This curatorial experiment tries to explore the process of making exhibitions within the permanent collection of the Vargas Museum. It seeks to initiate conversation between the collection and the other objects outside it. This is imagined to deepen the discourse of the collection as it interacts with a wider constellation of things in the art world and the larger social context. Needless to say, it activates the space of the permanent collection, rendering it more unstable, and therefore, open to critique and reconstruction by the copious and cherished belongings of the institution, from coins and stamps to documents, from memorabilia to photographs and rariora.
The initial exhibition focuses on an unexplored theme in Philippine art history. It refers to the nativist disposition of the sculptor Tolentino and the curator-poet Alvero, who went by the nom de plume Magtanggul Asa. This is exemplified in the research on Philippine culture, the penchant for the occult, the invocation of dead heroes of the national pantheon, the allusion to an ancient Philippine lifeworld, and the attempt to summon a classical and civilizational discourse of the past. In many ways, the collection of art becomes an index of self-consciousness, a modernist gesture for “nation” and thus turns into a “living tradition.”
Alvero helped the collector Jorge Vargas conceive the framework of the Vargas Collection as revealed by founding papers in the museum’s archives. Their careers flourished during the Japanese Occupation of the Philippines from 1941 to 1945, a season of orientalism and at the same time of an intense struggle for liberation. Both Vargas and Alvero were accused of collaborating with the imperial government; both performed key roles in defining the “Filipino” through the modernity of art and the ethic of collecting its representations.
Relating Tolentino and Alvero to Vargas is particularly intriguing as it gives us a glimpse into the aesthetic and political implications of making art, making nationalisms, and making museums in a time of war and rising from its ruin.