Old masters, young turks, gilded family names and savvy collectors made for the biggest auction action in 2022. Ramon Orlina, the country’s foremost sculptor, told ANCX recently that auctions are important because they reveal the true value of the artwork. They’re a reliable snapshot of the temper of the times as well as where Filipino art is going.
And from the looks of León Gallery’s auction records, homegrown art is going great guns. The auction house racked up a whopping 14 world records for Filipino artists, and an eye-watering Philippine record for front-runner Ronald Ventura.
At this December’s Kingly Treasures Auction, Ventura’s wall-sized image of a weeping rocking horse, titled “Blind Mechanism,” was the biggest sale of the year at P57 million (or over 1 million USD).
Next in line was Hernando R. Ocampo’s “Fifty-Five A”, which once belonged to his best friend and fellow newspaperman, Jose Zaide. This work powered up at P48 million, smashing HR’s previous world record also set at Leon Gallery.
It was, however, a Fernando Zobel painting that once hung on the bedroom wall of Iñigo Zobel that captured the public’s imagination. It was this jaunty image of a Manila cigarette boy, titled “Siga-Siga”, that underlined the fact that an artwork’s origin story can be as tantalizing as the fame of the artist. This work rang in the golden figure of P44 million, setting a new world record for the artist. It also found its way back home to Mr. Zobel in a heartwarming story of a painting’s return to its original owner.
Provenance, however, was the secret sauce that catapulted a few artworks to establish new world records for their artists. This was particularly demonstrated in the sale of select works from the collection of the legendary society hostess Nene Quimson. Paintings that once glowed in her various mansions in Manila, New York and London sparked spirited bidding: A bouquet of wild orchids as large as a garden by Doña Nene’s bosom buddy, Betsy Westendorp, romped off with almost P18 million; while a Juan Luna of a harem beauty being serenaded by a Nubian slave in “Odalisca”, fetched nearly P12 million. All these made global milestones for the artists.
Meanwhile, living masters Danilo Dalena, Ramon Orlina and the younger generation of John Santos and, younger still, Jigger Cruz likewise racked up world records for themselves.
Dalena’s visions of the devout followers of the Nazareno, titled “Quiapo,” tied with John Santos’ meticulously created “Paperweight 1” at P18 Million. Meanwhile, Cruz’s enigmatic abstract rendition of “Blissful Throes in the Tune of a Lazy Afternoon” reeled in a stratospheric P12 Million.
Other big names from the contemporary art world likewise performed supremely well. There’s Romulo Galicano who this year had successive benchmarks, both broken at Leon Gallery, at increasingly higher levels that topped off at P9 Million. This high was matched neatly by a work by the late Pacita Abad on canvas from her much-coveted Batanes series.
Social realist hero Emmanuel Garibay (his “Kasama” sold at P6 Million) and abstractionist du jour Bernard Pacquing (his “Angel” sold at P3.5Million) turned in tasty results that also marked world record levels for both artists. The figures reflected their status in the market — and the difficulty of finding their works on the gallery circuit. A surprise upset belonged to Venancio Igarta, one of the country’s most underrated moderns, who made his mark with his own watershed moment at nearly P2 million.
Cultural heroes and collectors, from Roberto Villanueva who amassed several important collections in all kinds of art, to pioneering feminist Senator Leticia Shahani to Philippine Art Gallery patrons Jim Austria and Leopoldo Coronel to the old-guard patricians Benito Legarda and J. Antonio Araneta would add glamor and panache to the Leon Gallery auctions throughout the year.
As did cultural figure, Alejandro Roces, a man who conjured a greater understanding of the Filipino fiesta. Alejandro’s cameo in a Botong Francisco work he commissioned, the alluring “Moriones”, surely helped the painting become the second most expensive Botong on record. (The previous Botong world record was also made at León Gallery for the lyrical “Nose Flute.”) The piece had once belonged to the architect Jorge Ramos, the man who designed the Philippine Heart Center, the Baguio Convention Center, and other local landmarks.
Other fantastic performers this year included two pieces from the collection of media mogul Don Eugenio “Geny” Lopez including the seminal “Hat Weavers” by HR Ocampo, and a piece from his cousin Don Vicente “Tiking” Lopez—an early Vicente Manansala, titled “Madonna No. 2,” thought to be an exemplar of the artist’s most famous work, “Madonna of the Slums.”
Victorio Edades’ “Poinsettia Girl” would also set a world record for himself at P23 million while Ramon Orlina’s world-best record was likewise set at P16 million for his glittering vision of Mt. Makiling.
Jaime Ponce de Leon, director of León Gallery, summed up 2022 thus: “Discerning collectors continued to have their appetites whetted by finding the ‘grail’ pieces. From rare indigenous objects supplied by gilt-edged names to the ivory “Niña Dormida” that once belonged to the Pampanga and Manila elite to paintings from all the centuries of Philippine art, only the best would satisfy the best.”
Images courtesy of León Gallery