How Art Auctions Let Us Piece Together Our Nation's History

Two Makati galleries are holding art auctions this September.

( Unlike large-scale art fairs and contemporary art exhibits, art auctions can often be intimidating. It targets those who can shell out a huge sum of money, has a selection of antique furniture or masterpieces appreciated by serious art collectors, and is usually held in an intimate and elegant venue with cheese, the most expensive wine, and such. We can’t say that local auction houses in the Metro are any different; but we do know that they always reveal interesting and never-before-heard stories about Philippine history and culture. This is the case for the upcoming auction events of León Gallery at Eurovilla 1 and Salcedo Auctions at The Peninsula Manila—both in Makati—on September 8 and September 22, respectively.

León Gallery's Magnificent September Auctions 2018
PHOTO BY Vincent Coscolluela

Putting Together History Through Art

"The part I enjoy the most is the journey of discovery that comes with every piece that is entrusted to us for auction. Most of the pieces have very interesting stories behind them," Salcedo Auctions's director Richie Lerma tells in an interview. The boceto of Juan Luna's revered "Spoliarium" (1884), for example, is surrounded by controversy regarding its authenticity, and yet it will be under the gavel come auction day at Salcedo Auctions’ The Well-Appointed Life. For Lerma, other notable pieces he’s really excited about are the antiques from the Pardo de Tavera and Montilla families and early works by H.R. Ocampo, Jose Joya, and Benedicto Cabrera.

Richie Lerma, Salcedo Auctions' director (L) and Mark Choon, The Peninsula Manila's general manager reveal the "Spoliarium" boceto Courtesy of Salcedo Auctions
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Andres Bonifacio's personal flag (1896) Courtesy of León Gallery

León Gallery has equally historic pieces, including Andres Bonifacio's Decalogue that's allegedly written in his blood, the Supremo's personal flag, and Josephine Bracken's letter to Emilio Aguinaldo written six months after Jose Rizal's death. For the gallery’s curator Lisa Guerrero-Nakpil, putting together these pieces in one room is all “about telling a story.” Aside from selecting the pieces, her job involves organizing the works around a theme and giving them the right context. It helps a lot that her professional background involves working in the research department of an investment company. “So, for me, the best part is the research,” she exclaims about the grunt work before auction previews.


Art as Family Heirloom

Aside from great discoveries about history in a larger picture, the provenance that comes with every piece also reveal a lot about art collecting in the past. Some are even considered as family heirloom, showing how valuable art pieces can be.

"Mother and Child" by Michael Cacnio (León Gallery)
PHOTO BY Vincent Coscolluela
"Crucifix" by Eduardo Castrillo (León Gallery)
PHOTO BY Vincent Coscolluela
The Pardo de Tavera Bed (León Gallery)
PHOTO BY Vincent Coscolluela

León Gallery’s upcoming Magnificent September Auction 2018 acquired Fernando Amorsolo pieces from the artist Fernando Zobel and socialite Joaquin Elizalde (a.k.a. Susan Magalona), a still intact aparador made from kamagong and carabao bone from the heirs of Dr. Jose Fernandez Fabella, who is known as the "father of public health and social welfare in the Philippines," and Botong Francisco’s "Nose Flute" from an influential Asian collector. “There is also a lovely Ah-Tay bed—Ah-Tay had one of the best ateliers for furniture in Old Manila—from the descendants of Don Trinidad Pardo de Tavera, the brother-in-law of Juan Luna and an ilustrado in his own right, a friend of Hidalgo and Jose Rizal, so who knows who could have slept in it,” Nakpil teases.

"Carroza" by Mauro Malang Santos (Salcedo Auctions) Courtesy of Salcedo Auctions
"La Familia" by Benedicto Cabrera (Salcedo Auctions) Courtesy of Salcedo Auctions

Art Collecting for Millennials

Old aparador, tokador, and komodor? Million-peso works of art? These things can be daunting for a 20- or 30-something who's just starting to collect framed art and cool sculptures that can fit a studio unit in the Metro. As a response, Pineapple Lab in Poblacion hosted the gallery's first-ever art auction, Going Once! Going Twice!, on August 25. It catered to entry-level buyers and starting collectors and, of course, the hip and happening art hub is looking at doing another round.

"Auctions have this notion of being stiff and exclusive, and as one millennial Pineapple Lab goer said, ‘a rich people thing.’ So we are here to kind of disrupt that—break down this stereotype and create an environment where artists, buyers, and art enthusiasts can interact, raise their paddles, cheer, drink, and enjoy the works of the artists [we included in the program]," Pineapple Lab's creative director Andrei Nikolai Pamintuan explains to

Pineapple Lab's Going Once! Going Twice! Courtesy of Andrei Nikolai Pamintuan

Most of the artists featured in the auction, such as Vin Quilop, Kris Abrigo, and Tokwa Peñaflorida, are popular among younger supporters of the arts "who want to start buying pieces that they identify with or, at least, represent a certain voice or aesthetic that encapsulates this generation’s outlook on contemporary visual arts," adds Pamintuan.

May it be a small canvas by an under-30 artist or a mural-size work by a National Artist, there is always joy in owning a piece of art. “Buy what you love,” advices León Gallery director Jaime Ponce De Leon. It is your money, after all!

Salcedo Auctions' The Well-Appointed Life is from September 22 to 23 at Rigodon Ballroom, The Peninsula Manila, Makati Avenue, Makati City. León Gallery's Magnificent September Auctions 2018 is on September 8, 2 p.m. at León Gallery, G/F Eurovilla 1, Rufino corner Legazpi Street, Legazpi Village, Makati City.

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