Five reasons to visit the National Museum of Fine Arts this 2022

If you haven’t been to the National Museum of Fine Arts since before the pandemic, here are five reasons why you should schedule a visit soon.

*DISCLAIMER: Unfortunately, the National Museum will be closed for the next month to prepare for the oath-taking of a certain you-know-who. So. Uh, whatever.

#1: Victory and Humanity 1521-2021: The Quincentennial Art Competition

Tagged “In Search of Artistic Expressions of Five Hundred Years of Victory and Humanity”, the Quincentennial Art Competition commemorates the 500th anniversary of the Philippines’ part in the first circumnavigation of the world, the Victory of Mactan, and other related events. For obvious time-related reasons, this exhibit was not accessible before the pandemic.

Seeing different intepretations of themes such as sovereignty and legacy —hailing from all over the country— is a treat. One of the grand prize winners (worth a solid half a million pesos in award money!) was Matthius B. Garcia’s Hindi Pasisiil.

Matthius B. Garcia. Hindi Pasisiil, 2020. Oil on canvas.

Originally, I was like: huh? Why did this win? It was well-made, sure, but not particularly elevated compared to the other pieces which won minor awards. Then I spent a couple more minutes contemplating the piece, and realized that what catches the eye might be the composition, from the triangular lines of action in the foreground to the two expressive faces in the background, and the story it let unfold. Or maybe it’s something else entirely that merited a win.

#2: The Philippine Center New York Core Collection of 1974: A Homecoming Exhibition

This “homecoming exhibition” returns to Philippine land over 100 beloved works by national artists such as Vicente Manansala, Cesar Legaspi, Jose Joya, Ang Kiukok, as well as by the modern artists that they later inspired from the 1970s onwards.

I confirmed with the guard manning the upper floors of the National Museum that this exhibit is so fresh, it only opened earlier this year. A definite must-see!

Also, I did my due diligence by googling, and found that you can actually visit this gallery online. But nothing beats the visceral experience of seeing the pieces up close and almost personal.

Arturo Rogerio Luz. Shaft, 1974. Wood.

Arturo Luz’ geometric pieces might just be the one of the few non-representational sculptures I can wholeheartedly appreciate. There’s something about it.

#3: The Longest Journey: The First Journey Around the World


500 years ago, in Seville, a long-dreamed-of journey began…

V/Centenario de la Vuelta Al Mundo

You don’t get to see well-preserved artifacts from over five centuries ago every day. The collection includes pieces and original documents –including the original crew list– from the epic journey begun by Magellan in 1519, and ended by Elcano in 1522.*

*Is it just me, or I absolutely do not remember being taught who Elcano was, back in elementary/high school? Just me? Okay.

Antonio Pigafetta. Journal of Magellan’s Voyage (Page 77), ca 1525. Parchment.

It’s crazy to me that we have well-preserved documents hailing from five, ten, and even dozens of centuries ago. Our evolution as a “civilized” species –obsessed with self-reflection, aware of the fleeting nature of life and time– is fascinating.

(But we spit on colonialism, and all that.)

#4: Men at Work, behind the Spolarium

I’ve been to the National Museum more than a handful of times over the years, and I have no memory of what artwork previously graced the panel behind Luna’s Spolarium. I’ve been to the museum as recently as 2018 with my mom and sister, and I still can’t remember.

It can’t be this piece by Ang Kiukok, because when it was named a National Cultural Treasure by the NCCA Board of Commissioners in 2021, it was still displayed at the entrance wall of the TESDA Auditorium.

If anyone can remember, help a girl out. Not remembering is going to drive me crazy.

Ang Kiukok. Men at Work, 1979. Triptych in oil on canvas.

Of the (almost contemporary) cubist artists that have made their name in the Philippines and worldwide, I think National Artist Ang Kiukok is my favorite. His expressive works have a way of evoking emotions and interest, even (or especially) the rooster.

#5: Filipino Struggles Through History

If you haven’t visited the National Museum in the last five years, you’ll want to see the grand painting History of Manila in its new home in the Old Senate Session Hall of the National Museum of Fine Arts. It was removed from its original home in the Bulwagan ng Katipunan in the Manila City Hall for restoration in 2013.

(I’m pretty sure I saw this painting in its admittedly dilapidated state when we went to Manila City Hall for a field trip back in elementary.)

Things I learned on my recent visit, because I bothered to read the fine print of the work description: Botong Francisco completed this work in 1968, less than a year before his death. I don’t know about you, but that fact gives me goosebumps.

Carlos V. Francisco. History of Manila, or Filipino Struggles Through History, 1968.

I love the addition of pews-like seats. Art is a religion. Contemplation of the past is a form of prayer.

*Botong Francisco also painted one of the best medicine-related representational-historical paintings, Progress of Medicine in the Philippines, originally displayed in the Philippine General Hospital, and now also displayed in one of the National Museum galleries.

Bonus: Reasons to walk to the National Museum

  1. Unless you have a car, or you’re planning to spend on a taxi, there’s literally no other choice but to commute and walk for a few minutes.
  2. Keep your visit as low cost as possible! (Admission has also been free since 2016!!!)
  3. You’ll get to see other cool sites and parks. The National Museum complex is only a few minutes’ walk from Rizal Park and Kartilya ng Katipunan Park.
Bonifacio Shrine or Kartilya ng Katipunan Park is a a nearby public park north of Manila City Hall, facing Padre Burgos Avenue. The lights are cool at night. And depending on the alert level, you’ll find some street entertainment too.
Kapetolyo by SGD. #SupportLocal by buying some artisan coffee and food hailing from all over the Philippines. The food and drinks are fine; I stayed for the ambiance and the music night (I think it starts at 6PM). Bring your vaccination card.
Monuments to freedom: the victims of martial law (center to right), and a piece of the Berlin wall. For contemplation.

Visiting National Museum of Fine Arts

Location: Rizal Park
Hours: Tuesdays to Sundays, 9AM to 6PM. But unfortunately closed until July 4.
Entrance Fee: None!
Note: Backpacks, drinks and umbrellas need to be deposited. I made the mistake of bringing a backpack, but the staff were kind enough to lend me an ecobag to keep all my valuables with me as I walked around. :)

As time goes by, the museum changes, and so do the people that visit. That day I saw a lot of families, young kids (wow, way to sound self important and Old), and foreigners on a random weekday.

I’d like to think I’ve also changed for the better. I went through some of my old posts featuring visits to the National Museum, and I cringe at the days I decried the lack of foreign artworks and pieces in the collection. Hello, internalized colonialism. I’m glad to be (slowly) rid of you.

(Read here: Four Hours in Manila)

There’s always room for improvement, for both myself as a viewer, and the museum as a gathering place of the best the Philippines has to offer. I can only hope the next few years will be kind to the arts, to love, to the Philippine heritage.

Padayon! Until next time!

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