Mama Says Mercy

Going, going–go

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“CONVERSATIONS” by John Santos

For a 20-something-year-old, art appreciation can often feel like pure window-shopping, or to the more cynical, an exercise in snootiness. Galleries are beautiful shrines of artworks whose prices are more the taste of champagne-drinking 50-year-olds, and the image reproduced in the gallery brochure, website, someone’s camera often, becomes unintentionally more accessible to the rest of us (just like the wine at exhibit openings).

But of course, the fascination with art is free. And the fascination is welcome. I’m beginning to think that the art world is not all snobbery that cartoons have made them seem to me when I was a child.

Galleries—the right ones—are like surrogate museums in a country where a museum-going culture has never quite been cultivated by the government. These are permissive spaces of exploration, where the thrill of seeing an artwork by a breakthrough contemporary artist a half-inch away from my nose can be immensely rewarding.

Show of hands

Which leads me to the auction house, which I’m told, can be interesting because of the mere thrill of seeing a volley of excited hands scrambling over artworks. Auctions can seem a bit detached from university students and young professionals whose preoccupations are far removed from the way of an older, more well-oiled market.

The word auction makes me think of three-piece suits, a British accent and a mallet slamming while someone says “going, going, gone.”

Christie’s and Sotheby’s are the names most thrown around, and with increasing interest in Southeast Asian art, names like Manansala climb up further to mythical status, and with contemporary artists like Ronald Ventura fetching $1.1 million for his work Greyground, more artists follow not too far behind.

So, when Richie Lerma of Salcedo Auctions, the first and only auction house in the Philippines, gave me the idea that auctions can be an educational ethnographic experience, and invites younger people to just sit and observe the ruckus that comes with having some of the most important artists up for auction, I did a slow head turn—with open ears.

“I think that more than anything else, it’s a great opportunity for Super readers to be able to really experience and see up close not just the richness, diversity and depth of Philippine art. It will give them a sense of pride and confidence,” says Lerma, surrounded by the works of important artists like John Santos, Alfredo Esquillo, Frederico Aguilar Alcuaz and Vicente Manansala.

Pride and confidence

“I know it sounds hackneyed and clichéd, but I love the way the emergence of our art scene, the level of interest that people have, parallels confidence that’s growing in the country.

“We have all of these wonderful news coming in about the Philippines being one of the world’s most dynamic economies and how the pride and confidence that come with that is underscored by art,” adds Lerma, explaining how much art is a measure of progress and connectedness—and how our art tradition, inimitable in Southeast Asia, is increasingly worth noting.

Nena Saguil’s frenetic strokes in “Paris at Night” were indicative of the life she lived as a romantic, until she died in a shoebox-size apartment in Paris—still living the dream, Lerma tells me.

He cites Anita Magsaysay-Ho, whose work, in contrast, tells of a more gentle life that was just as interesting.

In such a lively environment for art appreciation, we build a mirror of national sentiment—which you can see in the context of art.

Lerma puts it this way: “There’s a support for the older artists, there’s a sense of history, our place in the world, there’s that support for the younger artists, because their dynamism and their youth are reflective of where we can actually go.”

“I think that whole aspect of a sense of direction, of growth, of excitement, can be felt in the auction—when you see the dynamics of the local arts scene, and the prices that people are willing to pay.”

According to him, people spend on artwork because it reflects their identity and their confidence in our culture—especially now.

Important pieces

To look is free, but if it so happens that some artworks touch us, it’s not necessarily going to throw us off like a price of a Manansala would. Lerma claims some artworks start at much lower prices, like P5,000, or P10,000, which can still be a lot, but which, when the person and the artwork match, becomes potentially worthwhile.

“They can begin to collect these things,” Lerma says of the younger bunch of people who visit galleries. “I think it’s important to be collecting pieces that, at least in the view of the auction house, are considered to be important because the experts in the field have assessed these works (and these are people who have made tangible contributions to our culture), and it’s important for all of us to support that.”

Maybe our living rooms will still hold the same postcards and cutouts, but regardless, this whole thing, mallets and all, might just be an interesting experience. We’ll see.

Salcedo Auctions holds its sale of Important Philippine Art on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012, 2 p.m., Three Salcedo Place, 121 Tordesillas St., Salcedo Village, Makati City.

See the artworks on youtube.com/SalcedoAuctionsPH

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