The joys of looking, computing, and collecting

Published March 8, 2021, 12:00 AM

by Jaime Laya

Wala Lang

BLURB

I made it a point to sit beside fellow Dean Jose Joya during UP University Council meetings. It took a while for him to sell me a painting but he finally did, one of his first collages. Later, not knowing any better, I asked him for something in pink to match the bedroom wall of our little girl. He obviously tagged me as an innocent, didn’t take offense, and so now I have a nice pink Joya.

COVID-19 and economic slowdown notwithstanding, it looks like plenty of cash is rattling around. Last Saturday’s Leon Gallery auction to benefit the Asian Cultural Council was astounding. I felt poor seeing five bidders fighting mightily for a small Anita Magsaysay Ho (Tinapa Vendors) that went for P84 million. That comes to P262,500 per square inch.

Anita Magsaysay Ho, “Tinapa Vendors” (Leon Gallery)

Juan Luna’s Sorprendidos depicts what looks like an elopement from a Venetian palazzo and wasn’t too bad at P65,789/sq.in. though you had to cough up a total of P35 million for it. The 1946 H.R. Ocampo Side Show of a rather muscular burlesque dancer went for P9.3 million or P28,182/sq.in. Vicente Manansala’s comment on rice shortages during the Marcos years, Pila sa Bigas, sold for P25,408/sq.in. The cheapest, area wise, was BenCab’s Dance of Isadora that sold for P40.9 million. It’s a much larger 48” x 107” and you can say it was a steal at P7,963/sq.in.

H.R. Ocampo, “Sampayan” (Ana Maria L. Ortega)

I’m far from being in that league, although I admit I started at the top and through good luck now have a nice collection with Leon-worthy names. One of the wedding gifts my wife and I received was a lovely Amorsolo supper under a blooming fire tree that first hung in our Diliman rowhouse. My before-tax income then was P2,000/month but my indulgent wife also worked and with consulting windfalls now and then, our walls gradually filled up. Thinking that going direct was cheaper, I got introductions to H.R. Ocampo and Vicente Manansala. One introduction led to another and soon enough I got to know Ang Kiukok, Malang, and other namedroppables.

There were not too many collectors then and it took only one week for Mang Nanding Ocampo to finish my first painting, a memory of his Maypajo youth—I saw the COA of a fake copy the other week, BTW. Another time, apropos of nothing, he showed me a bunch of photographs, including one of his backyard laundry line. I suggested he do a painting of that and he did, one of my favorites that is now in my daughter’s home in Madrid.

Competition for Manansala’s work was heavy. There was a group of pretty and determined young ladies who went as far as posing nude to get a large drawing. They also wrote their names on the back of blank canvases to stake claim on whatever Mang Enteng Manansala was going to paint on it. One time he had already finished a still life but the claimant failed to show up. After two weeks, the annoyed artist said I could have it (for something like P2,000, his going price then). The bereft lady didn’t speak to me for years.

I made it a point to sit beside fellow Dean Jose Joya during UP University Council meetings. It took a while for him to sell me a painting but he finally did, one of his first collages. Later, not knowing any better, I asked him for something in pink to match the bedroom wall of our little girl. He obviously tagged me as an innocent, didn’t take offense, and so now I have a nice pink Joya.

Victorio Edades lived in Davao and it occurred to me to ask him to do a mural for the new Central Bank Regional Office lobby. As theme, we agreed on the peoples of Mindanao and their means of livelihood. Edades began the work and along the way brought in an assistant. The result looked less Edades and more collaborator and was signed by both, so I complained. The artist wrote back saying that such was common practice among artists, citing Rubens and his assembly line studio. I conceded the point, but argued that the work of Rubens and assistants did not bear any assistant’s signature and at least looked like a Rubens. The artist saw the point and tweaked the painting (presumably still with assistant) to mutual satisfaction. Not long ago, I met the co-artist (noted painter Manuel Pañares) and we had a good laugh over it all.

Some 10 years ago I met Guy Custodio then restoring the ceiling paintings of Bohol’s Albuquerque church. Some of them were hopelessly ruined and he replaced them with his own excellent work. Inspiration struck and I requested him to do a Nativity in a Bohol setting. The Holy Family was under a balete tree near the chocolate hills, with wide-eyed tarsiers. Herod was up on the Panglao watchtower telescope in hand, watching approaching galleon, Chinese junk, and dhow bearing the Three Kings. The Middle Eastern sultan had his harem sitting in a row. 

A passing priest and some manangs denounced the masterpiece so Guy included them all in his next painting, which was of the Great Flood. Typhoon clouds were gathering, angels were dumping jars of water on the rising sea. An angel (Guy’s self-portrait) was turning sinners away—priest, manangs, certain past Presidents, and a former First Lady. Already aboard Noah’s ark were National Museum director Jeremy Barns, National Artist Lucrezia Kasilag (wig flying off, chased by an angel), and naturally both of us. I should add that the choice of saved and drowned was entirely the artist’s.

Apart from happily looking, adding up unrealized profits, the fun of collecting is in the collecting.

Comments are cordially invited, addressed to [email protected]

 
CLICK HERE TO SIGN-UP
 

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE

["opinion","opinions-and-editorials","opinions-and-editorials"]
[2639842,2673786,2673766,2673761,2673754,2673748,2673734]