Meanwhile, Robin Padilla loses bidding war for Bonifacio letters
MANILA -- From a starting bid of P22 million, Jose Joya’s 1959 abstract work “Space Transfiguration” was sold for P112 million Saturday at the Leon Gallery Auction in Makati.
It set a record for the highest price ever paid for art in the Philippines at auction, according to Leon Gallery director Jaime Ponce de Leon. It also set a world record for the biggest amount of money ever paid for Philippine modern art at auction.
Until Saturday, Ang Kiukok’s “The Fisherman” was the most expensive painting ever sold at auction in the country, fetching P65,408,00 at Leon in June 2017.
“Space Transfiguration” sold at a hammer price of P96 million at the four-hour event. There was early speculation that Phoenix Petroleum president and CEO Dennis Uy ended up buying the Joya but the person who usually buys for Mr. Uy said the tycoon is not really into abstracts.
Ponce De Leon said he is not allowed to disclose the identity of the winning bidder who sent his bids via phone.
Of the 150 lots, bidding for this particular Joya clocked in the longest at an estimated 20 minutes.
Two other works from the National Artist were also auctioned: the 1982 “Morning Flight” sold for P1 million from a starting price of P400,000; and “Zen Imagery,” an acrylic collage from 1981, which had a starting bid of P4 million, sold for just P672,000 more.
Inspired by NASA’s first attempt to reach the moon, the prized “Space Transfiguration” is believed to be Joya’s favorite and, as per the auction notes, “the one work he refused to part with.” The 60” x 70” oil on canvas work did not make it to the painter’s Venice Biennale stint in 1962 for the simple reason that it couldn’t fit the aircraft door.
Art critic Alice Guillermo once suggested the piece marks an essential period in the evolution of Joya’s career in that it started his experimentations towards larger works. It won a prize at the Art Association of the Philippines Annual Exhibition and Competition the year it was made, and was previously in the care of Joya’s sister Josefa J. Baldovino.
Joya died in 1995.
Another artwork expected to fetch a high price at auction was the Anita Magsaysay-Ho painting, “Tahip,” which had a starting bid of P18million and sold for P30 million. The 1960 oil on canvas work, depicting a very Filipino and very Magsaysay-Ho scene of women at work (in this case winnowing rice grains on a traditional woven tray), used to be in the care of one of the artist’s closest friends.
Giving more color to what audience members attest was a very exciting afternoon was the presence of Robin Padilla. Padilla was bidding for one of the three Andres Bonifacio-penned letters and was willing to go as high as P2 million. The actor, who played the role of the Father of the Philippine Revolution in the movie "Bonifacio: Ang Unang Pangulo" in 2014, had at one point asked another bidder to “join forces” with him so they could afford the letter. They could just take turns, he said, in caring for the document; or they could donate it to a museum.
The letter had a starting bid of P500,000 and was sold for P4.8 million to another bidder.
“Sana man lang malaman natin kung sino po yung nakabili, para kapag kailangan po natin makita man lang yung original [maari natin makita],” Padilla told ABS-CBN News' Ces Drilon in an interview.
Culled from the collection of the historian Epifanio delos Santos, the letters, addressed to Emilio Jacinto, are believed to be the last pieces of communication from Bonifacio before he was killed on May 10, 1897. The third letter is considered the most significant. In his elegant handwriting, the revolutionary revealed not only his whereabouts—“camped outside the town of Indang with about 1,000 troops,” as translated in the auction notes—but also his state of mind.
Together, the three letters fetched P8.3 million. The first one was sold for P1.8 million, and the second for P1.7 million. An envelope with the Katipunan presidential seal was sold for P2,803,200.
History professor Xiao Chua, who was in the auction, said that while he is saddened by the fact that these significant historical documents are not in the care of the Philippine government, he is consoled by the clear show of reverence for the revolutionary.
“Kasi pag nakita mo yung auction na nangyari tapos nag-fetch ng high price, that means the rich people—kasi alam natin the poor people love Bonifacio—but the rich people they find value in Andres Bonifacio,” Chua explained. “Of course hindi naman kailangan ng validation from the rich but a lot of people are saying indication ang isang gamit, sulat, painting ng isang tao para makita na meron tayong standard ng worth niya. At mukhang hindi naman papatalo kay Jose Rizal pala itong si Andres Bonifacio pagdating sa auction block.”
Apart from Padilla, other prominent figures present in the auction were collectors Paulino Que and Patrick Reyno. Rajo Laurel and Malu Gamboa, members of the Asian Cultural Council Philippines, co-presenter of the auction, were also in the audience.
The next big Leon Gallery auction is scheduled in June.