ONE HUNDRED and fifty items, including art works by National Artists, filled the walls and spaces of Leon Gallery during the annual Asian Cultural Council art auction on March 3.

National Artist for Visual Arts Jose Joya’s Space Transfiguration, which opened at P22 million, was sold for P96 million after 11 tense minutes of bidding. The 1959 oil painting is the artist’s most “talked and written about, iconized, and celebrated” work which he refused to sell while he was alive.

Other lots which sold significantly above what was expected were: Andres Barroquito’s 2018 work When Horses Gallop which fetched P14 million, considerably higher than it’s expected P2.2 million; Anita Magsaysay-Ho’s 1950 piece Tahip went for P30 million, nearly double its opening bid of P18 million; and Danilo Dalena’s 1990 Alibangbang Series was sold at P7.5 million when it was expected to fetch P1.2 million.

Aside from the art, the Leon Gallery auction included a number of documents signed by one of the most important figures in Philippine history, Andres Bonifacio.

“The Andres Bonifacio documents show that in the final days he had contact with Emilio Jacinto. He was the general commandant of what we call the high council of the north. With these documents, [you] can see that Andres Bonifacio has a government. He is the president of the first revolutionary government in the Philippines,” historian Xiao Chua told BusinessWorld in a mixture of English and Filipino, explaining the significance of the documents after the auction.

The hammered prices reflected collectors’ belief in the value of these documents, which sold for way beyond the P500,000 they were each expected to fetch.

Bonifacio’s letters to Emilio Jacinto — dated March 8, 1897; April 16, 1897; and, April 24, 1897 — went for P1.8 million, P1.7 million, and P4.8 million respectively. Two other documents which bore Bonifacio’s signature, both dated April 15, 1897, were sold for P3.2 million and P2.4 million.

While many items sold for considerably more than their opening bids, others did not — for example, a 32-inch 17th century ivory crucifix opened and was sold for P4 million.

A number of items at the auction did not find buyers including Fred Baldemor’s untitled 1978 hardwood sculpture (estimate: P160,000), Francesca “Keka” Enriquez’s Eggo wooden armchair with eggs (estimate: P60,000), a 1987 nude painting by Romulo Galicano (estimate: P80,000), an undated and untitled landscape painting by National Artist Carlos “Botong” Francisco (estimate: P3 million), and National Artist Benedicto “BenCab” Cabrera’s 1989 portraits of a Peasant Man and Peasant Woman (estimate: P1.2 million).

The Leon Gallery holds the benefit art auction annually in support of the Asian Cultural Council Fellowship program where Filipino artists are sent to the United States for a six-month scholarship program in the arts. — Michelle Anne P. Soliman