The hushed interiors of Ayala Museum provided the perfect solace from Metro Manila’s oppressive summer heat. It also offered a nice break from the contemporary art scene, a chance to get better acquainted with the original agent provocateur of Philippine art.
When Victorio Edades came back in 1928 after finishing his architecture and art studies in the States, he set Manila’s culturati all atither.
Six years earlier, in 1922, while completing his Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Fine Arts at the University of Washington in Seattle, he viewed a traveling version of The International Exhibition of Modern Art. This landmark exhibit, otherwise known as the 1913 Armory Show, introduced Americans to art movements considered radical for the era, works from the Post-Impressionists and Cubists, for instance. Almost a decade later, it exerted its influence on Edades.
The thirty paintings that made up his homecoming exhibit at the Philippine Columbian Club bore the imprint of Cezanne and Gaugin, disconcerting an audience reared on religious images or Fernando Amorsolo’s idyllic landscapes. Writhing shirtless bodies and indistinct figures rendered in rough brushstrokes just did not resonate. The Roaring Twenties may have ushered in a more liberal era in the West, but over here, in the Pearl of The Orient, a painting of a nude female sporting the new fangled bob could only elicit horrified gasps. Not a single one of the artist’s paintings sold.
Of course, today, 84 years later, we consider that Philippine Columbian show as a turning point in our own art history. Edades went on to head the UST College of Fine Arts, work with Galo Ocampo and Botong Francisco as one of The Triumvirate, coalesce with like-minded artists to form The Thirteen Moderns, and ultimately, receive the country’s highest cultural accolade as a National Artist.
Victorio Edades, from Ayala Museum’s Images of Nation series, brings us back to 1928, to marvel at the artist’s seminal paintings that so scandalized Peacetime Manila.
“What we did for this show was to try to limit the works in the first gallery to those that probably made it to the 1928 exhibit,” shares Ditas Samson, the Ayala Museum curator who put this together. “I really wanted to recreate that show, to have a reunion, so to speak, of those works.”
Victorio Edades is an intimate exhibit that packs a tremendous punch. The Builders, from the CCP’s collection, hangs imposingly near the entrance. It is perhaps the most famous of all the paintings on the walls, the one most closely associated with the Philippine Columbian exhibit. I had only seen this once before, three years ago at the Cultural Center’s 40th anniversary show. Another rarely seen gem, also from 1928, The Sketch, from the collection of the National Museum, welcomes viewers to this exhibit. From the Paulino and Hetty Que collection, the artist’s self-portrait (1928) and the aforementioned nude in profile (Artist and Model, 1927), hang nearby.
Pieces in succeeding galleries were painted later. Samson further explains, “I also included some works up to the 1950s, when modernism was more or less entrenched within the avant- garde.” In this section, an important example of The Triumvirate’s work, The Interaction,1935, from the collection of Dr. Eleuterio Pascual, which measures an impressive eight feet in height and approximately 8.5 feet long (256.5×270.5cm)
Ayala Museum’s Images of Nation series focuses on National Artists, raising their visibility to a contemporary audience. It started in 2010 with an exhibit organized to celebrate Vicente Manansala’s centenary. “We knew we had to bring in Edades early into this series”, Samson says. “What was the first exposure of Filipino artists to modernism? Aside from photographs from Life magazine and conversations with each other, it had to be from the works of Victorio Edades.”
Images of Nation: Victorio Edades runs from 6 March to 29 July 2012 at the Third Floor Galleries, Ayala Museum, Makati Ave. cor. Dela Rosa St., Greenbelt Park, Makati City. Phone (632) 757-7117 to 21 or visit www.ayalamuseum.org