MANILA, APRIL 5, 2006 (STAR) ARTSPEAK By Ramon E.S. Lerma - For some time, the Yuchengco Museum looked to me like the arts and culture version of NAIA 3. A looming presence, difficult to ignore, on the Ayala Avenue side of RCBC Plaza, it had the stunning edifice, and the impressive signage, but no news whatsoever about when it would open or, for that matter, if it would even open at all.

Typical Manila café-society reaction to such an extended non-debut, rumors started circulating about plans that it had been intended to be an economics museum, but that this idea was eventually scuttled when concerns were apparently raised about what type (and most especially, size) of audience such an institution would attract.

Then, news came my way about artworks from the Yuchengco family’s private collection being restored and moved to the edifice; followed by an e-mail sent out to the usual suspects soliciting applications for a museum manager of some sort. Talk became rife about the size of the exhibition space, and the museum’s ambitions for its public programs and institutional linkages. Suddenly, the art world was abuzz.

But just as fast as everyone got all charged up with this heady news, came the "oh, by the way" that the museum had already opened quietly to family friends and associates which included bankers and, dear me, politicians. I thought to myself, what a most inauspicious way to introduce a new museum! Seriously now, money, connections and social niceties certainly go far in the fields of business and diplomacy; but, trust me, it takes more than big bucks and heavyweight names in the world of art for a new museum to even begin to aspire to carve out a serious reputation for itself.

Ultimately, pedigree means nothing, and a collection of works by important artists – with a spanking new edifice to house it – just won’t cut it if the institution’s mission and vision are not clearly threshed out, and supported by its projects and activities (think Guggenheim Bilbao). Simply put, a museum’s contents don’t say much; and facilities, funding, professional staffing – while important – just do not impress. It is the underlying verve or spirit of an institution – that which sets it apart from other museums, its unique proposition, and how it sets about accomplishing this – that matters the most.

I received a letter, followed by a text message from Yuchengco Museum curator Jeannie Javelosa, who I worked with years back on a Philippine government project, inviting me to coffee and a private tour of the facility.

ArtSpeak wasted no time in posing to her a series of questions to confirm news that had filtered through, thresh out ideas, and shed light on this long-awaited and much-anticipated addition to the local arts and culture scene. I am sure that readers will agree with me that Jeannie’s responses are enticement enough that the Yuchengco Museum is indeed worth a look-see:

Philippine Star: You are one among several private museums. What is your niche?

Jeannie Javelosa: The museum’s primary goal is to foster a greater public appreciation of the finest in Filipino and Filipino-Chinese visual arts and creativity. In addition the Museum wishes to build cultural bridges to the regional Asia Pacific community by providing a venue for visiting and exchange exhibitions.

(Our) audience (is) focused on corporate collectors, YGC (Yuchengco Group of Companies) employees and young adults.

What sets you apart from the others; and how do you intend to go about accomplishing this?

(We are located) at the center of the financial district in Makati City so it is very accessible to the corporate crowd and the general public as well.

(It is) not just a "temple" that showcases art but also a "forum" of exchange, debate and education.

Its main vision is that of "Bridging" – becoming the connecting link between the past (from historical related themes), the present (by highlighting contemporary art, trends, designs and popular culture), (and with) varied sectors (business, media, academe etc.) and cultures.

What is the museum’s collection policy?

None at present. This is to be taken up at the first, (forth)coming board meeting.

What does this have to do with the focus on the art of Luna, Amorsolo and Botong Francisco for your permanent exhibition?

The permanent collection is based on the personal artist/subject matter preference of Ambassador (Alfonso) Yuchengco.

Do you have an acquisitions fund? If so, how does this again relate to your collection policy?

(There is) none at present.

For your temporary exhibition areas, what policies/criterion will guide your opening up these spaces to other artists/curators?

The Yuchengco Museum’s principal program involves the education of its audiences through exhibitions, multi media presentations related programs whose themes are echoes, versions and counterpoints to the museum’s following collections: the Alfonso Yuchengco personal art and heritage collections, thematic exhibits created by the museum, and visiting, traveling exhibitions from foreign embassies and other cultural organizations and associations.

In keeping with its vision of an enhanced understanding and appreciation of Philippine, Asian as well as global cultural heritage traditions, the Yuchengco Museum has focused its exhibition programs to encompass three important aspects: 1) arts and culture development in the context of Philippine historical and cultural setting, with special focus on the acculturated Chinese influences in Philippine culture and expression; 2) arts and culture exchange as a collateral result of social and economic exchanges between the Philippines, China or the rest of Asia; and 3) understanding current trends in arts and culture in the Asia-Pacific region.

Will you be charging for the use of these spaces?

Yes, (we will charge) minimal (fee).

What makes the Yuchengco collection important enough for it to be housed in a museum?

The Yuchengco Museum Inc. is a non-profit private foundation created specifically by Ambassador Yuchengco to display his collection of artwork and mount cultural and historical exhibitions. The establishment of this museum is a natural extension of Ambassador Yuchengco’s distinguished career as a businessman, diplomat, collector, philanthropist, patron of the arts and advocate for education in the Philippines and beyond.

Who comprise the museum’s board of trustees?

