Light Embrace: A Peek into Monet and Friends Alive in Manila

Monet and Friends Alive, an immersive adventure into French Impressionism, arrives in Manila to remind audiences of the "magic of light"

Introduction and Interview Gabrielle de la Cruz
Images Jaypee Maristaza (BGC Arts Center) and Gabrielle de la Cruz

“Their works were not mainly viewed in galleries but were displayed in the ‘Salon des Refusés’ or Hall of Rejects. The way they were refused then and how they are received now tells us so much about both the power of the status quo and the power of the outliers in shaping one of the greatest human traditions which is art,” were among the words of Bonifacio Art Foundation managing director and curator Maria Isabel Garcia as she welcomed media and guests to the exclusive preview of Monet and Friends Alive, an immersive adventure into the world and works of French Impressionist artists. Her message traced how the French Impressionism movement forms a “larger part of art history,” and how we, 200 years later, must continue to celebrate the light that the masters chose to see.

Monet and Friends Alive opens today, January 31, 2024, at the BGC Arts Center (Maybank Performing Arts Theater) in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig with over 800 individual artworks depicting everyday Parisian life and the architecture and culture of 19th-century Europe. Each artwork or series is projected alongside a quote or saying by its creator, allowing guests to understand the wisdom behind each work while basking in the multi-sensory experience. Large-scale projections surround the gallery, complemented by floral, citrusy, and wooden scents inspired by en plein air painting. An art studio is tucked inside the gallery for visitors who wish to create Impressionist pieces of their own, followed by Monet’s Garden with projections of the artist’s famous water lilies painting and a mirrored hallway with floral blooms. The experience ends with a set-up of The Japanese Footbridge, an important addition to Monet’s water garden that later became the subject of one of his paintings.

Kanto sat down with Garcia after the preview to discuss more about the show’s curation, and what it hopes to leave audiences with during its first run here in the Philippines.

Nice to see you again, Ms. Garcia! Last time we were here, we talked about the life and works of Van Gogh and how his story and creations invite us to take a pause and reflect. Now, we’re invited to look at hundreds of paintings by various French Impressionists such as Monet. How would you describe the overall emotion of this show? What do you want guests to experience?

Garcia: I think reflection is essential in any exhibition, so the call to pause and reflect remains. But apart from that, Monet and Friends Alive is a collective. Despite the fact that these artists did not agree with each other, their diversity (and raging tempers) defined a movement. That’s how mysterious human behavior and human power are in terms of creativity.

These artists may have been fighting against each other, but they were fighting for the exact same thing. And when you look at it, that’s what impressionism is. An impressionist painting is not a realistic painting, it is not faithful to reality—it’s how they see it. How this magical thing called light, the science that makes all things visible can suddenly appear across the spectrum. They painted luminous pictures of houses, of sites, of the outdoors—and it all makes sense to our minds now. To me, that’s so amazing.

The show reminds us that the human brain has the power to interpret and recognize patterns. Without that power, the Impressionist movement wouldn’t make sense.

The exhibit features 15 French Impressionist artists and their individual works. Can you tell us what you know about Grande Experiences’ curation of the show? How were the paintings selected? Did they follow a theme or was there anything that dictated what would be included?

Garcia: The overall theme was to have a good representation of the French impressionists or the two or three Americans who were inspired by them and to showcase how the prestigious works were created by people who were considered radicals then.

Equally, the curation was done to make the artwork and the story embrace you, rather than you trying to grasp a framed painting. The experience wants to embrace you, be it by thinking or by feeling. I also have no business telling you how to do it. It’s all up to you once you step inside.

I hope you were able to take away something from the experience.

Of course! I particularly appreciated the quotes from the artists that were projected along with their works. Van Gogh’s sayings are admittedly more popular, and it was interesting to dive deep into the thoughts of the French Impressionists. What about you? Was there a particular line that struck you?

Garcia: I agree! I am a writer and I appreciated the quotes very much as well. A saying that I liked the most is by Paul Cézanne, which says “We live in a rainbow of chaos.” Because we do. And they (the Impressionists) did, and here we are 200 years later celebrating their works.

French Impressionism, though born out of the artists’ “disagreement,” focuses on one thing: to capture everyday sights and scenes as they happen, to present things as you see them. What is it about this that the Philippine creative industry can learn from?

Garcia: I don’t think we can teach them anything because our Filipino artists already know who they are and what they can do. I think they know a lot more now than the Impressionists did then…given their life experience and knowing what the power of art can do to a society, they definitely do. It’s been 200 years. It all has changed.

It’s no longer the place of the French Impressionists to teach our Filipino creative community. We just have to give them enough access to resources and opportunities to sing out loud. I don’t think there’s a shortage of creative gifts. We’re brimming with possibilities…and I can say that more than probably relative to other groups. We are involved with international groups and I can say that the Filipino always comes out on top when it comes to creativity. We’re just not given enough access—we’re not even given enough access to interact with each other! I hope the industry is just given that access to collective power.

Thank you for that, and hopefully this show will spark more interactions in our community! Lastly, what do you hope the experience of viewing these Impressionist paintings through an immersive experience brings the Filipino audience? What is it that you want the show to leave people with?

Garcia: The magic of light! The realization that the only light comes from the sun…but look at the forms it takes when it gets to a painting, when it hits a surface, when it reaches your body, your eyes. Look at what happens to that light.

In science, light only takes the color of its structure—what it absorbs, what it reflects. It strikes and retracts. So, all the colors we see are basically an illusion. Think about that deeply. Imagine all the miracles of art, of science, of life. All of that comes from light. •

Kanto-Monet and Friends Alive-bridge

Monet and Friends Alive at the BGC Arts Center is presented by the Bonifacio Art Foundation, Inc. in partnership with Grande Experiences and is co-presented by Del Monte Philippines. The exhibit opens from January 31, and from Tuesdays to Sundays after. The exhibit was also made possible with their ticketing partner, TicketWorld, and exhibition partner LG Philippines.

Tickets can be purchased online via ticketworld or at the BGC Arts Center TicketWorld Box Office.

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