Passages: Celebrating the Artistic Journeys of Betsy Westendorp

Passages

Celebrating the Artistic Journeys of Betsy Westendorp

Curated by Dannie Alvarez
Exhibition and catalogue written by Cid Reyes

View the exhibition online through our 3-D Virtual Tour:

Exhibition Notes

The Metropolitan Museum of Manila presents the retrospective exhibition of Betsy Westendorp, a beloved artist born in 1927 in Madrid, Spain. By virtue of her marriage to Spanish-Filipino Antonio Brias in the 1950s and a lifetime residency in Manila, Westendorp has through the decades become a perceptive observer and, more importantly, an active participant in the Philippine art scene. As such, Westendorp has produced and shared with the Philippines an astonishing body of works, now highlighted in PASSAGES: Celebrating the Artistic Journeys of Betsy Westendorp.


In 1976, His Majesty King Juan Carlos of Spain bestowed on Betsy Westendorp the distinguished Lazo de Dama, an exclusive Order and the equivalent of knighthood for women. Beyond measure, Westendorp has enriched the artistic heritage of her adopted country, the Philippines. In recognition of the artist’s valued contribution to Philippine art, former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo awarded her with the Presidential Medal of Merit in 2008.


The exhibition gathers Westendorp’s portraits of the society elite of Madrid and Manila, her landscapes of Philippine terrain, seascapes of Manila Bay, her colorful celebration of Philippine flora, especially the various species of the native orchid, and, literally in the sunset of her years, the grand symphonic cloudscapes across Philippine skies. Over 100 artworks of the artist’s illustrious painting career form this retrospective collection, celebrating her journeys that span more than sixty years of prolific art practice.

Sections
  • Portraits: Confronting Mortality

    By her own admission, Betsy was first a portraitist before becoming a painter of flowers. Evidence abounds in the many early portraits of her own family. Of the excessive personal ornamentation of attire and jewelry of the nineteenth century, she will have little use. In truth, she has a discrete distaste for it. That type of Philippine portraiture goes against the grain of her painterly reserve. Betsy believes that at its core the art of portraiture is about character, personality, identity, dignity, essential nature—and all these, as it were, written all over the face.

    For Betsy, presence is all. It is the foremost reason why she stages the sitter as a solitary figure, bereft of any external appurtenances that only tend to detract attention from the subject of the portrait. No props to buttress any preconceived glamorous scene—for there is to be none. Occasionally, when Betsy feels it proper, the subject is seen against a lavish flutter of orchids. Otherwise, for the sitter, Betsy envisions not a physical space that will perforce situate the subject in real time; rather, she creates a dream landscape, a vision of an individual impervious to discerning or intrusive gaze, remote somehow, outside of time. Upon completion, the portrait often assumes the character of an apparition.

  • Landscapes and Seascapes: Nature Beautified by Art

    Of the beauty of Betsy’s Taal scenery, it seemed as if she had “transported” her critic-friend Elena Flores to the actual place, as indeed she was in transport when she rhapsodized:
    “There is a special beauty in these paintings. Although it is usually said that nature imitates art, here we can say that nature is beautified by art. Taal Volcano is studied in its different moments: at sunset from the town of Tagaytay, in broad daylight, at dawn and from diverse angles. The hues of blue, the skies, the mists that envelop some dusks and dawns show the crater’s silhouettes and the tiny flowers by a brook, the kakawate tree surrounded by greenery and in its branches with pink flowers embellish the Taal’s perspective and the smaller volcano craters that emerge from the lake’s surface. The fire tree also adorns a few scenes, from a piece of land that frames the volcanic panorama under cloudy skies.”

  • Landscapes and Seascapes: Nature Beautified by Art

    Corollary to the seascapes are the underwater scenes where Betsy finds a distinct pleasure in limning the shapes and whorls of seashells. Often Betsy isolates the image of the nautilus, singly in its contained glory as pure form, taking particular delight in its minute detail. Till her late eighties, Betsy Westendorp would still swim daily in the residential building’s swimming pool. For sure, the activity is one physical exercise that keeps her, in the autumn of her years, in good stead. Submerged in the pool’s clear waters, Betsy can luxuriate in the bliss of long-ago memories when, with her paintbrush and colors, she can summon, gracefully, the wondrous sea into her art.

