Somehow, a pleasure that occurs through happenstance is doubly pleasurable. I'm in Manila, Philippines, for a brief family visit. Yesterday we filled in an afternoon by visiting the Pinto Art Gallery in Antipolo, an old area of Spanish settlement in the hills that surround Manila. The Gallery - and even more so the Silangan Gardens that surround it - were a delightful surprise. The complex of Mexican style buildings and galleries descends the hillside, with winding paths, shady trees, ponds and fountains, half-hidden sculptures, rustic benches, and arrangements of tables and chairs for lingering and chatting.
We wandered through the gardens and galleries - my small grandson particularly delighted by the steps and open spaces. The spacious, inter-linked galleries are hung with Filipino art from the early 1990s to the present.
There's a strong focus on figurative paintings and sculptures, and many of the large earlier works are reminiscent of Mexican painters such as Diego Rivera. The later collections are more diverse, and some of the works are more to my taste. As often happens, I was attracted to works with references to domesticity and textiles, such as 'Elisa and Laura's pink dresses' - a 2010 work on canvas by artist Marina Cruz that combined laser printed images of children's dresses with overlaid areas of hand embroidery:
The galleries and garden are the creation of neurologist and art patron Dr Joven Cuanang - and there's the first happenstance. Several years ago Dr Cuanang treated my son for a serious spinal condition, and, fortuitously, he was in the gallery yesterday for the opening of a new exhibition. I'm not really sure that he remembered Michael, but if not he gave a most gracious impression of doing so. My favourite part of our conversation was Dr Cuanang's response to my heart-felt compliments on his garden. When he told me it was all his own work I must have looked very astonished as he hastened to elaborate that he had given all the instructions to the workers. Inadvertently, we had gate-crashed the exhibition opening, though I'm not sure if it can still be considered gate-crashing if you converse with the host of the occasion. There were glasses of bubbly, and politicians, telenovela stars, and a sprinkling of ambassadors in attendance. I even got to chat with the Australian ambassador, and there were lots of opportunities to brush with local fame. Happenstance that we chose to visit just at the time of the exhibition opening.
We didn't feel sufficiently at home to stay for the food that followed the opening and so we took our merienda at the garden coffee shop. The food took ages to arrive, but I think the delay was forgivable when we discovered that the yema pastries that accompanied our salted caramel ice-cream were literally freshly baked. [Yema, by the way, are filipino sweets made (nowadays) of condensed milk and egg yolks. Our pastries had a most refined version of yema as the filling between the delicate pastry layers].
After many of the more famous guests had drifted away we went to view the works of Daniel de la Cruz, whose exhibition was the occasion for the gathering. Many of the works were quite delicate feminine figures, often in precarious positions, but still in graceful control.
A fun afternoon. Wonderful gardens and well-displayed art, lots of space for my two-year old grand-son to run around, and opportunities for celebrity-spotting for the locals.