OPINION: Unto eternal rest, a giant of Philippine arts

Buddy Gomez -- Cyberbuddy

Posted at Feb 23 2018 05:21 PM | Updated as of Oct 06 2018 04:51 AM

The Crucifix at Parish of the Holy Sacrifice, UP. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

The Crucifix with double corpus at Parish of the Holy Sacrifice, UP. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

The altar below the Crucifix at the Parish of Holy Sacrifice, UP. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

The Nine Muses at the Faculty Center, UP. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

The Spirit of Business in front of the College of Business Administration, UP. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

The Magdangal at the College of Arts and Letters, UP. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

The Tribute to Higher Education, University Avenue, UP. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

The University of the Philippines seal at the entrance to the Main Library, UP. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

The University of the Philippines at the Main Library, which used to house the College of Fine Arts. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

The Flag Weavers at the amphitheater, UP. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

The Pieta in Far Eastern University. Bernard Ferrer, ABS-CBN News

Commission on Audit, Quezon City. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

The Sunburst at the Manila Peninsula, Makati City. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

The Transfiguration at the Eternal Gardens, Caloocan City. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

The sculpture of Teodoro M. Kalaw at the National Library, Manila. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

From the intellectual fastness called Diliman, a giant of a visual arts was nurtured, hailed and honored. He has now gone to his eternal rest. A grateful nation grieves.

Necrological services will be held at the Cultural Center of the Philippines to be led by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts on Saturday, 24 February, to honor the memory and the legacy of Napoleon V. Abueva, National Artist. 

Lest we forget. What is a “National Artist” in the Philippines? It is a State honor, the perpetual conferment of an order of great distinction, in recognition of a Filipino’s significant contribution to the development of Philippine art. The order covers the realms of Music, Dance, Theater, Visual Arts, Literature, Film and Architecture.

Abueva is a National Artist for Sculpture (a visual art) and is hailed as the “Father of Modern Philippine Sculpture.” He passed away a week ago at the National Kidney and Transplant Institute, after a lingering illness, much earlier surviving several episodes of a stroke over three decades. He was the youngest recipient of this national distinction at age 46, in 1976. One of the very first awardees of the “Ten Outstanding Young Men” (TOYM) of the Philippines, when he was 29.

He was popularly known as “Billy” because his original baptismal name was “Isabelo.” Family lore recalls that as a young boy in a Catholic school in Tagbilaran, Bohol, a nun had likened him to Napoleon Bonaparte with a reference to the quotation that runs something like…..”if not a conqueror, a sculptor.” Evidently impressing the young boy, he had adapted the name. Billy’s first encounter with physical material, that can be molded or manipulated manually for the sake of expressing an idea, was with mud and clay.

Billy’s mastery of the sculpting art embraced a wide variety of materials. Stone and marble as classicists would have. But mostly of cement, clay, of Philippine woods from molave to acacia, to bamboo and cocowood, et al. Alabaster and corals, too and into bronze , iron and steel. Undoubtedly, an unmatched versatility.

Also a former Dean of UP’s College of Fine Arts, as an undergraduate, he trained under the first National Artist for Sculpture, Guillermo Tolentino (of the Bonifacio Monument and UP Oblation statue fame, among others). It was from Tolentino’s classical and traditional discipline that Billy veered away. He broke into modernism. After graduating from the University of the Philippines in 1953, he was a recipient of Smith-Mundt and Fullbright scholarships and trained at the famed Cranbrook Art Museum in Michigan and took up advanced studies at Harvard.
He leaves behind “a stunning body” of works consisting of some 700 pieces displayed in public spaces, museums as well as in some private collections.

More than at any other one place, however, one finds major Abueva sculptures in the UP Diliman Campus, itself. Displayed in various locations are “The Nine Muses,” “A Tribute to Higher Education,” the “Magdangal,” “Three Women Sewing the Filipino Flag,” “The Spirit of Business,” and the very official seal of UP. There are other minor works in UP Diliman’s Sculpture Garden.

Neither an art critic nor a collector am I, I have nonetheless dared to conclude that sculpture is a seemingly ‘neglected art’ because hardly do we ever hear of sculptures going under an auctioneer’s hammer at mind-boggling prices. The year that just passed saw sales and acquisitions at truly astronomical prices.

We must have taken note of what is now regarded as a world record. Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvador Mundi” went for US$450 million! This was followed by a couple of other auctions that fetched paid-for values in excess of $100 million a piece. 

While in the Philippines what appears to have been established as our own version of startling records for local art is the P65-million-plus paid for an Ang Kiukok “Fisherman.” Makati-based auction shops, Leon Gallery and Salcedo Auctions, have had sales in the tens millions of pesos involving Manansala, Magsaysay-Ho, Joya, dela Rosa works.

All of the above are paintings. None in sculpture!

A cursory review on the Internet of sales and acquisitions involving Abueva art indicates that whatever has been traded and/or auctioned were all moderately priced. I have observed that there is not a single work of art that was recorded at a price above a million pesos. As a matter of fact, the range would be more between Ph100,000 to Ph 300,000 pesos.

I do not wish to sound ghoulish and mercenary, but now that the National Artist has left for that Art Studio up above in the firmament, might the value of Billy’s art go sky high? I am of course following what may just be another ‘old wives’ tale’ or just plain cockamamie about death of an artist inflating the value of his art. Will dealer and gallery “greed” now scramble in search of Abuevas? Billy also had picture-painting-sculptures to hang, you know! 

Casting levity aside, more importantly, will Billy’s demise awaken a renewed interest in what seems to have been labelled “a neglected art” especially among our youth? (As an incidental piece of trivial info, Jose Rizal was himself was a sculptor! Not quite commonly known but he had at least forty pieces of sculptures mostly of clay and wood. 

Will Napoleon V. Abueva’s passing away impact the value of the hundreds of his artworks publicly displayed as well as those in galleries and in private collections? The University bursar may not fully realize as yet that they are the uncontested beneficiary of sculptor Abueva’s treasure already in its possession and custody.

Soon after official bereavement, the UP administration may wish to conduct an audited appraisal and revaluation of their Abueva holdings. Are they even carried in the books as ‘assets?’ It will certainly be advisedly good for the institution’s Financial Statement. 

In order to better display their “Abuevas,” I wish to add another way to honor Billy. UP admin can spruce up and de-weed their Diliman Campus and the Sculpture Garden. That is where the spirit of Billy dwells.

Goodbye, Billy!

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.