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  • Writer's picturekatemoxhay

The Best of Manila - Ateneo Art Gallery

Modern art and sleek spaces, Ateneo is a gem

Feeling hungover yet a little culture starved, I recently ventured north into Quezon City looking to scratch my arty itch. I'd heard the Ateneo art gallery had some top notch modern art and a lazy Sunday seemed as good a day as any to pay it a visit.

Coming from London and its world class galleries and museums, it's often hard to be impressed. But impressed I was. The gallery building itself stands out in grand style. Built in a curve like a giant wave, with ridges and stainless steel clean lines, its design is a nod to the modern art it houses. Being the first modern art gallery in the Philippines, Ateneo has set the bar high. Inside the design is no less impressive with a grand lobby and atrium and, I happily discovered, free entry.

The ground floor houses most of the permanent collection, over 500 paintings, drawings, photographs and sculptures though not all of them are on show at once. A good proportion were donated by Fernando Zobel, a Spanish Filipino painter and teacher who left over 200 artworks to the gallery. It's lucky he had excellent taste. Colourful portraits and abstract works dominate the first few walls with images of beautiful women in classical poses alongside huge canvasses of colourful sharp lines draw in heavy oils. One painting in particular caught my eye; the famous Girl with a Pearl Earring had been reproduced but this time she sat next to a table, with nothing on it but a random egg. The juxtaposition of a classic portrait with added slightly surreal elements was fun. Another series of fine pencil drawings showed a huge Chinese battle in great detail with the manes of running horses seemingly fluttering in the wind. There are more than 300 fine prints and drawings here, including heavy weights such as Picasso and Goya. The paintings are more modern with works by highly respected postwar modernists such as Vicente Manansala and David Medalla. I knew some of the big names, but hadn't heard of the Filipino artists. It was enlightening and rewarding to learn more about an art movement I knew very little about.

Ateneo only opened in 2017 so the whole place still feels pristine and new. It was also blissfully quiet and I was mostly alone - a rare treat in art galleries. I found two temporary exhibitions upstairs, mostly photographic with videos and a couple of sculptures thrown in. All of it was engaging and contemporary. One in particular featured excellent photos of an Israeli city built in the desert for the sole purpose of training military forces. Black and white images of soldiers engaged in imaginary battles while being crowded by photographers was quite arresting. There was a video playing an interview with one of the soldiers who trained there, and I left wondering what had become of him and the strange 'city built for war' where he trained.

In short, Ateneo is a fantastic gallery featuring a top class permanent collection and engaging temporary exhibitions to boot. Highly recommended.

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