Photograph by Deiniel Cuvin
Culture Art

Richie Lerma: 20 questions with the man of the hour

What is a trait you most deplore in others? “A lack of originality.” On the eve of what might be the biggest auction of his life—with no less than a purported study of Juan Luna’s “Spoliarium” up for for grabs—the Salcedo Auctions impresario shares a bit of his authentic self  
ANC-X Staff | Sep 21 2018

It’s been a whirlwind three weeks for Richie Lerma, the Salcedo Auctions advisor and frontman. He has just woken up to a headline that, in one way or another, challenges what he has been defending to collectors, the art circles and the general public since the last day of August: the authenticity of the boceto of Juan Luna’s “Spoliarium” which is up for auction tomorrow, the 22nd of September at the Peninsula Manila’s Rigodon Ballroom. But nothing can stop him now. He goes on with his meetings and preparations, going over documents and artworks and antiquities, and even found the time to answer our questions which we promised to keep light (we didn’t completely succeed).

It’s the eve of what is probably your biggest auction yet, what's your state of mind?

The Well-Appointed Life auction weekend, Salcedo Auction's biggest auction event, is a very exciting time for me and my team. We are all looking forward to seeing each lot go under the hammer.

What is the biggest misconception about Richie Lerma?

What are they? (haha!) I am frankly not aware of what the misconceptions are but maybe others assume that those in the art community are a bit snobbish? I enjoy talking to people and sharing my passion for art, and the stories behind each piece at our auctions! 

While there is a segment in the art world who are your friends, there is a segment who view you with suspicion. What may have brought this about? And is the perception of others something terribly important to you?

Maybe it's because I am not afraid to share my opinions. I say things as they are and, unfortunately, there are some who have a hard time accepting that. The perception of others is important but it's not the only thing that matters. I value the opinions of people I respect.

Who is the Filipino artist you most admire and why?

I admire David Medalla for his integrity and vision. His contribution to the history of art is immense—for one he pioneered the idea of ephemeral sculptures, which is why he is the only Filipino in the permanent collection of the Tate Modern.

Where will we find you on a Saturday night?

Saturday night is only halfway through! I will be with my team preparing for the auction on Sunday. I'm looking forward to the weekend after when I will be able to gather around the kitchen with the kids and watch Netflix! 

Tell us briefly about your years in advertising.

I worked in an advertising agency as a copywriter for three years. I handled the Bank of the Philippine Islands account, where I worked on a series of BPI Express Teller advertisements, and—talk about coming full circle—The Peninsula Manila, when it was relaunched from its old name of the Manila Peninsula. Being in this industry prior to Salcedo Auctions really allowed me to hone my creativity. Those were very instructive years when I learned how to deal with various clients, and understand situations from the vantage point of business.

Have you ever fancied something you've put on auction so much you got it for yourself/almost bought it? What was it and why?

We don't compete with our clients when it comes to the pieces that we offer at auction. Still, I regret not having been able to bid for this stunning 1920s oil pastel by Amorsolo depicting a maiden which was the cover lot of our March 2012 'Important Philippine Art' auction. I still dream about it.

Your brother Raffy is a photographer, Junji is a musician. You grew up in a very creative family. What was it like growing up?

I grew up in a very loving family that valued the arts. Our family business was involved in the export of decorative arts. We were surrounded by it and I suppose it was only natural that we imbibed it and built careers related to the arts.

They say never work with your spouse, but you and Karen seem to be doing fabulously. How do you balance each other? What is she like? How did you meet Karen?

Karen and I met at the Ateneo. We got married in 2003, and began Salcedo Auctions in 2010. We share a passion for the arts and if I may so say myself, we complement each other perfectly.  I focus on the creative side of the partnership, while Karen handles finance and administration.

With wife Karen

What is your greatest extravagance?

Travel with the family. We take time once in a while to spend some time together amidst work and school. We are fortunate that between our auction seasons, we have time with the kids to go on vacations

What is a trait you most deplore in others? 

A lack of originality

What is a trait you most deplore in yourself?

Being a late sleeper 

What is your idea of complete happiness?

Being with family and close friends 

What is your greatest fear?

Losing the people who are closest to me 

How much do you think the boceto will sell for?

Your guess is as good as mine! I really hope that it goes to someone willing to lend it, so that it can be exhibited publicly for Filipinos to see!