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Finale Art File reenters Philippine art auction scene as ‘third player’

‘Evita Sarenas is an institution in the art world. People trust her. In the end, it’s all about credibility and trust’
By: - Staff Writer
/ 05:04 AM August 07, 2018

Evita Sarenas (seated) with Paolo Martel and Jayson Ong of Finale Art File —JAM STA ROSA

There’s no holding back the booming Philippine art market, and auctions are where the action is.

A recent Inquirer article reported that the Philippines has emerged as the world’s 17th-ranked art marketplace, just behind Belgium.


Quoting the international art market website, the report noted that the average transaction price in the Philippine auction market is above $28,000 compared with under $6,000 for Japan.

Driving this growth is the stiff competition between the country’s top two auction houses, León Gallery and Salcedo Auctions. There are several smaller auction houses.


If the top two are the Globe and Smart of art auctions, could the venerable gallery Finale Art File become the vaunted “third player”?

Collectors will find out on Oct. 13 and 14 when Finale holds its first full-scale multicategory auction.

Although the auction is still several weeks away, collectors are already salivating at the prospect of bidding for some very special pieces, including a rare painting by the Aklanon maestro Telesforo Sucgang, a contemporary of Juan Luna, Felix Resurrección Hidalgo and Dr. José Rizal.

Also going on the block are works by Ang Kiukok, Fernando Amorsolo, Nena Saguil, BenCab, Fernando Zobel, Juvenal Sansó, Mauro “Malang” Santos, Romulo Olazo and Ronald Ventura.

Not new

Opened in 1983 by its current executive director, Evita Sarenas, Finale is not exactly a new player in the auction game.

With the late art connoisseur Ramon Villegas, Sarenas organized auctions for fine art in the late 1990s and early 2000s. These were mostly fun events, with friendly bidding wars between friends and fellow collectors for choice items.


The gallery resumed its bi-annual auction in October 2017, and again last April, with encouraging results. Eighty percent of the items up for bidding were sold, with some pieces selling for over P10 million.

This October’s auction will see Finale scaling up into a full-service auction house.


For this landmark sale, Sarenas has partnered with businessman Paolo Martel and art collector Jayson Ong.

Emeralds and diamonds cocktail ring

The team is taking pains to see to it that the Finale Auction meets international standards.

The gallery will fly in Greg Harris and Andrew Thomas, professional auctioneers from the United Kingdom with impeccable credentials and extensive experience working for the leading Asian auction houses.

A buyers’ preview will be held a week before the auction, as well as special events for collectors.

The first day will be devoted to Fine Art, the second to Jewelry and Timepieces.

The auctions will begin at 2 p.m., and bidding will take place on all platforms: live, online, absentee and telephone.

Despite the media hype surrounding the record prices fetched by Filipino artworks at recent auctions, the Finale team would rather not focus on how high the prices go when the hammer falls.

Rather, they want to focus on accurate appraisals of the artworks on auction, so that they fetch their fair market value.

For this, they will be depending on Sarenas’ decades of experience in art appraisal. She has worked with both museums and private collectors in building up their collections, and authenticates works by Filipino masters, including National Artist Ang Kiukok.

“Vita is an institution in the art world,” says Martel. “People trust her. In the end, it’s all about credibility and trust, so people have confidence in buying and selling. Never mind the prices.”

Rubies and diamonds cocktail ring

In part, Finale’s reentry into the auction scene is driven by the emergence of a new breed of art collectors.

“The Philippine economy is doing well, and there are a lot of young, successful entrepreneurs with a lot of disposable income who are looking at art, jewelry and watches as alternative investments,” says Martel.

Many are new to art, and are just beginning to build up their collections even as older collectors are winding down their acquisitions.

They might dip their toes with smaller, entry-level pieces, but many soon graduate to major works by contemporary artists, and eventually to blue-chip pieces by the established masters.

“I’ve been doing auctions since 2013, and in every sale there’s always a new face,” says Martel. “They’re young, and often they’re not even from Manila, very low-key, but they’re spending P10, P20 million on art.”


Another growing market consists of local watch collectors, of which he is one.

“I live and breathe watches, 24/7,” says Martel, who will be handling the Jewelry and Timepieces auctions. “It’s my passion, it’s not work for me.”

The cofounder of Calibre, the magazine for serious watch collectors, Martel is passionate about timepieces, particularly Patek Philippe watches with the rare “Tiffany & Co.” dial, of which he has quite a few in his safe.

“Diaphanous,” by Romulo Olazo

Martel hopes to make Finale the premier timepiece auction in the Philippines, which has a small but enthusiastic (and more importantly, well-heeled) community of watch collectors.

He says he’s sold over 1,000 watches in the last seven years, mostly to local collectors. Local auctions attract foreign sellers because they can often get better prices for their pieces here, he adds.

“As of now, I already have 26 watches for the auction, all important pieces,” he says. “In the old days, collectors had to go abroad to Sotheby’s or Christie’s Antiquarium to buy their watches. Today we’re bringing the same quality to the Philippines.”


The highlight this October will most likely be a pristine Patek Philippe Reference 3448.

“It was the first automatic perpetual,” he says. “Only 560 were made, and this is probably the only one in the Philippines, owned by a local collector. Normally, this fetches $200,000-$400,000 abroad, so to have one in the Philippines brings us up to international standards.”

Also on the block will be some rare vintage Rolex watches, including Daytona, Submariner, Explorer and GMT models.

“Still Life with Flower and Vase,” by Mauro “Malang” Santos

The jewelry selection includes signed pieces from Manfredi, Bulgari and Cartier as well as other fine gemstones.

For Sarenas, however, the Finale auction is just another way of sustaining her gallery.

Over the years, Finale has earned its reputation as one of the more adventurous galleries in town. Its artists roster is a who’s who of young artists doing cutting-edge work, among them Lyra Garcellano, Wire Tuazon, Louie Cordero, Jeona Zoleta, Carlo Gabuco, Robert Langenegger and many others.

“Laman-Lupa,” by Lito Carating

“It excites me to have shows like installations, something different, but they’re not really commercial,” she says.

“Honestly, my backdoor is the one supporting the gallery, so I can have the shows that I want,” referring to direct sales of art pieces to collectors, often from the secondary market, that is to say, pieces consigned by other collectors.

With the popularity of auctions, however, most sellers would rather put their pieces on the block, where there’s a chance they can fetch a higher price than in a direct sale.

Joining the auction scene is the logical next step because it’s a win for everyone: the seller gets the best price for his or her item, the buyer gets an assurance of the piece’s provenance and fair market value, and the gallery can keep showcasing artists who are doing significant work.

E-mail or call 8132310; visit, follow @finale_auctions on Instagram.

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