The National Museum turned 111 years old today. President Noynoy Aquino came to celebrate, the first sitting President since Fidel Ramos to visit the National Museum (shame on his two predecessors!). Not only did he come to inaugurate the wonderfully restored Old Senate Session Hall, and its foyer, the Manuel L. Quezon Hall, he also announced that the government has set aside P557 Million for the museum’s working budget for 2013, and another P500 Million to complete the turnover of the Department of Tourism building to the National Museum Complex. The president also declared similarly generous increases to the budgets of the National Library and the National Archives (a little more than P100 Million for each institution, if I remember his speech right), two very important repositories of our country’s history. Hooray!
Part of the day’s ceremonies also marked the formal turnover by the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) of their art collection to the custodianship of the National Museum. Most of the pieces from the 87 paintings in the GSIS collection have been installed in three galleries at the National Art Gallery’s third floor, a section now called the GSIS Wing. Juan Luna’s Parisian Life, painted in 1892, probably ranks as the most well known painting in this collection, largely due to the jaw-dropping P46 Million price tag that the GSIS coughed up to acquire it in 2002. However, so many other works are must-sees for any lover of Philippine art: two Futurist-inspired paintings by HR Ocampo, dated 1948 and 1949, a small Vicente Manansala collage from 1962, his study for the mural The Story of Industry, two undated Botong Francisco paintings meant for a series on the Stations of The Cross, a small pen-and-ink sketch by Juvenal Sanso, circa 1960.
The works of Federico Aguilar Alcuaz make up a large part of this collection, probably owing to the artist’s patronage by Marcos-era GSIS President Roman Cruz Jr. One entire gallery, Gallery XXII, has been devoted to the artist’s works, The artist’s Personalities Series, portraits of celebrated male personalities from Manila in 1970 line three walls, a rogues’ gallery of sorts. Among the more recognizable names: the actor Dolphy, the artist HR Ocampo, sportsman Flash Elorde, Marcos Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile, and Marcos Chief of Staff General Fabian Ver, looking, as all the men in the series do, too pretty.
Four Alcuaz tapestries, all called Reminiscencia, also hang in the room. The artist traveled to Prague in the late 1970s, then the capital of communist Czechoslovakia, and had his paintings woven into these wall hangings. Alcuaz did an all-tapestry show in 1980, but Manila did not appreciate his efforts, preferring his paintings to this suite of works. Enter the GSIS, then only too happy to take the opportunity to acquire choice pieces from that show.
The GSIS Collection is on view at the GSIS Wing, Galleries XIX, XXI, and XXII of the National Art Gallery, National Museum of The Philippines, Old Legislative Bldg., Padre Burgos Avenue, Manila. For more information, visit www.nationalmuseum.gov.ph