Vicente Manansala’s Crucifixion hangs on a custom-made easel in the living room of a fervent art aficionado's home. It is one of his prized possessions, his “pride and joy,” and one that heralded the start of his pursuit as a serious collector. The homeowner is not a complete outsider to art and collecting. He belongs to a distinguished family of collectors. His sister is also a collector and it was actually she who initiated him into collecting in late 1990s, suggesting that he buy a small Ang Kiukok painting. It was his first art purchase.
Crucifixion by Vicente Manansala anchors the living room
Despite the initial acquisition, this reticent businessman never thought he would eventually become a serious collector. At most, it would be just a hobby, he imagined. But in 2004, this hobby took a serious turn. His uncle mentioned that Manansala’s Crucifixion was up for auction. He went right away to see it but to his disappointment, the piece had already been earmarked for another buyer.
Months later, after he had given up on ever owning it when he received a call informing him that the other buyer did not take the painting. “I immediately rushed to the house, bought it, and took the painting home.” It was the first of a series of purchases of major works.
What came after was a Joya abstract painting that now hangs along with three other Jose Joyas, which were acquired subsequently. The quartet occupies an entire wall in his dining room and is a stand-out feature of his modern home. The group of Joya paintings underscores the owner's affinity for works from this era. “I always liked artists from this period, the ’50s, the ’60s,” he says.
From painting to pottery and sculpture, the home is adorned with art and antiquities from around the globe
This is attested by other Philippine modern paintings on view at his home. On the other side of the dining room is a wall containing an assortment of silver-framed paintings. Here hangs the collector’s first Ang Kiukok above a larger piece by the same artist. Beside them is an early Lee Aguinaldo, an H.R. Ocampo, an objects painting by Roberto Chabet, and another by Federico Aguilar Alcuaz.
Greeting guests at the foyer is a Fernando Zobel abstraction from his La Serie Negra, bought at a Manila Art Fair. Another Zobel hangs across a Lee aguinaldo linear painting at the foot the stairwell, while one from the Filipino-spanish painter’s saeta series stands on its own easel in the living room.
Sculptures and trinkets adorn every corner of the house (right), while Fernando Zobel’s Escorial hangs above a Philippine Batangas III mesa altar that carries pottery by Jose Joya and a collection of English silver (left)
The collector's faculty for finding and securing superior pieces, however, did not happen overnight. “At the beginning when I was not yet sure of my own taste and perception, I would seek advice from my uncle. Later, as I became more familiar with the artists and their art, it all became more after-the-fact,” he says. He believes that building a cache of blue-chip pieces can’t be done at the drop of hat. One does not have control of what can be bought. Some pieces can be elusive, remaining out of the market for years before popping up unexpectedly. “They sometimes come at the wrong time, when you are not ready. But you have to make a decision.”
Originally, the collector exclusively followed Philippine modernists and their contemporaries. It was only later that he expanded into contemporary art. His first piece in the genre—an Elmer Borlongan won at a silent auction—was acquired in 2007. He was as rigorous in his research of local contemporary artists. He read up on them, attended their shows, talked to them. He befriended them. “It is nice to get to know the artists. I always find them to be very down-to-earth. They are real people,” he says.
Occupying an entire wall in his stairwell is a massive mythic painting by award-winning muralist Rodel Tapaya. That piece previously saw light at a show in Berlin. It shares the central space with canvases by Rodel's wife Marina Cruz, Geraldine Javier, Borlongan, Louie Cordero, Pam Yan Santos, and Jose John Santos III.
Paintings by leading artists geraldine Javier, Pam Yan santos, and Rodel tapaya are but a few of the modern masterpieces in the stairwell.
In the second-floor hallway is Front Act, a scathing three-meter long social commentary by Singapore Biennale artist Leslie de Chavez. Nearby are more pieces by Santos, an infinity light box by Mark Justiniani, and a painting by Alfredo Esquillo Jr. On an wooden table is a row of antique clay jars and beneath it are portraits of the businessman's children by Winner Jumalon. Without a doubt this art aficionado's humble pursuit has become a consuming passion. He has gone to great lengths to buy the art of the artists he follows, be it following them for a show in Ilocos or pursuing a piece at auction in Singapore.
Works by leading contemporary artists Elmer Borlongan, Yasmin Sison, Mark Justiniani, Alfredo Esquillo Jr., and Leslie de Chavez line the upstairs corridor
He remembers that when he bought Manansala’s Crucifixion, his uncle told him he had paid too much for it. But now, many years after, his uncle says he is lucky he got the piece. “For a good piece of art, sometimes you just have to close your eyes, and buy it. The value comes later.”