. He cites a work by Filipino artist Lee Aguinaldo (“Linear No. 95”) which hangs side by side with a work by Singaporean artist Anthony Poon (RI-Square). “It’s as if they were done by the same artist. They were done at about the same time period, but I don’t think either artist knew the other.”
On prominent display in Gallery 1 is “Forest Fire” by Raden Saleh, who is considered to be “the first modern artist from Indonesia. Other significant works on display are by important artists from the region such as Cheong Soo Pieng, Chen Wen Hsi, and Tang Da Wu from Singapore; U Ba Nyan from Myanmar; Nguyen Gia Tri from Vietnam; Montien Boonma from Thailand, Svay Ken from Cambodia, Latiff Mohidin and Chuah Theam Teng from Malaysia.
“Siapa Nama Kamu?” or “What’s Your Name” is the title of the exhibition at the DBS Singapore Gallery in another wing of the National Gallery Singapore. It is lifted from the iconic painting, “National Language Class” by Chua Mia Tee, a social realist painter who focused specifically on working class realities such as “anti-colonial sentiment and nationalist aspirations” during a specific period in Singapore’s history.
The exhibition invites visitors “to consider how art may relate to issues of self and community, and what it means to look at Singapore through its art.”
The Gallery is also presenting two special exhibitions — “Beauty Beyond Form” by Chinese artist, Wu Guanzhong; and “After the Rain” by Singaporean artist Chua Ek Kay. As part of its international programs, the Gallery will have its first major international collaboration in March 2016 with the Centre Pompidou, the National Museum of Modern Art of France; and in October 2016, with Tate Britain in London, to co-curate a special exhibition exploring the theme of “Artist and Empire” in Singapore.
The National Gallery Singapore was opened with much fanfare and pride for Singapore. Two national monuments, the former Supreme Court and City Hall, were merged to create one structure. Covering a total of 64,000 square meters, with an overall project cost of 532 million Singapore dollars, the National Gallery Singapore is not only “the largest visual arts venue in Singapore but also one of the largest in the region,” Chong says. Photos by JULIE CABATIT-ALEGRE