Heroes and modernists ruled at recently completed Magnificent September Auction at Leon Gallery. Robust records cast well-deserved light on many underrated but worthy artists to boot.
“The atmosphere was buoyed by the resonance of all things Philippine as well,” remarked Leon Gallery director Jaime Ponce de Leon. This is likely thanks to this year’s 125th anniversary of Philippine nationhood. Juanito Torres’ homage to the brave souls and rich intellects behind the “La Solidaridad” newspaper, which first espoused the notion of independence, set the pace at a record-topping P4.3 Million, a personal best for the artist.
Jose Rizal continued to cast his spell with a pair of works, from two eminent National Artists—and bosom buddies—Fernando Amorsolo and Guillermo Tolentino, for a work celebrating the last chapter of the Noli Me Tangere and Rizal’s poetic work Triumph of Science over Death.
The grail of Philippine fabric scooped up nearly P3 Million, an international record for Filipino fabric. It was one of the many stars from the world-famous Angel Lontok Cruz’ collection of indigenous art. A stunning work from minimalist Fil-American artist Leo Valledor, meanwhile, exploded at P5 Million. This was “thanks to the museum-quality allure of his famous zig-zag series which has exemplars at the SFMoma,” commented gallery director Ponce de Leon.
The stars of the show, however, continued to be the modernist maestros. Anita Magsaysay-Ho’s joyous Laughter had the collector, for sure, laughing all the way to the bank at a whopping P64Million. “Perhaps her only work that featured women in such good humor, this 1957 piece is also important in her career trajectory,” explains Ponce de Leon, “capturing the luminosity of her glory days in egg tempera while having been among the first to be executed in oil.”
Not to be outdone was Anita’s fellow modernist, H.R. Ocampo. The marquee lot titled Dilemma belonged to a series of writers, first his fellow novelist Gloria Villaraza-Guzman, next to Larry Cruz (the son of the man who thought up of the name “Neo-Realists” for Ocampo’s merry band of mavericks) and finally to the politically astute, Kit Tatad, a rebel with a cause in his own right who would become Marcos’ very first press secretary. Its glowing forms combined with impeccable documentation from the cultural elite guaranteed its P27Million worth of success under the gavel.
The less well-known but also a key player in the Neo-Realist movement, Victor Oteyza, had a rare but delectable sighting. A classic and also museum-worthy work from his important ‘Plastic Engineering’ series also cemented a milestone for the artist, breaking the P1 Million-mark easily. (A companion piece owned by alpha-collector Paulino Que is among the jewels of Filipino abstract art on exhibit presently at the M Museum.)
Ditto for a colorful masterpiece with the topic of the first cha-cha in 1997, created by National Artist J. “Jerry” Elizalde Navarro, mischievously titled, Tis the Season of Political Copulation. This reaped a strong showing of P 4.6Million. It came from the prestigious collection of Don Eugenio “Geny” Lopez Jr.
“I am happy to note that the market responds acutely to the allure of collectors who are champions of Filipino art,” says Ponce de Leon. For example, a Botong from the iconic architect, Juan Arellano, creator of the Rizal Memorial Colisuem and the Met Theater, achieved P8.5Million for a tyke from Angono contemplating a fishing basket.
Other seasoned collectors were also represented, including the industrialist Edilberto Bravo and influential socialite Menchu Katigbak. Fifties’ film star Celia Flor’s cache of works was led by Vicente Manansala’s Fish Vendors which netted nearly P30 Million for this feng-shui masterpiece from his golden period that once hung in the actress’ elegant London home.
Amorsolo’s stunning “Tinikling sa Pista ng Nayon,” once owned by investment banker Ed V. Pozon, and travelled the world with him as a sentimental memento of his homeland, romped off with P 20 Million. Works from the war period — a smiling mango vendor alongside a view of the ruins of the Manila Cathedral attracted spirited bidding.
“We continue to witness a thirst for Filipino art that checks all the boxes,” noted Ponce de Leon. “particularly for provenance, documentation, and being ‘best in class.’”
Images courtesy of Leon Gallery