GOING, GOING, GONE — the hammer went down on March 10 in Salcedo Auctions’ “Important Philippine Art” auction, and items of interest included two paintings by National Artist Jose Joya: Tagaytay Mist, sold at P16 million and Coast of Cavite, sold at P7.5 million.
Joya’s Coast of Cavite was estimated to sell at P3.5 million to P4.5 million, but obviously exceeded expectations. Meanwhile, a palpable buzz felt in excited whispers brought up the price of Joya’s Tagaytay Mist from an opening bid of P12 million. The winner, who placed their bids via phone, will be quite impressed with the 60 x 108 inch artwork displaying a variety of shapes in primary colors and pastels, a paean to the breezes of the hillside city.
Another work which generated a high price was the recently deceased Mauro “Malang” Santos’s Tres Marias, which had an opening bid of P5.8 million and fetched a hammer price of P7.3 million.
All of these came with a buyer’s premium of 16.8%.
Recently, another Joya, Space Transfiguration, set the record for the highest price so far paid for an artwork sold at auction in the country: it went for a total price of P112 million at the Leon Gallery auction on March 3. When asked if he hoped to fetch a similar price for a similar piece, Salcedo Auctions director Richie Lerma said: “It’s very difficult for me to comment on the prices of other galleries, because I don’t know how those prices were arrived at. It’s not obviously in the same manner that Salcedo Auctions achieves prices at auction.
“Whenever there are pieces that are announced by other entities, we take it with a grain of salt — especially in an unregulated auction environment such as the Philippines.”
Also held that day was the “Important Furniture, Tribal Art & Ethnographic Art” auction, where pieces of furniture dating back to the 19th century were also sold. A magnificent narra chest of drawers with kamagong and lanite inlays sold for more than P600,000 after an estimate of P240,000. Meanwhile a comoda from Quezon, made of narra and inlaid with carabao bone, kamagong, and lanite sold for an eyebrow-raising P950,000 after an estimate of P180,000.
The real winner in the furniture category though, was an impressive buffet cabinet sourced from a family in Pasay, made of molave and narra, with original silver keyhole escutcheon and knobs. The piece, appearing like a heavily carved monolith and displayed along with some artworks on top in the auction house, was made in the first quarter of the 20th century by inmates in the Bilibid prison as part of a rehabilitation program during the American Occupation. It went for P1,518,400.
An item of interest for enthusiasts in the study of Philippine history would be Juan Luna’s letter to a friend, Don Ezequiel Ordonez. The letter was unique in that it was written while Luna was imprisoned following his killing of his wife Paz and his mother-in-law. While an enthusiastic bidding war raised the price of the letter from an estimate of P150,000 to a final bid of P260,000, Salcedo Auctions’ Mr. Lerma, who served as auctioneer, cheerfully stoked the flames by remarking that no more letters were coming in from prison.
Furniture, art, history: one might argue that these are best enjoyed when it allows the mind to become free, instead of generating millions which will sit prettily in a bank. Mr. Lerma thinks, however, that the trade in art actually gives more room for art to be enjoyed for its intrinsic, instead of its monetary value: “The most important thing is that people use their eye when it comes to appreciating work. To look at it as a form of investment — it is true, it is an investment, but primarily, it is an investment in yourself. You enjoy it so much that you’re willing to pay that much for it. That’s what it’s worth to you; that’s the most important thing.” — J. L. Garcia