Ed Valencia is addicted to art. “I love art, what can I say?" he tells us. "Charlie Co tells me I have this disease that is difficult to reverse."
Valencia, whose art collection furnishes all the floors of the new Iloilo Contemporary Art Museum—a sweep that includes foreign art, local art, the work of Iloilo artists, and sculptures—has been collecting art since the 80s. Prints, canvases, you name it. This acquisitive addiction speaks of his natural affinity to beauty and truth (and to how each is the other, as in the famous Keats poem).
Early on, Valencia already knew he didn’t want an ordinary life. He graduated at the top of his class from UP Iloilo, and was a CPA topnotcher. “I was the only one from the province in my batch that figured in the top 10 of my year, he says. Everyone was either from UP Diliman or from La Salle.” Soon the topnotcher began working for SGV—the firm so believed in his talents that they offered him a scholarship. But Valencia wanted something bigger: New York City.
Since he never had to ask his parents to pay for his education, he asked them to help him get to the Big Apple. “So I went to New York,” he says, “I also did quite well. I took the CPA exam in New York, passed it, and then I went to Arthur Young (Now Ernst and Young) for two years.” After that, the young Valencia headed to Wall Street, that cutthroat hive of king-makers. “If I did not succeed, I was just a regular guy out there. I would have wanted to come back. I wanted to prove that I was as good as the Americans. That’s what I did.” He was at the center of the storm that hit Wall Street during the financial crisis of 2007-2008. When many lost fortunes, Valencia survived unscathed.
What Valencia also did during his years in the Big Apple was cultivate his love for art. He frequented museums and saw all the paintings by the old masters that he’d only seen in books as a child. He’d go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and other uptown museums. He’d frequent galleries in Soho and West Broadway. He’d see his share of Monets and Picassos, Dalis and Chagalls, as well as the canvases of contemporary artists. “You can spend the entire morning going from one gallery to the other across the street. And I used to spend a lot of my time just walking through that space, and enjoying the art. And then when I could afford, I would start buying.”
Every now and then, Valencia would also come home and buy local art. His first local artworks were acquired from a friend who wanted to unload her collection in Iloilo. These were paintings by Ang Kiukok and Romulo Olazo, and this started the whole collecting business. “Being in New York, you’re exposed to the art scene, so I bought a lot of the artists that I usually read about in textbooks like Dali and Chagall. But then I started expanding to younger artists. And I would pretty much buy local art in the local market as well as markets abroad,” says Valencia.
Flying Back Home
In 2010, after having amassed an enviable collection, Valencia came back home to Iloilo. In a prior visit, he’d noticed that his mother was ailing, and he wanted to be there for her. “I came back from New York in 2010—I already had a pretty good-sized collection. I continued to buy like crazy when I came home because I was now here fulltime.” It was then that the art market was gaining popularity locally and was beginning to gain a strong following with the moneyed set. “When I came home, that started getting bigger and bigger,” he says.
It was also then that he began talks with his family about an idea he had. “I said, ‘you know what—it would be really nice if we could one day, as a family, put up a family museum.”
But collecting was still given prime importance—this time, Valencia started getting interested in the larger artworks. “I always like the larger artworks when I would visit museums. Like from afar, you can already see it.” He found that larger artworks provided the venue for dialogue—unlike smaller masterpieces where huge crowds gathered and then dispersed quickly.
“I used to tell people that [if an artwork] is small like the Mona Lisa, everyone crowds to that, and then if you’re a passerby at the back, your tendency is to look at it and then move. If it’s a large, impactful work, your tendency is to bring your friends: you step back, you talk about the art, you engage. And that’s what I like about art appreciation.”
A few years later, in 2014, thoughts of opening a museum fell on Valencia once more. “I started thinking [given my large artwork collection] that it was going to be a major undertaking to build a museum of size.” That was also the time Valencia heard that Megaworld was looking to set up a museum in Manila. He’d heard the talk through his friend, James Matti—brother to the fabulous Jonathan. “I knew him from Watson and he basically said, ‘Why don’t I introduce you to King Sonsian of Megaworld Corp. and to Kevin Tan?”
When Tan came out to Valencia and expressed a strong interest in his art collection—and to partner with him— Valencia passionately told Tan he wanted to share his art with a community he and his family loved. It will be their family's legacy in Iloilo, Valencia told the real estate magnate. "And that’s how it came about," Valencia tells us. "So in 2014, and then I think in 2015, they started pre-planning this whole Iloilo Business Park and then the construction started. In March of this year we opened.”
Valencia serves as the primary art patron of ILOMOCA, with his varied and extensive collection filling up the walls of the Megaworld building. The feel is chic and very old world—like seeing a contemporary museum in a European city. Currently, there are 140 pieces owned by Valencia on display. This doesn’t count the other paintings that are in storage and are waiting to be rotated. “Over time, that’s what we plan to do,” says Valencia, “we’re gonna try to rotate the artworks. In addition to creating special programs with artists, as well as the community out there, particularly the schools and universities.” While plans move forward, Valencia wishes his mother were here to see all his efforts. She died shortly after he came back to Iloilo but he’s kept her memory alive by dedicating one of the museum halls to her memory. “It would have been nice if she was around for this museum,” he says wistfully.
Valencia’s philosophy as a collector
Valencia’s training and past as a CPA, is paradoxically (and fascinatingly) absent from his philosophy as a collector. The money factor doesn’t take precedence over the personal value he gives to art, and to his collection. “The basic principle for collecting is quite simple for me,” he says, “first and foremost, art collecting is a very personal choice. So what I like, I realize and understand that someone else may not like. Secondly, I ask if I can afford it. That’s all. I don’t even think—and this is an honest perspective—I don’t think whether the value will go up. If none of the pieces in my collection ever goes up in value in the next ten years [or even] until I die, I would not lose sleep.”
Click on the image below for slideshow
Ai Wei Wei by Charlie Co, 2013
Litany 2B by Norberto "Peewee” Roldan, 2016
Temper by Cezar Arro, 2013
Two Men Waiting on Bench With Suitcase by Bruno Catalano, 2012
Wrecked Train by Randalf Dilla, 2013
At the second level of ILOMOCA is the Gallery, designed to showcase rotating themes and collections
The museum has five (5) exhibit rooms, its own souvenir and merchandise shop.
ILOMOCA features close to 3,000 square meters of space for contemporary art.
The ILOMOCA has its own theatre facility, a venue for film or performance art, theatre productions, art workshops, and other related cultural events.
The three-storey museum is located at the Casa de Emperador in the heart of Iloilo Business Park
Admission is at Php 100 for regular visitors. Senior citizens, Php 80, students. Php 50. The museum opens Tuesdays to Sundays 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM
Whereas there have always been renowned artists from and in Iloilo, Valencia’s efforts as art patron is putting the Iloilo art scene even more indelibly on the map. The museum gets good traffic from the schools, and now from growing interest from tourists around the country. The patron’s collection has made it to thousands of Instagram feeds. Iloilo’s sweetest secret is now out in the open, but it was always too good to be kept.