“2021 was a record year for Philippine art,” said Jaime Ponce de Leon, director for the auction house León Gallery. “It went beyond expectations, full of world records and blockbuster exhibitions,” he exclaimed.
“The Philippines is unique since its biggest auction star is Anita Magsaysay-Ho, a woman who painted other women, compared to the male-dominated international circuit,” Ponce de Leon added. In a stunning four-peat feat, Magsaysay-Ho reigned supreme in auction after auction at León Gallery in 2021.
In the list of the year’s top-selling artworks, Anita took the top four slots. led by “Tinapa Vendors” at a record-smashing P84 million.
“The biggest trend for 2021 was an increasingly sophisticated collector, ever more discerning, who appreciates the different details of an artwork,” he disclosed. “This Magsaysay-Ho is an example of just that, and so, despite its relatively ‘miniscule’ size, it was such a standout work in the medium of egg tempera that it has become a sort of gold standard for the artist.
The second most-expensive work in the Philippines was another egg tempera by Anita Magsaysay-Ho titled “Egg Vendors.”
“It was sheer luck at play for both buyers — and León Gallery — to be able to have two of these works in a single year,” he remarked with a grin. “Yes, lightning does strike twice.”
H.R. Ocampo scooped up fifth place, but still at just a whisper below $1 million.
Commented Ponce de Leon: “HR is having a moment now. A work of his from the vaunted collection of Paulino and Hetty Que is featured in the landmark Surrealism show at The Met in New York City.” All the record prices for works by Anita and HR reflected “their rarity in terms of both medium and the period, respectively.”
BenCab’s “Dance of Isadora,” triumphant at nearly nine feet across, reaped P41 million.
“You have had to see it in person to appreciate its sheer size and visual impact,” maintained Ponce de Leon, while Manansala’s “Pila sa Bigas” hit P33 million “because this iconic theme is considered paramount in this modern artist’s output.”
The Jose Honorato Lozanos, on the other hand, demonstrated the principle of provenance, observed the auction house director.
“These works checked all the boxes for beauty, rarity and the fact that it was from the Don Benito Legarda holdings of scholarly art collected meticulously over his lifetime.”
He noted that “View of Manila,” created for an American trading baron, is probably the only one of its kind in the world; while the second “letras y figuras,” depicting a wealthy Chinoy’s life, is equally extraordinary. Both tied for 12th place with the Philippines’ most beloved National Artist, Fernando Amorsolo. (Incidentally, said Ponce de Leon, there were four Amorsolos in the list of the 21 most expensive paintings in 2021, with the top lot once owned by Tita Midz Siguion-Reyna.)
“Speaking of National Artists, I’d like to point out that Abdulmari Imao, the steward of our most important Filipino iconography — the sarimanok — is finally getting his due,” revealed Ponce de Leon, “It’s Imao’s 15th anniversary as National Artist so it’s about time! It should be the beginning of an upward trajectory of his works.”
Imao had back-to-back world records at the Kingly Treasures Auction in 2021. Ponce de Leon was quick to add, “And let’s not forget, Lao Lianben had two successive world milestones himself in 2021, while Marina Cruz also set a new benchmark for her works.”
He continued: “Gus Albor also had a sold-out exhibition at León Gallery International and I can say that he has stepped up in his distinction as a master in Philippine art.”
However, one of the important measures of success, he asserted, was “the continuing tradition of giving back through the arts; and the recent December auction’s beneficiaries included both the new M Museum in BGC and also the International Christian Ministries which helps communities in the Visayas and Mindanao.”
That was particularly timely since it was in a position to provide relief to those most affected by Typhoon Odette. Over P20 million was raised for these worthy causes, a fitting prelude, Ponce de Leon expressed, for the forthcoming Asian Cultural Council Auction in February 2022. The year’s first auction is intended to finance grants for artists to spread their wings abroad.
“More than anything else,” said Ponce de Leon, “the splendid performance of Philippine art is a testament to the enduring talent of Filipino artists. Art reaches out to us across the centuries. It spans our tribes and indigenous cultures. Art simply emphasizes the premier position of the Filipino creative mind. The Filipino continuously proves that he — and she — is bold and fearless; cerebral yet appealing; all while embodying what is uniquely Filipino. I am proud to be part of the Filipino creative industry, which stands tall anywhere in the world.”