The best of times in the history of contemporary art

In Photo: Untitled (2003)

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WHY has art turned so precious that many people want to get in the buying now that it’s almost tragically too late? Then again, is that really the case? There goes the contention that market analysts would like to dispel with good tidings. As forecasts for the economy seem bright for the next 30 years, so, too, the oracles for the art market and its transition to levels approximating the global. In this process, expect prices to rise. Conclusion: Now’s the best time to buy Philippine art.

Untitled (2006) and Untitled (2011-2012)
Untitled (2006) and Untitled (2011-2012)

Rounding up 2014’s bull run is the last big sale of the year. Before November ends, León Gallery will unleash its “Kingly Treasures Auction,” again iterating that there are opportunities to invest or appreciate art for its own sake. But, why not do both in an era of global emergence?

THE present economy is calibrated for efficiency, so that deals are closed hard and fast. In the art-buying game that León Gallery eagerly hosts each quarter, the only thing that players regret is the art that they did not buy, especially when a price increase proves their undoing. To bolster the belief that the market is not a bubble, we present an independent analysis by, the global data bank of auction returns and the world leader in industry information with over 27 million indices. Its 2013-2014 Contemporary Art Market Report dedicates a chapter to “The Emerging Markets,” with a section titled “Focus on the Philippines.”

The group based in Lyon, France, declares that the Philippine art market is now the 20th most vibrant in the planet, ahead of mighty Russia and affluent Switzerland. We are slowly becoming a potential player in the global scene thanks to recent auctions that tip the arrow north. Where’s the bubble in an emerging market?

Art isn’t part of the real economy. Although a vibrant GDP may help, the real price spikes are caused by increases in a country’s Gini coefficient, the measure of inequality, sad to say a glaring truth. As William Goetzmann of the Yale School of Management explains via the academic paper Art and Money, the art market will most likely be impervious to economic gyrations that only affect the majority and not the affluent that constitute the base of art sales the world over.

THE global report also makes news for naming Philippine visual artist Ronald Ventura as the top 76 contemporary artist in the world. This puts Ventura head and shoulders above more famous names, like Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei, who ranks below him at 100, or veteran American artists like Barbara Kruger, slotted at a much lower 187.

Being ranked 76th among the top 500 is no mean feat for the man and his race which needs new models to emulate. Ventura is someone to be mighty proud of, a national artist-hero in the making. Quantitatively speaking, he amassed an auction turnover of €3,009,252 (or P169,450,980 in today’s exchange rate) for 34 artworks sold in the past year, besting National Artists and old masters in terms of valuations, thus, making him the star of the auction scene.

This has made his pieces extremely hot for a growing tendency that admires contemporary Philippine art. Foreign buyers—namely, Asian neighbors and a cabal of Western collectors—see the upward movement as potential for the globalization of art made in the Philippines. For them, it’s a matter of time before the country achieves the same savviness as the West, and for this reason, the marque of Ventura will remain an index for the whole, as PLDT in NYSE has come to represent the Philippine stock market in general. 

In short, if you have the cash and love the swagger, buy Ventura.


WE need to ask the inevitable: If foreigners have started buying local art, when will the heft of local money follow suit? Because of seeming minimal risk and despite global demand, an opportunity to acquire such “imperviousness” is available through the upcoming auction. On November 29 at 2 pm, León Gallery will sell no less than four pieces by Ventura at the Kingly Treasures sale.

Starting with Lot 47, Untitled (2011-2012) is a limited-edition print (three of three) that features the artist’s mercurial handling of the female portrait. Beginning at P400,000, the work’s market value is estimated between P700,000 to P1.5 million.

Now let’s talk sculpture. Lot 89 features such specimen. Though primarily known for his paintings, Ventura is noted to appropriate disjointed themes in his sculptures, too.

Scaled Man Figure (2010) is a post-punk rendition of the male form rendered in fiber glass, stainless steel and polyurethane. The sculpture begins at P300,000. Market estimate: P2 million to P3.5 million.

For the heavy-hitters, the two remaining lots are pièces de résistance that must be bought at all costs. A work in oil, Lot 110, or Untitled  (2003) captures the alabaster flesh that the artist has been acclaimed for painting without leaving traces of brushwork. This early work features double images of a hand with the text “Right” mirrored above, signifying perhaps that there is no wrong hand when dealing with the art of Ventura. Measuring 40 by 48 inches, it begins at half a million. That’s a bargain compared to estimates of P7 million to P8 million.

Last is Lot 38, which should have been tackled earlier for its numerical calling, but due to subject matter is best considered last. The Untitled 2006 oil on canvas shows a youth amid a mental landscape filled with deities and latter-day icons, such as manga characters and biblical personages. With allusions to pop art and issues of self-identification amid the power of mass media, the work should appeal to the young art collector. The medium-size painting starts at P300,000. Estimate: P3 million to P 5 million.

The Kingly Treasures Auction of León Gallery also features other pieces by various artists, notably H.R. Ocampo, Jose Joya, Benedicto “BenCab” Cabrera and many others. View the catalog at

• The inclusion of data from does not signify a commendation by the web site for the León sale. Meanwhile, estimates are this analyst’s own.

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