The museums trustees and board of directors are: Ambassador Alfonso Yuchengco, two of the children: Boy Yuchengco and Yvonne Yuchengco, Rizalino Navarro, Cesar Virata and Jaime Laya.

(Ambassador Yuchengco intends) to ask Teresita Ang See to be a consultant to the museum board.

What influence do the trustees, or the Yuchengcos, have in programming your exhibitions, or other activities?

At present, this is not yet clear. A working board is not yet in place but it is expected that the board will focus on policy level decisions only and leave curatorial decisions to the museum’s working team.

Besides yourself, who are on staff? Were there any consultants who helped in setting up the museum?

(I am) curator/consultant of the museum, and Dannie Alvarez (is the) museum administrator.

Consultants who helped set up the museum are Marian Pastor Roces (the first phase) and Jonathan Best (the second phase, specific to the permanent collection). He has an ongoing role as senior consultant for the permanent collection.

What is the story behind the museum’s formation?

It was created specifically by Ambassador Yuchengco to display his collection of artwork and mount cultural and historical exhibitions.

How was its institutional character formed?

The museum concept started as an economics and culture museum, then later shifted to become a visual arts museum with a permanent collection of old masters.

Is the museum today what it had set out to be when the idea germinated to open it?

It is still in the process of being branded.

Let me ask you a couple of questions similar to the ones I posed to the Ayala Museum when they re-opened. Whenever you have a new edifice, you know the curiosity factor is there and you will get your groups in the beginning. How do you sustain that interest?

(By mounting) changing exhibits, events and specific programs geared at niche audiences.

Do you have any existing linkages with international or local cultural institutions/organizations? If so, with who?

Through the team’s personal network, yes. But we are still in the process of creating official linkages for the institution. (Our first priority is to forge partnerships) with Filipino-Chinese cultural and other organizations, and also with the Chinese Embassy. We will (also) link the museum to ICOMOS (the International Council on Monuments and Sites).

What would be your bases for initiating such engagements?

Priority one – level linkages would be to strengthen the direction of a Filipino-Chinese center that showcases expressions between these two cultures.

Does the museum meet international exhibition standards?

Definitely, yes.

What mechanisms have you put into place in considering the unique environmental conditions in which your artworks are displayed (i.e. the tropical setting, etc.)?

There is 24-hour air conditioning, environment (humidity) and security control, and electronic surveillance systems.

Could you tell me more about the shows you have ongoing?

These exhibits were set up just to be able to open the museum and show the use of the spaces. All paintings come from Ambassador Yuchengco’s collection (and) the YGC company collections.

The Ground Floor Gallery houses the permanent collection with Filipino masters Juan Luna, Fernando Amorsolo and Carlos "Botong" Francisco all from the personal collection of Ambassador Yuchengco.

The museum opens with thematic exhibits culled from the Yuchengco Group of Companies corporate collections and those of the Yuchengco family. Most of these are being exhibited for the first time. They include: a feature wall on Anita Magsaysay-Ho as part of the museum’s celebration of March as International Women’s month, The National Artists of the Philippines collection, Manny Baldemor’s "Beasts of Burden" paintings, "Sharing Art," "Sharing Life" featuring paintings by husband and wife artists Antonio Austria and Normal Belleza, abstract paintings themed Soliloquy and illustration drawings called "Oriental Rhythms" both by H. Dee, "Portraits of Philippine Heroes," a special historical exhibition on "Jose Rizal: Remembrances of a Hero" and the memorabilia collection of Ambassador Yuchengco, and the "Spirit of Edsa 2" by Eduardo Castrillo at the museum courtyard.

Now that you’ve mentioned these shows, how do you propose to market these, get the word out there, and attract an audience?

Through press releases, feature articles. (The) website is also being set up.

Do you charge admission?

Yes, P100 for adults, P50 for students with ID cards, P25 for senior citizens.

Will it be easy for the art public to visit the museum?

Yes, they can just walk into the RCBC Plaza courtyard and enter the museum. RCBC Plaza is very accessible via public transportation, from Ayala Avenue or Sen. Gil Puyat Avenue (Buendia).

Are there provisions for parking?

RCBC Plaza has many floors for parking.

When did the museum officially open?

September 2005.

I heard that you had already opened to a select group of business types and politicians before your official public opening?

Yes. The September 2005 opening was a soft opening specific for the guests of the Ambassador and his family. There were also some structural interior works that had to be repaired and finished since September.

From the end of February and the first two weeks of March, we have (already) opened the Museum to all YGC employees.

How do you propose to engage with the contemporary Philippine art scene?

(We aim to do this) through exhibitions, gallery talks, the Young Artists Discovery Series, and the Contemporary Artists Interaction Series.

What types of exhibitions would you envision mounting to focus attention in this area?

Themed Filipino-Chinese exhibits (contemporary visual arts, traditional arts and crafts, trends and designs); or Chinese influenced themed exhibitions.

What does the Yuchengco Museum aspire to be? Where do you see it 10 years from now?

(It’s) very hard to say really since all directions are presently being formed; plus the working board does not have a very clear idea as yet.

As curator, I would move it alongside the lines of the Filipino-Chinese culture and focus on the operative conceptual framework of "Bridging." This also goes hand in hand with the diplomatic side of the museum founder.

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