Manila Garage Art Fair Draws ’Miss Saigon’, Billionaires

Ayala Land Inc. Chairman Fernando Zobel de Ayala, Philippine Secretary of Trade and Industry Gregory Domingo and “Miss Saigon” star Lea Salonga were among VIPs who prowled a Manila parking garage this week at a preview of Art Fair Philippines.

In its second year, the fair showcasing Philippine contemporary art takes place on two floors of a parking lot in the heart of the Makati financial district, through Feb. 23. Compared with regional fairs Art Basel Hong Kong and Singapore’s Art Stage where hundreds of millions of dollars change hands, Art Fair Philippines is a modest event, with only a few million dollars of art for sale, according to the event organizer.

“The upside is you won’t find works of this quality at these prices anywhere in the world,” said Trickie Lopa, co-founder and co-director of the fair.

The low prices reflect a local contemporary art scene largely untapped by international collectors, apart from a handful of artists including Ronald Ventura, whose painting sold for $1.1 million at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in 2011.

While a handful of works for sale command six figure prices, the majority go for between $2,000 and $10,000, said Lopa. “You hardly get any ’factories’ here, most artists do their own stretching, priming and painting.”

Bargain Prices

Paulino and Hetty Que, regarded as the country’s most prominent collectors, picked up three paintings, including one by local artist Robert Langenegger for $2,200.

“Ninety-eight percent of Philippine collectors only buy Philippine art, and 98 percent of the buyers of Philippine art are Filipinos,” says Tina Fernandez, owner of Art Informal gallery in Manila, which sold all 18 works by 31-year-old artist Marina Cruz priced between $2,000 and $10,000 at the preview.

Prices of local artists are likely to climb as international galleries start exhibiting their works abroad. Ventura is represented by Galerie Perrotin with spaces in Paris, Hong Kong and New York. Painter and installation artist Geraldine Javier did a four-week residency at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute.

“The progress on the contemporary art scene in the past four years has been incredible,” said gallery owner Matthias Arndt, who sold all 10 works -- seven paintings and three sculptures -- by local artist Rodel Tapaya during the VIP preview.

Imelda Marcos

Tapaya, 33, whose meticulously painted oil-on-canvas works draw heavily on Philippine mythology, now sell for as much as $120,000, up about 70 percent in two years, said Arndt, whose Berlin gallery is having a one-man show for him next month.

One of the biggest local art collectors of the 1970s and 1980s was Imelda Marcos, wife of former President Ferdinand Marcos, who ruled the country from 1965 to 1986.

In 1973, she bought all 10 paintings at an exhibition of modern master Jaime de Guzman, said Marti Magsanoc, director of Archiva gallery that is selling the artist’s works at the fair for between $10,000 and $110,000.

“She used to bring cash in a woven bag,” said Magsanoc, who did not represent de Guzman at the time. “Whether she actually paid for them in this case is not known.”

Art Fair Philippines runs through Feb. 23 at the Link, Ayala Center, Makati.

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