It’s hard to believe but Margarita Forés, one of Asia’s best female chefs and the woman behind the influential Cibo chain of casual Italian restaurants, is only really beginning to collect art. Her son Amado, a fixture in Manila’s art openings, has been an influence in this pursuit. “I’m happy that my son started to develop a love for art very early—at least we’re not spending on things that are not investments,” she tells ANCX. “Better to save up and spend on art.”
While it’s fashion and, eventually, food that Margarita pursued with passion, it’s not like she wasn’t exposed to the visual arts when she was younger. Her aunt, Judy Roxas, is an avid collector, and boasts a pretty sizable collection of Manansalas. “She was very close to Mang Enteng,” says Margarita. “He even traveled to New York with us for a time and painted some things in New York as well.”
But perhaps her more intimate attachment to an artist is to the great modernist Arturo Luz. “I don’t know if many people know but I live in this house, it’s an old house in Urdaneta which is the house that Tito Arturo Luz lived in for about 40 years before he moved into his own home in Valle Verde,” the chef says. “I’m just very lucky that the people who own the house are really dear friends of mine. When [the Luzes] moved, this house became available for rent. What was nice about it, the house was exactly the way Tito Arturo left it.”
From stories of friends close to the artist, Margarita found out Mr. Luz did not only showcase his own works in the property but also works of younger artists. “So when I moved in here there were like little sculptures, unnamed paintings, that were already existing in the house. Even the carpet that used to be in Tito Arturo’s room was rolled up and stocked in our bodega,” offers Margarita.
“All these years that I’ve been living here since 2006, Amado and I have imbibed the energy that Tito Arturo left and [his wife] Tita Tessie in this home. Amado sleeps in the room that used to be Tito Arturo’s studio!” Margarita continues. “I love that the house is still the same. Up to today, the flooring’s still the same. The only thing that the landlords, my friends, refurbished were the bathrooms. The house is old, and sometimes the roofs leak but we don’t mind.” Margarita says the energy the National Artist left in the home is felt up to now. “Now that’s he’s gone we feel his energy even more.”
We asked Margarita to be part of our group of tastemakers for the upcoming Leon Gallery’s Magnificent September Auction coming up this September 11, and she very graciously accepted the invitation. Here, she shares with us five of her favorite pieces from the auction co-presented by ANCX, revealing not only what draws her to artworks but also a cause close to her heart. Not surprisingly, one of her choices is a work by her Tito Arturo.
Lot 38 “Green Graffiti with Red” by Florencio B. Concepcion
“I love all of his works,” says Margarita who owns a few pieces by the midcentury artist Florencio B. Concepcion including a prized work that takes pride of place by her dining table at home, a powerful painting from 1959, the year Margarita was born, and produced in Rome where the artist lived for many years. The chef loves the red and the green of this abstract up for auction, which also evokes memories of Italy, her favorite destination. Compared to the works in the chef’s care, “Green Graffiti with Red” is more recent and marked with stronger colors. “I think choosing this is also a way to share to the art market just how beautiful FB Concepcion’s works are.”
Lot 80 “À Paris Avec Une Amie Polonaise Et Un Italien” by Annie Cabigting
“I’ve seen quite a number of Annie’s works. I love what she does. I just wish I have a home big enough to showcase her works,” says Margarita. “But I love this one because it’s a little bit more intimate than her other works.” Another reason the chef picked this lot is due to her personal advocacy to push for women artists.
Lot 117 An array of excavated gold consisting of three lots
“My mother always loved excavated gold jewelry and I love that they’re showcasing this in three frames. They’re wonderful pieces. Growing up I was able to actually experience the passion of an aunt of mine, my tita Cecile Locsin, the wife of Leandro Locsin—they were huge collectors of excavated gold. They would actually have the excavations not just in Mindoro but in other parts of the Philippines, and as you know that collection of theirs were donated to the Ayala Museum. My mother [Baby Forés] used to love to collect excavated gold pieces. What I love about these is that they showcase how rich our culture was before the Spaniards came, proving how we already were a super complex civilization.” For more details on this lot, click on this link.
Lot 120 “Performance in Yellow” by Arturo Luz
“I still would love to own a work of Tito Arturo that’s big enough to showcase in a wall in this home,” says Margarita who, as mentioned above, resides in the Makati home the National Artist occupied for around 40 years. “This yellow is really aspirational,” she adds.
138 “Droves” by Rosario “Charito” Bitanga
As soon as she spotted it on the auction catalogue, the chef was struck immediately by this work courtesy of the Philippines’ first known female abstract artist. “That’s such a beautiful piece,” says Margarita before proceeding to retell a story her friend, the art advisor Miguel Rosales, just told her. The story is about how in a ceremony where Rosario was meant to receive an award for her work, the award was mistakenly handed to her husband, a prominent archaeologist. “At that time, I guess people really didn’t expect a female could paint such a beautiful work,” says Margarita. “I love this piece. And now I’ve researched her other works and they’re such wonderful works from the same period.”
23 “Egg Vendors” By Anita Magsaysay-Ho
“I think it’s so beautiful because it kind of has a magical feel to it. My mother has a wonderful Anita featuring lanzones vendors and this piece reminds me of that,” says the veteran chef and restaurateur. “It’s also very unique. I don’t think I’ve seen a work [of hers] where eggs are the subject. I love the treatment and I think even the form of the vendors are different from the others that she’s done. I love the warmth of it.”
The Magnificent September Auction is happening on September 11 beginning at 2PM. Check out the offerings by going to leon-gallery.com or clicking on this link. The event is presented by the country’s premiere auction house Leon Gallery together with ANCX.ph, the urban man's guide to culture and style, the lifestyle website of ANC, the ABS-CBN News Channel.
[Portraits courtesy of Margarita Forés. All other images courtesy of Leon Gallery]