MoCA of the Month
The Vargas Museum is the leading museum of the University of the Philippines and the largest in Quezon City, north of the capital Manila. The Museum was named after Jorge B. Vargas (1890-1980), the Philippines’s first Executive Secretary, who assumed the position during the Commonwealth period (1935-1941), and Mayor of Manila during the Japanese-sponsored republic in 1942. An alumnus of the university, he donated to the institution his collection of art, stamps, coins, books, and archives in 1978. The museum was formally opened in 1987. To date, the Vargas Museum preserves, studies, and exhibits the permanent art collection of Vargas. It is committed to exhibiting the donor’s permanent collection in dialogue with contemporary works to sustain conversations between past and present expressions.
The mission of the UP Vargas Museum is to make the collection donated by Vargas accessible to the University of the Philippines community and the general public. Through exhibitions, research, educational activities, and museum development projects, publications and public programs, the Vargas advances awareness of Philippine history and art. The museum fulfills this aim in collaboration with academic disciplines in the university, specifically Art Studies, which includes Art History, Art Theory and Criticism, and Museum Studies in undergraduate and graduate levels.
Bomba by Kawayan de Guia, installed at the Museum’s ceiling, June 2010
The projects of the UP Vargas Museum enliven the spirit with which Jorge Vargas nurtured his collection of art and Filipiniana from the late 19th –century to the 1960s. From 2009 to the present, this legacy has been imbued with a stronger commitment to the museum’s primary audience, the university and its larger community of scholars and intellectuals. This is continually realized through collaborative projects with institutions and audiences as well as dialogues between the museum’s permanent collection and archives and contemporary artists.
Conclave of Idols in the Museum by Gaston Damag
Jorge B. Vargas (1890-1980) was the country’s first Executive Secretary, serving during the Commonwealth period beginning November 15, 1935 under President Manuel Quezon. His political career continued during the Japanese Occupation when he was Chairman of the Philippine Executive Commission and Mayor of Manila in 1942. Later, he was appointed ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary to Japan from 1943 to 1945. On March 1, 1978, he donated his collection of art (painting, sculpture, print), stamps and coins, books and periodicals, personal papers, and memorabilia to the University of the Philippines where he studied Liberal Arts from 1909 to 1911 and Law from 1911 to 1914.
Wings by Alfredo Juan Aquilizan, Lobby and West Wing Gallery, February 2010
In 1983, the University laid the cornerstone for a building that would house his collection, originally displayed in a private museum located at the Kawilihan compound in Mandaluyong in Manila, where he resided. The transfer of the objects to the Diliman campus began in 1986. The Vargas art collection tells an important story about Philippine modern art. It scans critical shifts from the late Hispanic academic period at the turn of the nineteenth century to the early phases of modernism at the beginning of the twentieth under American rule. This is an index of transformations from the realism of the European salon to post-impressionism, the school of Paris, and art nouveau and art deco. In these cycles, key artists may represent germinal tendencies: Juan Luna and Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, Fernando Amorsolo, and Victorio Edades. Their works are in the collection, alongside those of their peers who had likewise paved the ground for Philippine art to find its cosmopolitan measure.
Installation view of Vargas Collects History at the 3F South Wing, February 2010
The collection loses its spirit if it is not felt in the context of current history and present consciousness. The Vargas Museum is committed to initiate conversations between the art of the past and contemporary expression, so that in their encounter, the past gains presence and the contemporary recovers its roots. The relationship between the practice of collecting art and the process of forging a republic under American tutelage during the Commonwealth is probed as well, still a vital part of the constant reflection on the institution, the collector, and the community of scholars and the wider public sphere to which the museum addresses itself.
Work by Rodel Tapaya in Bulaklak ng Dila (Idioms) Lobby and West Wing Gallery, December 2010
The building of the museum was formally inaugurated in 1987, almost nine years after Mr. Vargas bequeathed his collection to the University of the Philippines. The multi-level architecture was designed to support the museum’s diverse functions. It has a bookshop and space for the museum’s community arts program and a café for the museum and the university’s visitors.
The Ground FloorThis is the main access to the building. Its front lobby serves as the main reception area with stairs leading to the other levels of the structure. This floor features areas for changing exhibitions. The eastern portion, renamed The Lobby, hosts temporary exhibitions, lectures, meet-the-artist sessions, book launchings, poetry readings and music recitals and concerts. Another area designated for changing displays is on the west side of the building. It stretches the whole area of the western portion and also covers the back side of the building. This area is designated for major solo exhibitions or group shows of contemporary artists.
Stock with 100 Paintings by Alfredo Juan Aquilizan, West Wing Gallery, February 2010
The Second FloorVisitors will find on this floor the main gallery of the museum where thematic exhibitions of the permanent collection are displayed. On occasion it hosts special exhibitions such as those touring from abroad or local collections that require ideal conditions for display.
Installation view of the 2F Main Gallery. Belonging in-Transit, installation by Alfredo Juan and Isabel Aquilizan with modern paintings from 1947-1955
The Third FloorThis level houses the archives, library and the Vargas memorabilia. It also has an exhibition space where archival materials, photography and three-dimensional artworks are displayed. Technical and artistic support services personnel – curator, researcher, specialist and staff – also hold office in this level.
Installation view of Traces: Imelda Cajipe Endaya at the 3F South Wing, April 2010
The Basement.This is the Vargas Museum’s activity center where workshops and community arts programs are held. A small portion dedicated for changing exhibits, is well-suited for photographs, installation and other small exhibitions. Soon to open are the philatelic gallery featuring stamps issued from 1890 to 1978 and the numismatic gallery.
The U.P. Vargas Museum, more popularly known for its rich collection of artworks from renowned Filipino artists, is also home to a diverse body of archives and manuscripts that is considered to be a unique and primary source of historical information. Based on an initial survey, the archives consist of 88 boxes or approximately 300 linear feet of loose documents such as artworks’ receipts, minutes of meetings, and correspondence; 332 volumes of scrapbooks containing newspaper clippings, greeting cards, photographs, etc.; and memorabilia such as trophies and plaques, hotel keys, matches and lighters. Having served in various government positions such as being the Executive Secretary of President Manuel L. Quezon and mayor of Manila during World War II, Jorge B. Vargas’ archival collection is virtually a memory house of the Commonwealth era, American colonization and Japanese occupation. Moreover, the museum’s collection of records provides the appropriate contextual perspective to the artworks and to Vargas as a collector.
His Excellency, Jorge B. Vargas, Chairman of the Philippine Executive Commission, by Fernando Amorsolo, 1943, Vargas Museum Art Collection
The library houses a vast collection of 3,193 titles of books and 1, 542 volumes of periodicals documenting the varied interest of Mr. Vargas, especially in the areas of history, law, art, philatelic and numismatic. It is an excellent venue for advanced scholars in a variety of disciplines to pursue their individual or institutional research, including access to manuscripts and rare books.
The Vargas Museum
Jorge B. Vargas Museum and Filipiniana Research Center
Roxas Avenue, University of the Philippines-Diliman
Quezon City 1101, Philippines
Contact: (+632) 928-19-27, (+632) 981-85-00 loc. 4024