Museum piece or auction draw—which has more value? 2
From left: Abdulmari Imao’s “Sarimanok Series”; Fernando Amorsolo’s “Under the Mango Tree”. Photos courtesy of Leon Gallery

Does a National Artist’s work automatically make it fit for a museum?

Three noted collectors discuss the value of an auction star’s work vis a vis a legacy piece fit for a cultural institution
ANCX Staff | Dec 04 2021

What qualifies as an auction moneymaker and what makes an art piece museum-worthy? And is one greater than the other?

The ANCX Forum delved recently into these intriguing questions ahead of the upcoming Kingly Treasures Auction co-presented by ANCX with Leon Gallery. The discussion was guided by insights from three of the country’s seasoned art collectors—philosophy professor Dr. Leovino Ma. Garcia; pathologist Dr. Rico Quimbo; and Philtrust Bank chair and former governor of the Bangko Sentral, Dr. Jaime C. Laya. Billed “Auction Star or Museum Piece: A Pre-Auction Conversation,” the webinar was hosted by multi-media personality Ces Oreña-Drilon.

For Garcia, foremost collector of Lao Lianben artworks, an object to be museum worthy has to be of the highest quality. Besides having earned the admiration of many, he said it also has to be acknowledged internationally.


Different motives 

As to what makes an auction star, Laya pointed out that collectors have different motivations when they participate in these bidding wars. “Sometimes people bid because a piece belonged to their family before,” he said. “Or maybe they want to outshine their neighbors and friends. Or maybe they want to buy it for investment. Or maybe it fills a gap in their collection. Sometimes they simply get carried away.” Which is why, confessed Laya, there are times he personally just asks friends to bid for him. 

A museum director, on the other hand, would have a different set of criteria for selecting museum pieces. This would naturally depend on the goals of the museum he or she is running. Which is why a particular work may appeal to a museum but not to an auction, added the respected collector and former Budget Minister. 

Quimbo has a slightly different point of view. “I think artworks that are worthy to be displayed in a museum should be auction stars,” he said. “Whether they excel on an aesthetic or an important historical aspect, they should be auction stars. But I cannot say the same about auction stars. Not all auction stars should be in a museum.”

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National importance 

On the second part of the discussion, the three panelists weighed in on several pairs of artworks, all part of the lots in this weekend’s auction. Drilon asked the gentlemen to say whether they deemed an artwork to be an auction star or a priceless museum piece. 

They first discussed the merits  of Abdulmari Imao’s brass sculpture from his “Sarimanok Series” vis a vis Ramon Orlina’s asahi glass figure “Martial Art Forms XII.”

Laya and Garcia agreed on the Imao as a highly creative interpretation of the sarimanok, and Quimbo brought up the imposing quality of the sculpture. Against the Orlina, the Imao—or any Imao for that matter—is the rarer sight. While the popularity of Orlina’s works place him as the country’s foremost glass sculptor, his pieces present in many affluent homes (even Laya admits to having asked the well-regarded sculptor to fashion a glass chandelier and a pair of candleholders), Imao’s distinction is that he is one of the earliest recognizable Filipino artists from Mindanao, and he’s a National Artist. Does this make an Imao more valuable? 

This brought the discussion to one of the more intriguing questions of the forum: if it’s a National Artist’s work, does it automatically belong to a museum—especially when an institution might be building a collection that traces an important artist’s body of work? 

“I think you should choose the best works of the artist also,” said Garcia, by which he meant good, representative pieces of the artist’s periods of development. “Not all works of a National artist is… he has to earn his bread also. Not all of them are worthy of the museum perhaps, and he wouldn’t like all his works to be in the museum I think.” 

Why is this the case? “Some artists are so strict on themselves that they want to forget their lapses,” said Garcia. “Because maybe they just did [the work] because they needed the money, they were forced. Sometimes we commission the artist to do something which normally he would not do.” 

Laya brought up the example of an artist who was buying back some of his works from collectors because he was, now that he’s more mature perhaps, already ashamed of them.  

To which Quimbo, controlling his laughter, added, “Hindi lang artist and nagba-buy back at gusto kalimutan ang kanilang pinagsimulan. May mga kolektor din na gustong kalimutan at hindi ipapaalam kung ano kino-collect nila nung simula dahil kinahihiya nila.” 

But that, ladies and gentlemen, is a topic for another discussion. To watch the entire forum, click on this link.