The National Museum of the Philippines is set to open a gallery dedicated to the works of National Artist Vicente Manansala. The works will hang at the new Philam Life Hall Gallery of the National Gallery of Art in the NM complex around Agrifina Circle in Manila.
The permanent exhibition will feature seven large format paintings of Manansala which came from the old Philam Life building on United Nations Avenue, Manila.
It hall will also display photographs and other memorabilia of the late National Artist, a member of the Thirteen Moderns and a pioneering neo-realist whose works reflected the social environment of the postwar era.
Although the opening of the hall at the National Art Gallery would mean that the Manansala murals from Philam Life have been saved, concerns linger about the fate of the Philam Life Building itself. The building has been sold to SMC Development Corporation in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis which engulfed the American Insurance Group, the Philam Life’s parent company. In 2009, the American International Assurance (AIA Group) bought 99.78 percent stake in Philamlife.
Philam Life remains the biggest life insurance company in the country although it has given up its old building in Manila, designed by National Artist for Architecture Carlos Arguelles, considered a modernist showcase and a cultural heritage structure.
The large-format paintings of transparent cubism done in 1961 were from the extensive Manansala collection commissioned by Philam Life for its former head office in Manila. These are now on long-term loan to the National Museum following an arrangement with the company.
“As part of its corporate culture, Philam Life is a strong supporter of the advancement of Philippine arts and culture. Having the Manansala collection for public exhibition is just one of its many efforts that exemplify (Philam Life’s) patronage (of the arts),” the company said in a statement.
“We consider it a privilege that our Manansala collection is showcased at the National Museum,” said Philam Life president and CEO Rex A. Mendoza.
“Creating a special gallery accessible for general viewing is right in line with our efforts to further promote appreciation of arts.”
In return, the National Museum gave an endowment to the Philam Foundation for the construction schools at Supertyphoon “Yolanda”-hit areas in the Visayas.
Manansala pioneered the style of transparent cubism which brakes down human figures into geometric shapes, showing different aspects of the figures through transparent planes. He was posthumously declared National Artist in 1982.
His art, according to his granddaughter Ronna Manansala, “tells our story (as) Filipinos. It reminds us of memories from childhood, too.”
The younger Manansala, also a visual artist, said she got excited learning his grandfather’s works would be exhibited at the National Museum.
“Public art has the power to inspire individuals kaya ako mismo, sobrang na-inspire (so I, myself is really inspired),” she said.
“I’m glad that the murals are now in the care of National Museum because alam ko na mas maaalagaan at mapoprotektahan (I know they will be cared for and protected more),” she added
The Philam Life building on UN Avenue, Manila, was built in 1961.
It was designed by Carlos Arguelles and houses a theater known for its excellent acoustics. The Manansala paintings were commissioned especially for the structure.
In 2012, the building was sold to SM Development Corporation (SMDC), which plans to build condominium buildings on the property.
The company said it is going to save the Philam Life Theater. Both building and theater are considered as heritage structures according to the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009 or Republic Act 10066.
Meanwhile, the Manansala exhibit will formally open at the National Museum on April 2. Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose L. Cuisia Jr., Philamlife president and CEO Rex A. Mendoza, Philam Foundation executive director Max Ventura, National Museum director Jeremy Barns, and the Manansala heirs will attend the event.
Exhibit will be open to the public the following day.