Galerie Stephanie director Abby Frias Teotico opens the art forum titled “Trajectories in Art Collecting: Are We Ready for Foreign Art?” with one surprising statistic: “Aside from the Ateneo Art Gallery and Imelda Marcos’s personal collection, there aren’t many places that have a collection of foreign art here in Manila,” she says. On the one hand, this could be viewed as a good thing: the local art scene is healthy and thriving, with local collectors happily patronizing Filipino artists. However, for those looking to evolve their collection beyond the Amorsolos and BenCabs or the contemporary artists who are orbiting the circuit, could adding foreign pieces to your collection be the way to go?
That was the question posed to a gathering of local collectors who already count a number of pieces by international artists among their acquisitions. Gaby Dela Merced, gallery director of Vinyl on Vinyl, Brazilian artist Ciane Xavier, and art patrons Robert Santos, Tonico Manahan, and JJ Atencio shared what they have learned in the years they’ve been developing their collections and imparted a few rules of thumb.
The piece has to speak to you.
“Get art that you like,” Atencio advises, “and you will never go wrong.” That almost seems like a no-brainer, but then there are those who might view art the way they would stocks or property: buy now and hope that the value will increase later. Nothing wrong with that, certainly, but Dela Merced points out that the art market is notoriously volatile, so it wouldn’t hurt if you actually take pleasure in simply living with the piece in the meantime. In fact, when art shopping, Atencio reveals that upon examining and appraising the work, the last question he tends to ask is: “By the way, who painted it?”
Tonico Manahan seconds that approach. “I’m not fueled by investment,” he says. “If my gut tells me that I want it, I get it.” Of course, your gut can end up telling you that you like a number of things— “I spend a lot of money on bodegas for storage,” he adds with a laugh.
Build around a theme.
If you’re conscious about cohesion, consider loosely following an underlying theme. Atencio shares that the very first piece he was ever given was a horse—a symbol of luck—and he received it just as he resigned from a job, so he took it as a good sign (which it turned out to be). Since then, he’s added a few more horses to his collection; other common elements among his pieces are children’s games, nationalism, and social irony.
Robert Santos shares that the very first piece he acquired by a foreign artist was a sculpture of a male organ by English artist Beth Carter. He has a penchant for pieces that are homo erotic, although he also notes that since he works as a teacher, he makes a distinction between what he personally likes and the pieces that are less, shall we say, NSFW. “Have you ever seen Orlina’s sculpture of a glass penis?” he asks, to be met by a collective shaking of heads amongst the crowd. “Well, I have it.”
Use social media.
Manahan says that in this digital day and age, much of the art dealing that he encounters all happen in one medium: Viber. “I have so many Viber Groups about art… it’s become the primary method of communication.” Photos are posted on the group, many times before the piece is exhibited publicly, and bids and dibs are called so that items are spoken for before they’re even seen.
That being said, the assembled collectors implore would-be patrons to perform their due diligence and ensure they don’t get victimized by counterfeits. “If someone tells me that a piece comes with authentication papers, that usually already tells me it’s fake,” Manahan warns. How, then, will you be able to distinguish the real deal? There is such a thing as connoisseurship—tapping the reliable experts or longtime patrons of a particular artist who will be able to tell you if the piece is, indeed, genuine. Teotico says this is also where the trust that comes with building a relationship with a gallery comes in. “Go to a good gallery, study the artist, and familiarize yourself with the artist’s work,” she suggests.
Let your collection evolve.
Gaby Dela Merced admits that the work she gravitates toward over the years has changed. “In 2002, I was collecting vinyl figures, pieces from street and underground artists,” she says. Her collection has since diversified, and the pieces exhibited at Vinyl on Vinyl are a reflection of her evolving taste. This could also be where adding pieces by foreign artists to your collection comes in, as she notes how artists from different countries will be influenced by their own culture and background, something that will become apparent in the technique, craft, and materials used. Atencio likes to buy pieces by foreign artists when he travels so that it becomes his souvenir, and suggests attending international art fairs, like those that take place in Jakarta and Hong Kong, to get a feel of that country’s unique art scene.
At the end of the day, however, Cian Xavier points out that scoping out the global landscape always leads to a universal truth: “Art is art,” she says. “It doesn’t matter where it comes from.”
Galerie Stephanie regularly exhibits work by both local and foreign artists. Visit 4/F, East Wing, Shangri-La Plaza, Mandaluyong City, email [email protected], or go to galeriestephanie.com.