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A booming art market

THERE’S A booming art market that’s defying political and economic downturns for the past 10 years in the Philippines. A renaissance of sorts is happening in the local art scene.

A growing number of art collectors are fueling the boom. Their ranks include businesspersons, corporate executives, doctors, lawyers, actors, sportspersons, and politicians.

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Galleries that cater to the rising demand for art have sprouted in increased numbers in Metro Manila and in several provincial cities. And it is common to encounter sold-out art exhibitions even of very young artists.

When P46 million was paid by the Government Service Insurance System for a painting it purchased at a 2002 auction in Hong Kong, a collective gasp arose from those shocked and awed at the fortune spent for a single painting. But the price was for a 110-year-old artwork painted by the highly acclaimed Filipino hero Juan Luna. Since then, a number of artworks painted by other Filipino artists, some of whom are still alive, have been sold for tens of millions of pesos.

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Last year, paintings by National Artist Benedicto “Bencab” Cabrera and by Anita Magsaysay Ho were sold for P46.7 million and P52 million, respectively, both at a local auction house, Leon Auctions.

Also last year, another painting by Luna was sold for P46.72 million and one by National Artist H. R. Ocampo was purchased for P36 million, both at another local auction house, Salcedo Auctions.

Just last June 11, Leon Auctions sold for P30 million a relatively small work (20 by 30 inches) of National Artist Carlos “Botong” Francisco, while a small sculpture (six inches in height) of a wild boar that was made by National Hero Jose Rizal was sold for P16 million.

A relatively young Filipino artist, Ronald Ventura, is making waves in international art auctions. In 2011, when he was only 38 years old, his painting titled “Grayground” fetched P47 million at an auction in Hong Kong. From 2011 to early 2016, at least eight Ventura paintings were sold at Sotheby’s and Christie’s international auctions at prices ranging from P33 million to P47 million each.

Several other Filipino artists who are only in their 30s and 40s have had their works sold at local and international auctions at prices ranging from P5 million to P10 million—prices that rival those of some national artists.

The soaring prices of the works of Filipino artists are the result of the entry into the scene of art buyers with varying intentions: 1) those who can finance a hobby of competing to collect market-popular artworks; 2) those who consider artworks as investments that can be sold for higher prices in the future; 3) those who want to hang on their walls sought-after paintings as visual evidence of financial success; and 4) those who are motivated by a combination of two or more of the earlier mentioned intentions. Then there is the growing interest of foreign collectors in Philippine art.

Critics ridicule this money-driven direction of Philippine art where auction results are given highlighted importance. They disdain the view that sales success validates artistic excellence instead of the other way around. They lament the fact that artists they consider with more talent—and who do not compromise their artistic outputs to cater to the commercial taste of the moneyed audience—are not receiving the attention and patronage they deserve.

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On the other hand, it is argued that the market-oriented direction of Philippine art is the result of the shortage of publications that impartially discuss the artistic merits and demerits of the body of works of artists. And the few scholarly writings that are available use highfalutin’ words and concepts that give the ordinary reader a migraine.

There is indeed an insufficiency of publications that present no-holds-barred commentaries on yearly exhibitions of Filipino artists. Government institutions like the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and the Cultural Center of the Philippines, as well as private art foundations, should support scholarly publications and give awards to deserving art writers. Critics must be given support and incentives to encourage publication of excellent writings that will exert influence and play pivotal roles in wresting back control of the direction of art in this country.

Longtime art collectors warn new collectors against falling into the habit of collecting with their ears and not with their eyes—a reference to the predilection of new collectors to buy paintings on the strength of gossip as to which artists are market-hot. Veteran collectors cite artists who had boom runs of a few years but who subsequently went bust.

New collectors should also beware that if they quickly resell artworks, they will be branded as “speculators” by the close-knit band of artists and galleries, and they will have a hard time buying an artwork again. Sotheby’s art specialist Shea Lam observes that this is an amusing peculiarity of the Philippine art market.

While the Philippine art market is booming, the bigger art markets of China and Indonesia, as well as of the European countries, are experiencing downturns following dips in their economies and market correction on speculative art prices. With the coming change in administration in the Philippines and the uncertainties in the local and international economies, it remains to be seen if the Philippine art market will be as resilient as it has been for the past 10 years.

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TAGS: art, art scene, auction, BenCab, opinion, painting
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