WHEN members of the public want to see artworks by National Artists Fernando Amorsolo or Benedicto “BenCab” Cabrera or Jose Joya, they have to go to a museum or art gallery to do so. But these spaces have only a limited number of the masters’ works — most of their works are in private hands, locked away from the public’s view. To democratize art, Ambeth Ocampo, a well-known Philippine historian, academic, and columnist, supports the online availability of Philippine art.

Speaking as the guest for Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) Foundation’s exhibition opening of Pagpugay, which is part of a series of art exhibitions called Obra, Mr. Ocampo said: “What we see are the cream of the crop, and these paintings that you see are either in the executive dining hall upstairs or in the corridors to which not everyone is welcome or invited. So, to have an exhibition in a public space like this makes it accessible to ordinary people like you and me,” he said, adding that he also hopes to see them online.

The BPI Foundation has acquired, over the years, more than 900 works by Filipino artists, of which 21 are currently on display at the Ayala Museum until March 25.

“You only showed the nice pieces and I’m sure the 879 are not as valuable,” Mr. Ocampo said in jest.

With the aim of bringing art to the public, the Obra series of exhibitions will show works by National Artists Fernando Amorsolo, Jose Joya, BenCab, and Hernando Ocampo, plus works by glass sculptor Ramon Orlina and paintings by Mauro “Malang” Santos.

Its first installment, Pagpugay, pays tribute to paintings and sculpture that focus on the Filipino family, and cultural beliefs and practices. One of the most iconic Filipino artists who perfectly captured the lives of Filipinos is Amorsolo, who has seven paintings on view that depict bucolic settings with mango gatherers, women with fruit baskets, dancing the tinikling, and harvesting rice.

Selfie and Instragram addicts beware though: museumgoers are prohibited from taking pictures of any of Amorsolo’s iconic works.

“You can see these walls with signs [saying] ‘no photography,’ which I don’t agree with,” Mr. Ocampo told BusinessWorld at the sidelines of the event’s launch.

“Everyone has a cellphone, it democratizes the art. But then again there are legal copyright issues, so it makes things complicated, but we hope that one day [ we can see them online without restriction],” he said.

Mr. Ocampo is in favor of bringing art online because it initiates a further understanding and appreciation of art.

“One day, you will want to see the real thing. I mean like, I want to see the Mona Lisa, but I am in Manila. So I can see it on the Louvre’s Web site. There’s no substitute to seeing the original, but as a first step in appreciation you have to see [it virtually]. And you won’t see, if it’s locked up in an executive office,” he said.

Despite criticism that cellphones, the Internet, and social media have changed the ways we see, appreciate, and learn about art, Mr. Ocampo said that it should be shared, nonetheless.

“So in order for people to see it, appreciate it, and study it, it is easier to do it online. I mean there are big issues about it… and unless you’re invited [to an exhibition], it makes things more inaccessible. In the 21st century, access is important,” he said.

One criticism of the digitization of art is it diminishes the “real” feel of an artwork as opposed to seeing it face to face. Also, the age of social media and selfies has reduced artworks as mere backgrounds to one’s pictures. “People have criticized those who take pictures as ‘Ay, they are just taking selfies,’ but for me, at least they are looking. At least, they will bring it home. One day, it will hit them, at some point… It depends on how you look at it, but for me, it’s always good that you always look,” said Mr. Ocampo. — Nickky Faustine P. de Guzman

Supplemental reading: “Technology and arts, and the digitization of Malacañan Museum” https://goo.gl/mjs3Dk