Saturday, July 24, 2010

Afternoon at an Art Auction

Today, after a very enjoyable Thai lunch at Dusit Thani's Benjarong, and a friend and I drove over to the Mandarin Oriental to attend an auction of paintings, sculptures, furniture, vintage handbags and fine jewelry entitled "The Well Appointed Life: Philippine Art + Objects of Desire" conducted by Salcedo Auctions, the Philippines' first proper auction house.

I'd been to their preview cocktail party last Tuesday and several things caught my eye, although I still had to figure out in my mind about my "art and finer things in life budget," especially with the Manilart 2010 exhibition-sale and auction coming up next week and then the Ateneo Alumni Association Art Auction to raise money for scholarships in early October. The preview was well-attended. Perhaps because the Salcedo Auctions has a very strong Ateneo connection, I saw lots of alumni including a couple of old classmates. Among the non-Ateneans inspecting the goods were the French Ambassador Thierry Borja de Mozota and Thai Airways Country Manager Nivat Chantarachoti. Meanwhile, there were lots of beautiful pieces that generated much interest: a very large and mesmerizing Ronald Ventura painting in greys and blacks called "The Well-Appointed Life," on which the auction was themed; an Arturo Luz work in burlap that would look beautiful in someone's dining room, and an abstract ceramic work by Jose Joya. I also liked an antique silver tea set with a modernist bent from Europe, and this was actually foremost among my considerations during the preview, although I ended up forgetting about it today.

To bid not not to bid?

Today, I still wasn't sure whether I would actually bid on anything, but I decided to go anyway. It's always fun to watch an auction, and especially one attended by other friends. In fact, a lively auction is always infectious. I've been to quite a few here and abroad where I hadn't planned on buying anything, but nevertheless ended up bringing home a painting or two after seeing friends bid successfully on their choices. Besides, to tell you the truth, it's fun to raise that paddle a couple of times.

When I walked into the auction area at the Mandarin Oriental, I immediately saw Richie Lerma, one of the forces behind the Ateneo Alumni Art Auction and best known as an eminent art authority and the curator of the Ateneo Art Gallery (interestingly, one of my favorite college teachers, Eric Torres, was also once curator of this respected gallery for over 25 years). Richie has always kindly filled me in on the backgrounds of paintings and artists at various past auctions around Manila, and again I was planning to ask him a few questions when I arrived early to view the paintings again. Richie's wife, by the way, is one of the people behind Salcedo Auctions, while Richie is acting as a consultant.

"I'm here early to see the paintings one more time," I told him. At that preview, there were a lot of people and I had so little time as I was on my way to dinner, so I couldn't really look closely at each one.

"Oh no, there are no paintings here," he said. "We've patterned this after the foreign auctions so nothing is exhibited on the day itself. Everyone is supposed to have done their due diligence beforehand."

Friends at the auction

Well, that certainly didn't include me. I'd thought this would be more like the local auctions wherein the works are on view before the auction itself. And today, because I had no access to the works, I didn't think I would bid anymore; but I decided to stay anyway, especially after spotting a number of friends in the waiting lounge including an art connossieur with a beautiful apartment full of modern art who had traveled with me to South India last March; and another friend who is also part of the Gawad Kalinga (GK) Hope Ball Committee working for the GK Hope Ball to be held at the Peninsula Manila on October 8. There were also many eminent art authorities and art lovers today, including Dr. Leo Garcia, former dean of the Ateneo and a major force in the art world; Dr. Jaime Laya, Deanna Ongpin-Recto, and Jeremy Barns, former director of the Malacanan Museum and now with the National Museum.

But, as I said, auctions are highly contagious. I found a seat in the audience fully intending to just enjoy the show, but within the first ten minutes, I stood up to register and get a paddle. Yes, even without having anything to buy in mind.

"Are you going to bid on something?" My friend Francis asked me.

I smiled at him. "I don't know yet, actually. But I'm getting a paddle just in case."

Works I liked

I ended up bidding on only one painting -- a poignant oil painting by the social reliast Antipas Delotavo called "Newspaper Vendor" -- although I probably would have bid on a couple more if the paintings had been in front of me. I'd seen everything on sale at the preview, but today, looking at them again on a Powerpoint, they failed to make an emotional connection with me. I still believe having the paintings "in the flesh" today would probably have made more people bid -- including myself.

There were several paintings I liked a lot, including an Impressionist-like work in mixed media by Santiago Bose entitled "Thinking of Van Gogh in Banawe" and an artwork called Tree of Life by Gabriel Barredo. But somehow my bidding paddle stayed down when the time came. But for the Delotavo, I felt that I would like to have it if I could get it for a very good price. I made the initial bid and then another bid was put forward. Many people expected me to make a counteroffer especially as the incremental increase was not much at all; Doc Garcia even tapped me on the shoulder as the auctioneer was calling out for counteroffers, but again, I just didn't feel like spending more on a painting I had had no intention of buying when I woke up this morning.

Later, during the break, a couple of friends and acquaintances mentioned my bid and said they were surprised I didn't put up more of a fight for the painting. They were sure that if I had just bid once more, I would have brought that painting home. It was a really beautifully-done piece; but a former Central Bank official seated with us during the break said it all with his comment: "It's an excellent painting; the artist is going to go far and that painting is probably going to be worth much more later on, but I myself didn't buy it because the subject matter is too depressing to hang in my house." That's also kind of how I felt, at least today, as an empty space in my dining room is foremost in my mind these days when I go to galleries and auctions.

We also discussed how so many very good works that would fall under the "Philippine classics" category remained unsold. The hot items were mostly contemporary pieces. However, Jeremy Barns did say to me: "There were a number of very good pieces among the classics today. I would have loved to have gotten some of them for the National Museum."

Unfortunately, I had to leave midway for an ayurveda appointment at Arogya, although I would have loved to have stayed and perhaps taken a chance on a couple of other things including an antique Chinese cabinet I was considering for my bedroom. In fact, as I type this out now, I'm looking at that space and thinking just how perfect that cabinet would have been there. Oh well, I guess it wasn't meant to be. But all in all, it was a very pleasant way to spend a Saturday afternoon. I'm certainly looking forward to more auctions from this group in the future.

Note: All the photos included here
are from the Salcedo Auctions catalogue.


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