Few people think of casinos as palaces of culture. They can be glitzy and they can be glamorous but you’re not going to flock to your closest gambling hall if you want to learn about local history or French impressionist painting – unless you happen to live in Cebu, Philippines and decide on a Sunday stroll to the Casino Filipino Mactan.
The 15-foot statue of Datu Lapu-Lapu in the lobby of the casino makes enough sense. Refusing to pay tribute to Magellan and defeating him in the Battle of Mactan, 491 years ago today, is a great source of local pride. Lapu-Lapu looks regal and intimidating, cutlass in mid-swing, as a nearby plaque proclaims, “I have no master but myself. I bow before no king. I owe my allegiance to my own people.”
What’s more curious to me is the scale reproduction a painting from Claude Monet’s Water Lilies series that hangs in one lonely corner of the tournament room, above a table laden with laptops, AV equipment, and a sleeping Filipino man. It is the only piece of artwork that’s visible in the room.
What could it mean? Why is it here? Why this one particular piece of art to the exclusions of all others?
As far as I know, Monet had no connection the Philippines, and the Philippines has no connection to French impressionist painting. The original painting from which the reproduction was made hangs in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Again, no seeming connection.
I stared at the painting for a few minutes, earning myself a curious glance from the sleeping Filipino during a brief fit of wakefulness. The lilies themselves could easily have been piles of multi-colored poker chips, being splashed around in a sea of green felt. No carefully ordered stacks here; just piles of randomness.
Was that the best I could do though? It seemed so obvious and so literal. Was there no deeper meaning to draw from the appearance of a masterwork by one of history’s most famous artists in a house of gambling? I asked blogging partner and resident curmudgeon Heath Chick for his opinion.
“Maybe Monet was a pioneer of poker art,” Heath deadpanned. “I don’t know. I guess the poker room manager just threw some bits of art onto the wall.”
“Monet was prolific, wasn’t he?” asked PokerNews reporter Josh Bell (he was). “I could see him working on 12 pieces at once. Maybe it’s an ode to 12-tabling.”
It was clear I was going to need a more refined audience if I wanted deeper answers. Yet looking out over the field, it was clear that nobody here was going to have much to say about a random Monet reproduction tucked in a corner. That was when I remembered that nobody flocks to casinos for doses of culture and put my head down and went back to the poker tournament.