Auction houses and the local art revival

Published February 10, 2021, 2:22 PM

by Rom Mallick

How the human situation today has been driving interest in the arts

There has, undoubtedly, been a return to all things essential during these past couple of months. The times have made everyone rethink their lives, grappling with the new reality presented to them while also clinging to what is immovable in the hopes of finding a semblance of stability.

In this almost desperate attempt to find an anchor to survive, it’s no surprise that many have turned to art. What is beautiful, apart from echoing the deepest longings and aspirations of humankind, has always been a source of solace. These things, after all, are the most essential.

Nilo Ilarde posing in front of Annie Cabigting’s iconic work ‘Tearing Into Pieces,’ which was once included León Gallery’s largest auction for 2020

“This pandemic has forced us to stay at home and look closely at the way we live,” says León Gallery director Jaime Ponce de Leon. “It gave most of us the time to reconsider what’s hanging on our walls, the objects we have chosen to display, and the way we live, eat, sleep, work. All of these with or without our knowing involves art.”

This is why, despite initially being limited to just hosting online exhibits and sales, auction houses have been able to survive what is perhaps the most challenging episode in the history of today’s generation.

“Our ability to quickly adapt and shift our auctions online through our dedicated platform has allowed individuals—who normally would not be going to exhibitions and previews, not to mention the sales—to do so while they stay safe indoors and socially distance during this time of pandemic,” says Richie Lerma, director of Salcedo Auctions. “The overwhelming response and increased frequency of our auctions show how much this move has been able to expand the audience for the arts, not to mention enhance its appreciation.”

It is no secret, of course, that the best art pieces today are not cheap. Nevertheless, price has not been a barrier both for those who have been collecting art for a while now and for those who have only recently started. In the same way that car sales have gone up over the past couple of months, art sales have also been on the rise. One explanation is that people have more disposable income to spend on art, with the absence of the possibility of traveling abroad.

A peak inside Salcedo Auctions’ Makati HQ

But economic and financial reasons aside, there is no denying the power that art has to improve the human psyche. Studies have shown that art, apart from its ability to unify society, can also relieve stress, improve memory, strengthen critical thinking skills, and increase empathy—the latter being especially important these days.

The current situation of the world has also given artists more reasons to do more art and to improve their craft. As Pinto Museum’s Joven Cuanang once told Manila Bulletin Lifestyle, “Artists are essential to society. Through their artworks, they depict the human condition in a powerful way. They must not despair. Instead, they should bring hope.”

With the undeniably crucial role the arts and artists play in society particularly at a time as challenging as a lifechanging pandemic, auction houses and galleries recognize how vital it is for them to serve as a bridge between humankind and the beautiful. At times, the reasons for buying art can be as simple as wanting a piece of the beautiful in one’s immediate space. “It is intrinsic in each one of us to improve or beautify our environs, upgrade our work spaces,” says Jaime. “Most likely, the time for this introspection was also the best time for these improvements in our lives.”

And these improvements can come in a beautiful piece measuring 4 x 4 inches or in those larger-than-life masterpieces that many collectors are fond of. Humanity will always have a space for art, even in the direst of circumstances.