The quality of an artwork is ultimately subjective, but for art collectors, a work’s cultural significance—and its market value—is fact. For the country’s premier auction house, Salcedo Auctions, Philippine art isn’t deemed important just because of how “Filipino” it appears to be, or because it reflects our culture today. Rather, they recognize that their selection of “Important Philippine Art” (which includes furniture and tribal and ethnographic art) acknowledges the country’s rich artistic history and affirms the influences of both East and West in their own craftsmanship.
Salcedo Auctions’ upcoming sale consists of over 100 lots, including works from BenCab, Amorsolo, Joya, and Kiukok. The auction will also have several rare items, including a letter written by Juan Luna during his imprisonment in France, and a blood patina-encrusted bul’ul from Central Ifugao. Below, we speak to Salcedo Auctions advisor Richie Lerma on what to expect.
L-R Works from BenCab, Amorsolo, and Kiukok
Rogue: How and when did you become involved with Salcedo Auctions?
Richie Lerma: We started Salcedo Auctions in 2010 when we saw that the country did not have any auction house of fine art and collectibles such as fine furniture, decor, timepieces, and jewelry. Previously, collectors had to go overseas to buy or sell these prized pieces at auction. We felt that it was about time for the Philippines to have its very own auction house that was run according to international standards.
Rogue: What was the selection process like for the lots at this particular auction?
RL: The exacting standards of our specialists are guided by the title of this auction: that it is an ‘Important’ sale. We define importance in terms of the reputation of the artist or maker, the craftsmanship of the object, its historical or stylistic significance, and its provenance.
Rogue: How is acquiring tribal art different from acquiring classical or traditional art?
RL: A deep understanding of the culture, tradition, and history of our indigenous peoples and their arts and crafts is essential in acquiring Philippine tribal and ethnographic art. We are fortunate to have specialists of international renown who are able to discern the best-of-the-best, museum-quality pieces, and select these for our auctions. That way, collectors in this category already have a head-start in putting together good collections.
Rogue: How much should we expect these pieces to go for?
RL: In a real auction, it is impossible to predict at what price an artwork will sell. The published estimate is our professional opinion at what price a particular artwork can sell. The lower price in the published range is a helpful hint for collectors on whether or not they can acquire an artwork as the “reserve” price (the lowest price that a piece can sell) can either be at or below that low estimate but never higher. This makes the auction process transparent and to an international standard, resulting in the wide trust and the confidence that Salcedo Auctions enjoys. Ultimately, the results here serve as the real barometer of the Philippine art market.
Rogue: What trends have you been able to observe among art collectors?
RL: Again, the outcomes are always a surprise, although we can always expect that the works of the modern masters—the National Artists or those of significant renown from that era—always do well at auction because of the great demand for them.
Rogue: Could you tell us a little more about the letter by Juan Luna that’s being auctioned off?
RL: The letter was sent to Salcedo Auctions by a Spanish collector and originated from the correspondence files of Mariano and Ezequiel Ordoñez. Ezequiel Ordoñez was an important political figure of the late 19th century, as well as a deputy, lawyer, and life senator, who served as the right hand of the Minister of Overseas Affairs as Subsecretary (mainly dedicated to the affairs of the colonies). There is no record of another letter written by Luna in this time of his life, during his imprisonment for the murder of his wife and mother-in-law.
Rogue: Could you also tell us about the bul’ul on sale from Poitan, Eastern Banawe?
RL: There are very few bul’uls from the 19th century or earlier that are still in the country, as most of these were acquired by foreigners, who sadly had a deeper understanding and appreciation of the cultures and traditions of our indigenous peoples than the locals did. It is only very recently—especially after that landmark Musee de Quai Branly in Paris that featured our ethnographic treasures—that more local collectors started to pay attention to bul’uls and other artefacts from this area and period. This bul’ul, in fact, comes from a German collection.
Rogue: What sort of Philippine art do you personally enjoy?
RL: My interests are varied, ranging from the works of the late 19th century masters (Luna in particular), to the academic school and the post-war Neo-Realists. I also support contemporary art, having started the Ateneo Art Awards in 2004.
Rogue: Where can aspiring art collectors go if they want to get into the auctioning scene?
RL: Go to a trusted source—Salcedo Auctions.
Salcedo Auctions will take place on March 10, 2 PM, at Three Salcedo Place. Preview is ongoing daily, from 10 AM to 6 PM.