  • Flowers: In Perpetual Bloom

    Whilst in the beginning she has painted a variety of flowers, such as the hydrangeas, poppies, peonies, birds of paradise, azaleas, irises, sunflowers, and water lilies worthy of Monet, the best of Betsy’s works are dominated by the orchid, forming a large part of her oeuvre. This hothouse tropical flower is ultimately the subject, the image, that drove her floral art to its peak of excellence. It will not be an exaggeration to claim that, having journeyed to distant Philippines, Betsy was to find the subject that she was born to paint. This was itself, according to the French poet and critic Charles Baudelaire, “half of the work done.”

    “The flowers die so soon…,” rued Van Gogh. Betsy too was aware of that. She did the thing that would keep her flowers ever fresh and imperishable: she bred them in her memory. Like some avid botanist, she had closely studied their physical structure and preserved them not only in her memory bank, impervious to the changing seasons and the passage of time. Betsy absorbed their essence, internalized them consciously and subconsciously, to fuel her aesthetic engine. Thus, all her flowers are painted from memory, where they are always present and in perpetual bloom.

  • Atmosferografias: The Search for Celestial Space


    It was the late Elena Flores, the distinguished Spanish critic, who christened the heretofore prosaic series “Cloudscapes” with something that transcended the visible world. Flores ascribed to the series the label “Atmosferografias.” Flores wrote, “After searching in several Spanish dictionaries of the 20th and 19th centuries where I found nothing, until, at last, there it was, in a dictionary published in 1852. Inscribed in the fourth meaning of the Spanish word for ‘atmosphere’—as a generic word—it specified its derivations into the word atmospherograph, which means: ‘Description of the atmosphere and its qualities.'”

These section notes are excerpts from the forthcoming Passages: Celebrating the Artistic Journeys of Betsy Westendorp catalogue written by Cid Reyes, co-published by the Metropolitan Museum of Manila and the De La Salle University Publishing House.

Acknowledgments

The exhibition is presented by the Metropolitan Museum of Manila with the support of Pioneer Insurance and Surety Corporation, and the De La Salle University Publishing House.

Patrons: Alay Kay Inang Maria Foundation, Ramon Antonio, Antonio and Maricris Brias, Rosemarie T. Delgado, Jay and Ana De Ocampo (of Wildflour), Raul and Joanna Francisco, Randy and Irene Francisco, Antonio and Linda Lagdameo, Jaime Ponce de Leon, Alfonso and Yolanda Reyno, Beatrice Roxas, Carlos and Isabelita Salinas, Rick and Bonnie Santos/Santos Knight Frank, Teresita Sy-Coson, Steve and Loli Sy/ (Focus Global, Inc.), Bienvenido Tantoco, Sr. (SSI Group, Inc.), Rico and Nena Tantoco (Sta. Elena Golf & Country Estate), Wilfred and Kerri Uytengsu, Randy and Pia Young, and Jaime and Bea Zobel de Ayala.

Built Environment: An Alternative Guide to Japan

Built Environment: An Alternative Guide to Japan

Tall Galleries

As an archipelagic nation with a diverse geography often prone to precarious natural phenomena such as typhoons, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes, Japan has consistently created structures which respond to such environmental conditions. These circumstances deeply resonate with the Philippine experience, given the country’s shared archipelagic formation and vulnerability to natural calamities. The exhibit Built Environment: An Alternative Guide to Japan aims to reflect on the relationships between such geographically diverse and environmentally vulnerable spaces, and the historical, cultural, and social contexts of the people who occupy them.

The exhibition uses a combination of photographs, video images, and text to present a total of 80 buildings, civil-engineering projects, and landscapes from the 47 prefectures of Japan built from the modern era of the late 19th century to the present. during the past century. Conceived as a way to provide an alternative guide to the culture, history, and landscape of Japan, Built Environment can also contribute to a meaningful dialogue with Filipino audiences in the context of these uncertain times. The exhibition concept is curated by architectural historian Shunsuke Kurakata, landscape -design scholar Satoshi Hachima, and Kenjiro Hosaka, who is the curator of the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo.

The exhibition is presented by the Japan Foundation, Manila and the Metropolitan Museum of Manila, in cooperation with Embassy of Japan in the Philippines, and with the support of JT International (Philippines) Inc.

Arte Povera: Italian Landscape

Arte Povera: Italian Landscape

Curated by Danilo Eccher
Tall Galleries

Arte Povera: Italian Landscape captures one of the most pivotal points in the history of Italian contemporary art in the 60s through the 70s. The Arte Povera movement broke boundaries in traditional art making through new engagement with audiences and an experimental approach in making life and everyday objects integral to art.

