Cover The new Ayala Museum façade featuring the expanded lobby. The renovations began in 2019, under the architectural firm, Leandro V Locsin & Partners

After over two years of being temporarily closed for its renovations as well as in accordance with the earlier COVID-19 restrictions, museum-goers and art enthusiasts will be able to finally go back to the esteemed arts, culture, and heritage institution

When the renowned Philippine abstract painter Fernando Zóbel de Ayala y Montojo returned to Manila in the late Fifties, he shared his enthusiasm for modern art, actively collected masterpieces and held exhibitions in pursuit of promoting a wider appreciation for Philippine art. It was at this time that he envisioned a museum that would serve as a venue of traditional and advanced platforms to present the country’s rich heritage. Zóbel thought it to become the centre of the Ayala Foundation (then known as Filipinas Foundation) for cultural education with the mandate to empower and instil pride in Filipinos through a deeper understanding of their traditions, history and culture.

In 1967, the Ayala Museum was established by the foundation led by Mercedes Zóbel de Ayala y Roxas and Joseph R McMicking, former CEO of Ayala Corporation, who strongly believed that arts and culture advocacy is a powerful civic action. It was located at the Insular Life building on Ayala Avenue, Makati City. After highlighting contemporary Philippine art and inviting masterpieces by renowned international artists, the Ayala Museum moved in 1974 to its current location on Makati Avenue in a brutalist styled building designed by National Artist for architecture Leandro V Locsin. Eventually it was demolished to give way to a new six-storey building made of steel, granite and glass. Unveiled in 2004, the current building was designed by the same architectural firm under the leadership of Leandro Y Locsin Jnr, coinciding Ayala Corporation’s 170th anniversary.

For decades the Ayala Foundation has led these institutions in making significant contributions to promoting Philippine art, culture and heritage. It has mounted exhibitions that not only highlighted the masterful artistry and craftsmanship of Filipinos but also discovered long-lost treasures from paper to gold that solidify the cultural identity of our peoples.

“The Eighties and the Nineties saw the Ayala Museum evolve into a dynamic centre of cultural exchange as well as the creation of the Filipinas Heritage Library as a one-stop electronic resource about the country and its people,” said Mariles Gustilo, senior director of the Ayala Museum. “In the 2000s, a new museum, more than twice its original size, was built to house an expanded collection that brought Philippine culture not only to local audiences via travelling exhibitions but internationally via exhibitions in partnership with international cultural institutions.”

As the foundation caps off its 60th anniversary, it reopened last December 4 the new Ayala Museum and Filipinas Heritage Library, after a two-year hiatus brought upon by its massive renovation to upgrade its facilities and increase its exhibition and public spaces. As part of a five-year plan, the museum was designed, once again, by the Leandro V Locsin and Partners architectural firm, enhancing its programming with the use of digital technology to reach new audiences onsite, online and offsite.

“The onsite visitor experience will be redefined with more exhibition, event and retail spaces,” Gustilo said. “It boasts a new inviting lobby marked by a distinctive Asian sensibility and borrowed landscape, integrating it ever closer to Greenbelt and its environs.” As a response to the pandemic, the museum was reimagined to have an outside-inside atmosphere, making it a safe zone complete with safety precautions for visiting guests.

During its soft opening, accessibility to five galleries were made available to the public through pre-booked admissions and timed entries. This includes a new dedicated gallery in honour of its visionary founder, with the exhibition titled Landscape into Painting: Fernando Zóbel Serie Blanca. The Orientations Gallery displays tangible objects from the Ayala Museum collections that feature the wealth and diversity of the cultures and peoples of the Philippine archipelago. When entering the lobby, the Digital Gallery with its eight sprawling screens enables museum enthusiasts to explore digitally the objects from the museum and library collections. It allows guests to engage in interactive and up-close conversations with art and history for free. The iconic Diorama Experience at Ayala Museum has also been refreshed for the new generation of history buffs to enjoy.

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But everyone’s eyes are on the exhibition, Intertwined: Transpacific, Transcultural Philippines, that was mounted in celebration of 500 years since the first circumnavigation of the world. It explores the resulting entangled cultures brought about by one man’s attempt to circumnavigate the world by exhibiting 240 carefully curated objects and artworks.

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The museum has shown innovativeness in its omni-channel approach. Described as a visitor-centric approach, Gustilo said that omni-channel “ensures customers to get what they want, when they want it and how they want it”. One such area with this approach is the Digital Gallery, the country’s first-ever permanent digital wall in a museum.

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“The museum’s exhibitions will assume a dynamic quality with the development of supplementary content that enriches the viewer’s understanding,” Gustilo said. This aspect will be made possible by the Ayala Museum mobile app and website, a newly revamped online portal for lectures, workshops, concerts and performances, which the museum has been known for.

When the world paused in 2019 because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Ayala Museum was fortunate, according to Gustilo, as they had already closed for renovation months prior to the lockdowns and restricted mobility. “By the time it hit, our collections were neatly packed away and stored in a safe place. Had it been otherwise it would have been nerve-wracking,” the museum’s senior director explained.

At the height of the health crisis, the museum’s teams have been busy digitising content, creating virtual reality experiences for the enhanced diorama, cataloguing their films, collections, documents, and many more to become readily available content for online. Ayala Museum was also very active on its social media, particularly Instagram, posting its previous exhibitions and some iconic pieces and significant collections. The renowned institution is already on its way to a new era of art appreciation.

“What Covid-19 did was to accelerate the need to transform, demanding creativity and innovation from the staff and working with new technologies. So, in a sense, rather than challenges, all these were opportunities to learn how to deal with the new normal,” Gustilo shared.

“But the arts scene was really challenged,” she admitted, looking back at the dire effects of the pandemic on other institutions in the Philippine arts scene. “All sectors: artists, public and private cultural institutions, galleries, art fairs, auction houses—we all quickly shifted gears to adjust how we do our work and engage audiences online,” she expounded. “I look forward to the day when encounters with arts and culture—be it onsite, online, or offsite—are a lifestyle choice for many.”


To learn more about the museum and library’s new protocols, what to expect during the soft opening, and how to book your tickets, you can visit their website at ayalamuseum.org and filipinaslibrary.org.ph.

  • ImagesCourtesy of Ayala Foundation
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