Let’s face it, they are the only two auction houses of note in the country: Leon Gallery and the Salcedo Auctions. Or—if you want to be Nora versus Vilma about it—is it the Salcedo Auctions and Leon Gallery? They are certainly the most aggressive in hauling a wealth of desirables in both art and Philippine historical treasures, year in and year out—the easier to pique the interest of the country’s moneyed set, or at least the decorators who buy for them.
Both established in the early 2000s, the two have definitely injected much needed excitement and energy in the art scene. They have also reintroduced the public to our living and bygone Filipino masters, making us reconsider the value we put on our Lunas and Hidalgos, our Joyas and Onibs.
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But while they achieved these together, it is also not a secret the two houses have a long ongoing rivalry. Wasn’t it just last year when Leon hosted their own private mock unveiling of a Spoliarium boceto after Salcedo unveiled theirs? The clash most likely began around the time of this interview in 2013, where Richie was quoted as saying, “We are only speaking up because people are bastardizing the industry.” And where Jaime’s retort was, “They’re trying to create the rules, which are not rules. I am very much aware of the right thing to do.”
There is no other month where this competition goes into fever pitch than every September where each house brings out the year’s biggest gets. And so in the tradition of good old healthy gun-flexing contests, we bring you a short comparative study of Leon Gallery and Salcedo Auctions.
Salcedo Auctions: 2010
León Gallery: 2010, but first as an art space, going only into the auction business in 2012
Salcedo Auctions: A sleek new office cum showroom at the award-winning NEX Tower at 6786 Ayala Avenue
Leon Gallery: Fittingly old world at the G/F Eurovilla 1 Rufino corner Legazpi Street, Legazpi Village
MAN OF THE AUCTION HOUSE
Salcedo Auctions: Ramon “Richie” Lerma, the former advertising copywriter and Ateneo Art Gallery director whose intensity and informed honesty endear him to some and disconnect him to others. Lerma is also an awarded art writer (he won the 2006 National Book Award for Art from the Manila Critics Circle).
León Gallery: Jaime Ponce de Leon, the mild mannered and soft spoken former barangay captain from Dumaguete whose entry into the art world was through a budding career in interior design.
THE FIERCER HALF
Richie’s: If Richie is the eye behind Salcedo Auctions, Karen is the nose. She's cultivated a taste for art, but as the more business-minded one, she’s also developed a keen sense for the money side—and she knows her audience really well. The quiet and strong presence against her husband’s earnest and eager manner.
Jaime’s: Robbie Santos, or Robert Bjorn Santos, is a scion of the Santos clan who owns Fatima University. His flamboyant ways contrast with the quiet ‘malambing’ demeanor of his partner. He operates a bespoke atelier for women on the side.
Salcedo: None exposed to the public, but the house works closely with Sheila Romero, wife of congressman Mikee, for their benefit auctions like last July’s for the IWantToShare Foundation.
Leon: Liza Nakpil, Tonico Manahan, Tats Manahan, Toto Gonzales — and before they passed on, the antiquarian Ramon Villegas, and antiques expert and historian Sonny Tinio.
HOW THEY GOT INTO THE BUSINESS
Salcedo Auctions: Attending sales in their former homebase Sydney, Australia inspired them to get into the auction trade.
Leon Gallery: According to a Business World report in 2013, it was because Prudential Life Plans Inc. sought de Leon’s assistance with regards artworks in the company’s custody. “Mr. de Leon said that he offered to buy the pieces, but Prudential refused because the protocol on liquidating pieces by a public entity was through auction,” said the report. The success of the sale inspired de Leon to go deep into the business.
BIGGEST SALE SO FAR
León Gallery: José Joya, ‘Space Transfiguration’, PhP 112,128,000, sold at the The Asian Cultural Council Auction 2018
Salcedo Auctions: Juan Luna, the boceto of ‘Spoliarium,’ PhP 73,584,000
León Gallery: At the León Gallery Spectacular Mid-Year Auction in June 2019, Carlos “Botong” Francisco’s ‘Camote Diggers’ (the 87 x 149 cm version) was auctioned of, and was sold for PhP 23.4 million. It was the last work by the painter, before he died in 1969. A few days before the auction, rumors persisted that the painting was originally given as a gift to the family of the former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos (1917-1989). The consignor insisted it was sold to him in 2004, and was unaware of its history. In a press statement, León Gallery announced that the consignor had decided to donate the work to a national institution to “resolve any issues ad the possible politicization” of the work.
Salcedo Auctions: Before the boceto of the ‘Spoliarium’ was sold to an unknown bidder, the piece was marred by controversy. Its authenticity was questioned, and the day before the auction, another version of the boceto turns up, among others. It was National Museum director Jeremy Barns, who declared it a “cultural property,” somehow authenticating the piece. A cultural property means that the painting cannot leave the Philippines without proper authority.
THIS MONTH'S BIG GETS
León Gallery: Juan Luna, ‘Una Chula’; Murillo Velarde Map of 1734 (Carta Hydrographica y Chorographica de las Yslas Filipinas Dedicada al Rey Nuestro Señor Por el Mar).
Up for auction September 14, 2019, at The Magnificent September Auction 2019.
Salcedo Auctions: Félix Resurrección Hidalgo, ‘La Pintura’; Bencab, ‘Untitled (Sabel)’; Ang Kiukok, ‘Seated Figure.’
Up for auction September 21, at the Important Philippine Art.