The exhibit features ten Italian artists who gave birth to the Arte Povera movement: Jannis Kounellis, Marisa Merz, Mario Merz, Giovanni Anselmo, Luciano Fabro, Giuseppe Penone, Alighiero Boetti, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Gilberto Zorio, Pier Paolo Calzolari, and two younger artists from a new generation, Francesco Arena, and Gianni Caravaggio.

  • Giovanni Anselmo

    La terra si orieta e oerienta

  • Giovanni Anselmo

    Oltremare appare

  • Giovanni Anselmo

    La luce illumina e focalizza

  • Francesco Arena

    Europa 11 novembre 2015

  • Alighiero Boetti

    Lu Prisenti

  • Pier Paolo Calzolari

    Senza titolo [1°e secondo giorno come gli orienti sono due]

  • Gianni Caravaggio

    L’orizzonte si posa su una nuvola mentre il sole l’attraversa

  • Luciano Fabro

    Tubo da mettere tra i fiori

  • Jannis Kounellis

    Senza titolo

  • Mario Merz

    Senza titolo

  • Marisa Merz

    Senza titolo

  • Giuseppe Penone

    Struttura del tempo

  • Michelangelo Pistoletto

    Orchestra di stracci

  • Gilberto Zorio

    Stella per purificare le parole


Related Articles

On the Passing of Art Critic Germano Celant

The Metropolitan Museum of Manila joins the art world in mourning the passing of art historian, critic and curator Germano Celant, who championed the Italian art movement Arte Povera in the late 1960s.

Read our message here.

Cue From Life Itself: Filipino Artists Transform the Everyday

Cue From Life Itself: Filipino Artists Transform the Everyday

Curated by art historian and scholar Patrick D. Flores
Galeriya Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, White Cube Gallery, METLab

Working in an ecology of intense variations, a homeland of exceptional migrations, and a social milieu shaped by dense translations across a history of successive colonialisms, Filipino artists have bred an instinct and an intelligence of practical politics. It is animated by the desire to prevail and the ethical commitment to do what is right for a place often visited by calamity and betrayed by governments. Surely, scarcity is an impulse, though not the sole impetus. To make do and dream up is both article of faith and everyday errand. What works is what works.

The title of the exhibition is lifted from the monograph of Brenda Fajardo, a creative agent of broad sympathies: artist, mentor, assembler, world maker, farmer who works in the mingling fields of theater, painting, academe, and civil society. In the early eighties, she wrote a monograph for the Philippine Educational Theater Association titled Aesthetics of Poverty in which she speaks of how the “attrition of material” indexes an aesthetic and a lifeworld. The “ethical” is central in this discourse. As Fajardo asks: “How can an artist claim to be socially responsible when he mounts high-cost productions during times of deprivation?” Her idea of the aesthetics of poverty begins with the artist’s responsiveness to an encompassing but transformable world. Such attentiveness leads the artist to “choose deliberately particular nuances and tones of color and texture that would express the qualities” to be perceived in the world: “economic deprivation, cultural pollution, senseless violence.” In doing so, “a new art” emerges. Fajardo marks this as “authentic, because it expresses life which happens to be poor.”

This is how an aesthetics of poverty takes root and ultimately “implies… a sense of beauty which belongs to people who live in a condition of material deprivation. There are concepts of color, line, space, texture, and rhythm and movement that are conditioned by particular natural, cultural, and social environments. It is a result of a particular quality of life that is conditioned by its reality.” Such a quality pertains to the viewer’s reception and the artist’s faculty: “We began to capture the patina of time and became more sensitive to the aesthetic qualities of our materials thereby increasing our powers of expression.”

This exhibition materializes the intuition and the insight honed in the critical awareness of poverty, its deep structure and the chance of it transfiguration in a range of efforts and inspirations, all prompted by the hope that to make do and to dream up is to transform the everyday in textile or film gathered here and there; wood that becomes church or rag that turns into house; stainless steel, photocopy, and tarpaulin that finally morph into eccentric sound and elusive image.

Featured artists: Poklong Anading, Kris Ardeña, Yason Banal, Santiago Bose, Brenda Fajardo, Alma Quinto, Jose Tence Ruiz, Lirio Salvador, and Mark Salvatus.

