In May 2013, Jose Joya’s abstraction “East Meets West” fetched HK $150,000 (US $19,416) at an auction in Christie’s Hong Kong. A year later, his works attracted more bidders who waged in the million-Hong Kong dollar range. “Homage,” a simple abstraction of gray sands and red skies, racked up to a record HK $5,440,000 (US $704,778) for the late artist.
At the Culturatti Talk, hosted by Peninsula Manila and Town and Country magazine, Zineng Wang, Christie’s vice president and art specialist of Asian contemporary and modern art, showed the graphs of the dramatic leap in the sales of Joya’s works.
“Jose Joya is more popular (to) the collecting public,” said Zineng. “He has shown extreme development in the last few years.”
The graph also pointed out the development of Philippine art in the region. Auctions in Asia have drawn attention to the artists outside of their local markets.
“The growth has come about from the attention to Joya’s works,” said Zineng. “Three works have come back to Philippines. It is safe to say that the market is enlarged today for Joya. Auction houses have been promoting Joya beyond local audiences. It takes a takes a larger market to grow prices and cultivate interests.”
He added that there is more representation of Philippine art in Hong Kong as a result of regionalization. In the past 15 years, more arts events have cropped up in Southeast Asia. “Art fairs and auctions play a big part in reshaping art in the regional context,” said Zineng. “Today’s art market is much larger and is marked by presence of a lot more wealth as prices increase and the value of art increases.”
Asked to cite the Filipino artists who are popular at auction houses, Zineng answered diplomatically, “Anyone whom you can think of. But to what extent?”
In an interview with Inquirer Lifestyle, Zineng explained, “It’s a culture for us not to identify the names—the culture of Christie’s and mine—in a personal way. We don’t want to bring up names because we don’t want to give the impression of spotting for people-or making a shopping list. No matter how well-intentioned the question may be, the answer could be perceived as an endorsement or non-endorsement of artists.”
Zineng noted that the trend of Philippine art in the foreign market became more visible in the late 2000s. In Christie’s catalogues, the works of a Japanese, Indonesian and Filipino and Chinese artists are grouped according to visual styles than nationality.
“People become accustomed to seeing the art instead of the nationality. That is why Fernando Amorsolo becomes familiar. One might say: ‘I’ve seen him in a catalogue; His works are idyllic pastoral; Hey, it’s a nice one; I might bid because I know there is a secondary market (when a purchased artwork is divested to the auction house); I like the work.’ If you’ve collected Amorsolos, then I put ‘Chinese realist artist,’ you tend to see the work in terms of how you view Amorsolo’s work. When we arrange our sales by visual styles, people connect to different artworks not anymore by the name, Fernando Cueto Amorsolo, but by the style.”
An artist’s price can go up when the owners sell their collection to the auction house. “People trade in the secondary market when there is a demand for the artist’s work,” said Zineng. “If you had an Amorsolo and at any given time, there are 20 people wanting it, you will always find a secondary market. Prices escalate because these 20 individuals have been eyeing your Amorsolo. They have to outbid each other in terms of price to get that Amorsolo.”
One of the most sought after Filipino artists is Ronald Ventura. His “Wonderful Bait” racked up $1,015,616 last year.
Zineng attributed the popularity of Ventura’s works to how it appealed to his generation. “He has the ability to draw in historical narrative, and use imagery and metaphorical representation of what is happening in society. That kind of visual style connects with people.”
The executive sees a lot of potential for Philippine representation in Christie’s. The choices of local artists far exceeded their expectations.
One of the attractions to our artist is the novelty. “When we think of markets, we think of players who are looking for something new. Many think that way. They haven’t looked at something previously and, now they want to get into it.”