The Best of Manila - Pinto Art Museum
A lush garden oasis hides in the hills above Manila
The verdant paradise that provides the setting for the Pinto Art Museum is probably the reason I keep finding myself here again and again. It's a tropical oasis like no other, and one that would have Monet reaching for his oils quicker than you can say "French impressionism".
Up a steep hill in Antipolo a suburb north of Manila, a small gate is the only clue to Pinto's existence. As soon as you walk through you're greeted by birdsong, a beautiful tropical garden and a collection of white washed buildings that wouldn't look out of place in an old Spanish pueblo. Pinto Art Museum is as much a place to rejuvenate both body and mind as it is somewhere to see some of the best Filipino art in the country.
The large gallery buildings are all dark wood and white walls, each one open and airy and filled with an eclectic mix of contemporary art and sculpture created by some of the best artists in the country. Everything has been arranged in such a way as to make you feel like you're wandering around a (very) large house, belonging to someone with an even bigger wallet and great taste. That someone is Dr Cuanang, a local doctor who began collecting way back in the 1980's with a focus on pieces that reflected an ever changing Filipino cultural identity, inescapably connected to the powerful political movements that took place here in recent years. The "People Power" revolution in 1986 and the decline of the Marcos regime both inspired an explosion of creative output and compelled artists to push the boundaries of their craft. That isn't to say everything you see here feels like a political statement, quite the contrary.
One of my favourites is an oil painting by Mark Justiniani - a sleeping man in bed clothes hovers above the ground, restrained by a ghostly hand pulling him back down, preventing him from floating away into the night. It's dreamlike in every sense of the word and always has me pondering the idea of dreams, and of the moment of waking like that invisible hand dragging us back to reality. Another entitled "An ordinary day" (Emmanuel Garibay) shows a fraught scene of a family peering out from their window onto a chaotic city street below, the father clad in ragged clothes shouts out while the mother holds a baby and taps on his shoulder. Painted in the 1990's, it sheds a light on the contemporary day to day existence of many people who live in and around the dismal slums of Manila.
Outside, wandering through the gardens is a delight. Greek myths come alive through sculptures hidden in the undergrowth - Narcissus stares at his own reflection in a pond while Sisyphus, chained at the ankle, pushes his boulder up that never ending hill. Statues of shrouded women, kneeling with their heads in their hands sit in a silent circle. Ariadne, with her hands outstretched and surrounded by flowers, peers out from the undergrowth. Everywhere you turn you find another little gem. When the heat of the day really sets in there are thoughtfully placed wrought iron beds all around the site (complete with sheet covered mattresses), perfect for a quick nap. A visit here isn't just about seeing the art, but experiencing somewhere so carefully planned and relaxed you could even find yourself falling asleep on a public bed.
The onsite cafe is justifiably popular and a perfect spot to cool off with a beer while taking in views of Manila in the distance. Pinto is a paradise and I've lost count of the amount of times I've been here. But I can't wait to go back again. And again.
How to get there: It's around an hour in a cab from Makati. Jeepneys also make regular trips to Antipolo too, just be sure to keep an eye on where you are using Google Maps. The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday, 9-6pm.
Always stay for lunch.