The Metropolitan Museum of Manila: A Museum That Offers Art For All
This is part of “Get to Know Your Neighborhood,” a series by The Art Report reintroducing familiar institutions, galleries, and members of the Manila art scene.
Along Roxas Boulevard is a museum that houses a wide-ranging collection of art, from pre-colonial gold to paintings by Edades and the Thirteen Moderns to work by contemporary artists housed in travelling exhibitions. Welcoming visitors into the museum is a large, contemporary sculpture of a bulol (an Ifugao rice god) that stands by the front steps, giving museum-goers a taste of the exhibitions housed inside that tell the story of our past and reflect the present.
In October 1976, the Metropolitan Museum of Manila was opened to the public. The brainchild of former First Lady Imelda Marcos, the museum’s initial focus was to mount art and museum exhibitions from abroad, exposing local Manila society to foreign points of view and ideas. The Metropolitan Museum was one of the cultural institutions that received endowments in that era, and was a part of the Cultural Center of the Philippines for three years before being reinstated as a private and non-profit foundation. Today, the museum is subsidized by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.
From 1976 to 1986, the Metropolitan Museum of Manila produced 109 international exhibitions, 23 of which were mounted while still a part of the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Exhibitions that were held in the museum were mostly those from North America and Europe, but it also mounted shows from Asia, South America and Australia, following its objectives of promoting cultural awareness to the public, providing information about its exhibitions, and aiding research for the benefit of the organization.
At the end of the Marcos administration, the museum reorganized its objectives. It soon incorporated Philippine art in its shows and in 1988, began showing exhibitions by local artists, its programs reflecting its new motto: “Art for All.” To perpetuate this new objective with a desire to extinguish the “elitist” image of the museum, the Met, under its then-director Feliz Santa Maria, spearheaded the public and educations programs. The motto “Art For All” was promoted through museum activities, such as lectures and workshops, including some for kids during summers to encourage families to visit and participate. Caption cards, exhibit notes and study guides were printed in both Filipino and English as part of its bilingual program. An accessibility intitiative called “Touch the Artists’s Vision” (TAV) was also launched, tailored for the blind and incorporated Braille caption cards, tactile diagrams, and audio guides that were set up in stations at the exhibits; pieces were also selected for the blind to touch their forms, keeping the art accessible and to a level not typical for most museums. Senior citizens were offered to participate in volunteer programs, teaching them competencies in education, conservation and arts writing with a one-year membership worth one thousand pesos.
The Met expanded its collection in 1996 when it opened its pre-colonial gold and pottery exhibition in the basement gallery of the museum, which was made possible by a grant from the Department of Tourism. In a space designed by architect Lor Calma, the pieces in this remarkable collection were excavated from Batangas, Mindoro, Samar, Butuan and Surigao, and includes golden masks, jewelry, hair ornaments, pots, vases and plates that give great insight to the enterprise and sophisticated artisanship of pre-colonial Filipinos.
In 2013, the Met opened its exhibit The Philippine Contemporary: To Scale the Past and the Possible for public viewing, which is still on-going. Exhibiting pieces from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas collection and artworks from private collectors, the exhibition is curated by art historian and critic, Dr. Patrick Flores, who mapped out the history of modern and contemporary Philippine art as that of a cartographer. Beginning with Amorsolo until the contemporary artists, the exhibition is divided into five parts: Horizon, Trajectory, Latitude, Sphere and Direction. Mediums of different forms comprise the pieces of the exhibition to illustrate the changes and movements in art from the 1910s until the present time.
Currently, the museum is showing Renaissance, an exhibit in line with the Festival International des Textiles Extra Ordinaires (FITE). FITE started in France and was brought to the Philippines on July 2015.
The Met also has its METLab, which functions as a “laboratory” for art education. Workshops, lectures, art activities, and the CineMET are held there. In this space, information on the current exhibitions are presented through visual guides.
The MET is open from 9:00-5:30 every Monday-Saturday. Tours are offered every Saturday at 2PM, and for additional contact information, do visit the directory here.