A Mustang and a Museum Weekend

We skip a long drive in the countryside and take the pony car for a spin to an art show.

There’s a certain stereotype attached to owners of cars like the Ford Mustang whether we care to admit it or not. Immediately our minds go to preconceived notions about what he or she might be like—perhaps he’s a showoff who spends his Saturday nights at the hottest club, or she’s a ball-busting career woman who likes driving up to her house in Tagaytay or Subic on weekends. 

We can’t say we blame these stereotypes. It’s often been said that if you want to get to know someone, particularly a guy, take a look at his watch, his shoes, or his car.

But it’s also true that appearances can be deceiving, which is what I set out to prove when the folks at Ford Philippines lent me the 2018 Mustang GT convertible one weekend.

For one thing, some studies have shown that the average age of pony car owners like the Ford Mustang is getting older, about 51 years old to be exact. I’m nowhere near that age (thankfully), but I will admit that I’m an avowed fan of the Mustang. (Ask the folks at Ford though, and they’ll tell you that it’s been appealing to a greater market in recent years).

To me though, it’s not just the aggressive good looks and the unmistakable roar of the engine. The Mustang is a symbol of power and freedom, the kind of car you drive not because you have to go anywhere specific, but just to enjoy the drive itself. It’s good-looking and functional, sure, but driving a Mustang is generally a reflection of a loose and carefree personality. (Of course, it also means you have some serious coin in the bank, but that goes without saying).

Photo by Paul John Caña.

A powerful car in an elegant hotel

The agenda that day started with lunch at the Henry Hotel. What was once a compound with turn-of-the-century old houses was turned into an elegant hotel surrounded by greenery in the middle of busy Pasay City. Immediately the contrast between the refined exterior of the hotel and the in-your-face quality of the car was evident.

The car itself might be intimidating but is a quick study. Powered by a 5.0 V8 engine with 460 horsepower and 570 Nm of torque mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission, the Mustang deserves every single gaze of admiration it got as it passed through the congested streets of the city.

The seats upholstered in plush leather were adjustable electronically. There was a 12-inch digital instrument cluster behind the steering wheel and another eight-inch digital infotainment display screen in the dashboard. The spec sheet said there were 12 speakers spread out across the interior, and I put them to work as soon as I connected my phone to the system via Bluetooth. You can’t go on a nice drive without some nice tunes. 

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Photo by Paul John Caña.

Art and wheels

Conventional wisdom dictates that a car like the Mustang should be taken out to the countryside to stretch its legs, but I had to make do with a quick drive in the city. After lunch at Apartment 1B, the restaurant at the Henry Hotel, I drove to the Metropolitan Museum in Manila for the opening of a special exhibit called Arte Povera: Italian Landscape

According to curator Danilo Eccher, Arte Povera, which literally translates to “poor art,” is one of the most important art movements in the second half of the 20th century, not just in Italy but in the entire world.

“It broke all the rules,” he said at the opening. “One can say that art existed before and after Arte Povera.”

Daniel Eccher speaks at the opening of Arte Povera: Italian Landscape at the Metropolitan Museum

Photo by Paul John Caña.

Capturing one of the most pivotal points in the history of Italian art in the 1960s to the 1970s, 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 at the Met, the first time that such important pieces have ever been displayed anywhere in Southeast Asia, features works from contemporary Italian masters such as Jannis Kounellis, Marisa Merz, Mario Merz, Giovanni Zorio, Pier Paolo Calzolari and younger artists from the newer generation Francesco Arena and Gianni Caravaggio.

At first glance, the artworks looked little more than just random items one would encounter in everyday life—sand, concrete slabs, pieces of fabric, even potted plants. But the way Eccher explained it, these pieces were a response to the dominant abstract modernism prevalent at the time, particularly in painting. Arte Povera then, focused mostly on sculptural works and installations that made use of cheap throaway materials that evoked a distinct Italian aesthetic.

Mario Merz's "Senzo titolo (Untitled)," 1991

Photo by Paul John Caña.

Michelangelo Pistoletto's "Orchestra di stracci (Orchestra of rags)," 1968

Photo by Paul John Caña.

Arte Povera emphasizes the physicality of our daily lives,” Eccher said.

Again, the exhibit stood in sharp contrast to the hyper-stylized beauty and near-perfection of a machine like the Ford Mustang. But in a way, it made sense, because expriencing one after the other allowed me to appreciate each one’s unique attributes, which stood out in stark relief when considered relative against one another.

We may have our own prejudices about people based on things like what he wears or what he drives, but a car is just a car, and in the end, it’s what we say and what we do that will ultimately determine how we are perceived by other people.

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Paul John Caña
Associate Editor, Esquire Philippines
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