  • Poklong Anading

  • Kristoffer Ardeña

  • Yason Banal

  • Santiago Bose

  • Brenda Fajardo

  • Alma Quinto

  • Jose Tence Ruiz

  • Lirio Salvador

  • Mark Salvatus

Trophy

Anthony Chin

Trophy

Exhibition by Anthony Chin, resident artist for the 2020 MET-NAC International Artist Residency Programme
Open Gallery

In collaboration with Ericson Velez and the basketball community at Bagong Silang Phase 7C, Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines

Sweat salt, Epoxy resin, vintage American basketball trophy, 10 shirts 
Single channel video loop, 5 channel sound 
2020

Exhibition Notes

“…the multifaceted structure of American colonial rule shaped the early history of sports in the Philippines. Apart from the bureaucracy, players from various religious, business, and other private-interest groups also played important roles. For instance, the government’s Bureau of Education embodied the philosophy of ‘body-building as nation-building’ while the Protestant YMCA pursued its goal of instilling ‘muscular Christianity’; both played crucial roles in introducing sports and physical education and fostering their importance among the ‘weak’ Filipinos.”

– Lou Antolihao, Playing with the Big Boys: Basketball, American Imperialism, and Subaltern Discourse in the Philippines (2015)
  • ‘Trophy’ narrates the story of a local basketball player receiving salt onto his open wound. As salt slowly dusts his bleeding arm, the viewer is arrested in a soundscape of noise from a local school. An American trophy weighs down a pile of shirts worn during basketball games with the player’s community in Bagong Silang Phase 7C.

  • The work reacts to the history of basketball in the Philippines where sports was used as an imperialist pedagogical tool. The video and audio were recorded at the University of the Philippines, established by the American administration in 1908. The vintage American basketball trophy was won in 1946 — the year the Philippines gained independence from the United States.

  • Central to the work is the sweat collected during basketball games of the community in Bagong Silang, Caloocan City, later processed and crystallized into salt. This sweat-salt is used in the video and also cast to form the trophy’s base, using the original vintage trophy as a cavity for molding. The sweat-salt evokes ideas of collective tension, labor, and physicality, and this material is caught interplaying against the trophy as a symbol of achievement, victory, and as observed in ancient warfare, conquest.

Installation images of Trophy by Anthony Chin at the MET Open Gallery

Video loop from Trophy by Anthony Chin at the MET Open Gallery

Profile

Anthony Chin (b. 1969) lives and works between Singapore and Thailand. He previously worked in the field of industrial design, before travelling the region extensively to focus on visual arts. His field work and excursions eventually led him into creating immersive site-specific works that poetically and conceptually respond to the architectural presence and history of sites. His process is a result of both extensive research, and the utilization of common materials to invoke particular places with attention to their geopolitical implications.

The MET – NAC Artist Residence Program, launched this 2020, provides a platform for artists to engage in an open process of research and knowledge exchange, situated mainly in Manila, Philippines. The residency assists the artists in advancing and developing critical perspectives on their practice by connecting with local communities and building meaningful relationships to address key issues at stake in the local context of the Philippines and beyond. The open studio and exhibition space of the MET will present the artist’s research findings, experiences, and insights.

A Part to Play

A Part to Play

2020 National Women’s Month Exhibition
In partnership with the BSP Employees Association, the BSP Art Club, KASIBULAN, and Love Marie Escudero
Upper Galleries

“We are all parts of a whole. Our individual actions, conversations, behaviors and mindsets can have an impact on our larger society.”

2020 International Women’s Day Theme

“A Part to Play: For Every Woman” provides creative glimpses into the different stories and roles women take part in in their daily lives. Encapsulated themes about the body, personal memory, and local identity convey individual perspectives and experiences that when taken together, present a collective voice that calls for an enabled place for women in art and life. Particular works call for introspective reflections towards women’s livelihood in the Philippines; others express a compelling power to claim and reclaim their voice and strength through their artistic practice. 

Recognizing the intimate ties between women and their part in history, this exhibit brings together women of different backgrounds and careers united by their shared interest and passion for creating art. Featuring artists from different walks of life and roles in society, the exhibit provides a space for artists to not only showcase their works to a wider public but to also contribute to discussions on what it means to be a woman today. 

“A Part to Play: For Every Woman” draws inspiration from the themes championed by International Women’s Month 2020:  gender equality and the strength of the individual and the collective. This exhibition is presented in partnership with the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and the Employees Association (BSPEAI), with the special participation of Ms. Love Marie Ongpauco-Escudero together with the BSP Art Club, and Kababaihan sa Sining at Bagong Sibol na Kamalayan (KASIBULAN).

  • Family

  • Personal Journey

  • Folklore and Nature

  • Memory and Identity