Leon Gallery grossed 277 million in its auction on February 23. Photograph from the Official Facebook Page of Leon Gallery
Culture Art

The Philippine auction scene is exploding—and artists and collectors are concerned

A few days ago, Leon Gallery and the Asian Cultural Council exceeded P300 million (including the 15 percent buyer’s premium and 1.8 percent VAT) at their event, underscoring a positive trend for local auction houses. But art pundits, stalwarts, and pioneers say there is a lot left to be desired.
Barbara Mae Naredo Dacanay | Feb 28 2019

Initial bids and anticipation were high before the February 23 Leon Gallery Auction, and for good reason: it made an unprecedented P318M, where 16 blue chip artists emerged.

According to the country’s respected galleries, auctions are experiencing an upswing. “The auction houses are doing very well,” observes Silvana Diaz of Galleria Duemila. When asked about this development, Gari Apolonio of Gateway Gallery explains that auction houses in the Philippines are prospering because of the growing economy. “We have an increasing number of talented Filipino artists, including collectors who are unloading or who want more money from their collection. More original and historical manuscripts are also being unearthed, some of which could change the reading of Philippine history.”

Some gallery owners say that there are a lot of bad art going around because of unknowledgeable bidders.

On the downside, Diaz points out some “harmful side effects” that may negatively affect the gallery business. “I’m sure the auction houses are getting the clients of galleries and attracting many artists,” she says. “They say that artists don’t go straight to auction houses to sell, but I don’t believe that.”

Diaz says bidders look at artworks offered by auction houses, and while some bidders are knowledgeable, some are not. “There’s a lot of bad art now,” she adds. Which means bidders should be more discriminating, and should seek the advice of gallery owners. Gallery owners have acquired a taste for “good art” and have knowledge of genuine artists by virtue of their exposure to the art scene.


Who’s at the auction floor

Without naming names, Apolonio breaks down the categories of people who go to auction houses: “the aspiring and seasoned collectors who have maintained the pure joy of collecting, the investors who want art works to reach higher prices in two years, and criminals who want to hide their money. Politicians also buy art and put them in bodegas.”

“The flow of money in auction houses elevates the prestige of artists whose art works are swamped with bids and high prices. But that’s only a pittance, like bubble money,” one artist who requested anonymity laments.

Although it is tough for aspiring artists to gain access to auction houses, some have passed through the eye of the needle. But good reputation and popularity remain qualities that are hard to ignore. “It is hard for auction houses to ignore artists who have become successful to the level of being superstars,” Apolonio says, referring to the likes of young artist Ronald Ventura and veteran artist Ben Cabrera, a National Artist who is not yet retired from the scene.

Groups such Finale have started their own auction events.

Groups such as Finale have started their own auction events.

Although provenance is a requirement for artworks to be included in auction sales, artists who are unknown and not yet collected can have intermediaries or holy intercessors like critics, curators, and historians to vouch for them. “This avenue has worked for some artists,” Apolonio shares.

But there is also disappointment. Diaz says that a lot of artists are disappointed because the initial bids assigned to their works do not match their proposed prices. But, in reality, “if an artist brings in his artworks to auction houses and gets accepted, he earns. If not, he does not earn any percentage. It’s the flaw of our capitalist system,” explains Sining Kamalig owner Simoun Balboa.


Standing firm

During auction time at Leon, bidders register, get a number and a paddle— and then the true excitement begins.

Apolonio explains, “The auctioneer takes advantage on all fronts. There’s a certain psychology to auction as practiced in the United Kingdom where it grew, in the United States where it prospered, and all over Asia now, especially in China where there are more high rollers.”

Others say there should be legislation that protects the artists when their art is resold

Others say that there should be legislation that protects the artists when their art is resold.

Since there is no law yet which says that artists should get a percentage from resale of their art works, they should aim for legislation for that kind of protection, says an art watchdog. “That’s why I don’t do bids,” says writer Jennifer Llaguno, adding that her stance is a form of protest. “If we give our attention to auction houses, then we accept blue capitalism and lose out to the elite.”

Even if the success of auction houses is enticing, and, while groups like Finale have started their own auction events, Diaz claims that she’ll die if she starts doing them. “It’s a lot of work, a lot of mumbo jumbo.”


Photographs from the Official Facebook of Leon Gallery


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