Jose John Santos III's "The Game" and Ben Cabrera's "The Letter" are just two of the attractions in this month's Leon auction.

Valentine pickings from Jose John Santos, BenCab and more at first major auction of the year

Graceful goddesses naked and clothed await the bidders this love month. 
EA Santamaria | Feb 14 2021

The scent of love is always in the Manila air and it becomes even more overpowering when mixed with the headiness of auction art. Luxuriate in the offerings at the León Gallery Asian Cultural Council (ACC) Auction this February 27th, beginning at 2 pm. This first major sale of the year is co-presented with

LOT 154 : Jose John Santos III - The Game

There’s something about ‘The Game’, by Jose John Santos III, that reminds you of the Greek legend of the Golden Apples. Only the fairest goddess was ordained to win the prize — and it famously was the cause of the Trojan Wars since it was Paris who made the decision to give it to Aphrodite who rules over beauty and love.

In it, a male mortal in a baseball cap literally takes his chances (thus the symbolism of rolling the dice) with one glorious goddess. Which one is she? And who will win at the eternal game of love and marriage?

The works of the renowned Santos III are usually marked by the use of seemingly unrelated familiar subjects and objects that result in new meanings, challenging the viewers’ assumptions and perceptions on reality.

LOT 105: Bulto of Maria Magdalena

From the legendary collection of scholar/historian Don Benito “Beniting” Legarda Jr is this “mystery” santo. Writes heritage expert Floy Quintos, “This is ‘massive and ancient, depicting a kneeling woman, with long tresses and a covered urn. She holds one hand to her heart, the other arm outstretched. With no other iconographic clues to guide us, her identity is best left to conjecture. The long hair (in this case, reaching almost to her knees) and the covered urn point us to the biblical stories that have come to be associated with Mary of Magdala. 

“In the four canonical gospels, Mary is a follower who travelled with Jesus as an apostle. She was the first one to whom he appeared at his resurrection. Bible scholars say that Mary of Magdala has often been confused with two other biblical characters. The first was the adulteress Jesus saved from being stoned to death. The second, the sinner who washed his feet with her tears, dried them with her hair and anointed them with perfume. Jesus thanked her for her faith, forgave her sins and asked her to save the costly fragrance so that one day, she could use it to anoint his corpse. 

“In popular imagination, these two other repentant sinners have been combined in the persona of Mary Magdalene. In Catholic art. Of all the treasures in the Legarda collection, this piece is the most enigmatic.”

LOT 136: Bislak by Ricarte Puruganan

Ricarte Puruganan was one of the vaunted Thirteen Moderns who would habitually fuse Filipino folk art and Western modernist techniques in his pieces. The artist is also known for his appreciation of the folk dance which is translated in his folk art. 

This work titled Bislak, featuring native people in folk dance, showcases this synthesis. In his book titled Folk Art: The Thread to National Art, Puruganan wrote that this is among the paintings inspired by his experience at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, California, where the Bayanihan Dance Company performed a traditional dance, produced as “a token of [his] homage to an inspiration.”

Lot 102 : Benedicto Cabrera - Dance of Isadora

This particular piece presents Isadora Duncan in the midst of what appears to be a graceful twirl, with the fabric of her costume gloriously in flight and in tune with her movement. A groundbreaking artist in her own right, Duncan revolutionized the world of dance, synthesizing traditional forms with modernist movements and rhythms. 

Because of her revolutionary style, Duncan became one of National Artist BenCab’s favorite muses, utilizing photographs and sketches of Duncan’s dances as a way to capture her form and movement. Inasmuch as Isadora is the character in this work, the flouncing and dynamic fabric that enshrouds the body of the acclaimed American dancer is also an important ally in emphasizing motion. 

BenCab uses the permissive nature of cloth in rendering the intensity of the dancer’s energy and movements. By all means, this is hardly the first time that we see the drama that emerges from BenCab’s drapery.

Lot 94 Benedicto Cabrera - The Letter

BenCab was noted to be fascinated with the 19th century Belgian artist Félicien Rops, too, and his explicit erotic works. But what makes BenCab’s erotic works different from Rops is his focus on exploring the aspect of sexuality—and the various sexual stages of varying degrees, from flirting and seduction to kissing and voyeuristic acts—of the Filipino subject. 

The Letter, a nude woman brushes her hair while sitting down with a paper on hand. Here, BenCab renders her voluptuous, realistic form without over-idealizing her figure. Through his intriguing way of depicting the flesh, the master artist reimagines both the main subject and the lovers in such a way sensuousness and sexual tension are elegantly and subtly hinted. The signature grids, lines, and alluring colors such as muted blue and red add to the overall experience of encountering the piece likened to a cinematic composition.

What better way to say "I Love You" and to count the ways than with an extraordinary gift of art — to own or simply to behold.

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