Arts & Culture
Art Enthusiasts Patricia Coseteng and Trickie Lopa Lend Insight Into Their Collecting Habits
A collector’s role extends far beyond patronage and it is one of great significance.
IMAGE COURTESY Gaby Coseteng / Toto Labrador
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The world that art collectors inhabit is one where the pursuit of the intellectual, spiritual, and the aesthetically pleasing collide. Made up of highly focused and passionate individuals, it’s an ecosystem unto itself where members speak in their own language and trade in their own currency. Collectors who occupy this milieu do what they do wholly, with full heart, mind, and soul, and are often obsessive, driven only by the art they seek. Crucial to understanding them and their impact, if any, on artistic culture, is to experience their collections firsthand with intimacy, intensity, and careful observation.

Quiet mental assessment is necessary during the exploration—for there are collectors, and then there are collectors. Is he or she reacting to a particular need or motivated by ritual and/or scholarship? Is it the assemblage, or individual pieces of any historical significance? Perhaps he or she is championing a certain artist or a particular artistic style. Is the collection reflective of a certain time and place, and what are the contrasts and commonalities that he or she shares with fellow collectors of the same era? And what of the public dimension—does he or she actively share his or her collection with the public or engage in communal artistic activity?

A collector’s role extends far beyond patronage and it is one of great significance.

Not only does he or she exert creative influence on the art that is being produced at the time, his or her actions also help shape and govern taste, scholarship, and contemporary culture.

PATRICIA COSETENG
Private collector

Saul Steinberg said, “It’s often what an artist chooses to leave out that makes the art interesting.” I think what draws me to any work in my collection—whether by an established or young artist—is the artist’s ability to go straight to the essence. I like artists who are able to do a lot with very little.

The appreciation of art is not diminished by lack of ownership, but it is nice to come home and see your collection hanging on your wall. There are all sorts of altruistic goals attached to collecting, such as saving the artwork and supporting artists. I don’t buy that as the primary reason because you can still do that without owning. Collectors are obsessed and rapacious. It’s like an addiction, and I mean that in the kindest way. One might argue that you can’t put together a meaningful collection unless you are aggressive and tenacious.

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Trashbag, by BenCab, Deseparecidos, by BenCab, Lampe Pigeon, by Francois Xavier Lalanne, and Pahinante, by Elmer Borlongan

I began to collect when I got married and had my own home. I didn’t start out with the intent to collect seriously. As with most beginners, you gravitate to the names that are well known because you are still uncertain of your own taste. I bought pieces like a Joya mother and child and an Amorsolo farming scene—pleasant and easily recognizable. I got out of that soon after and sold those paintings because I realized that although I was only in my 20s, I was buying art like a matrona. Listening to too many voices can lead to an unfocused collection. I learned to buy with my own eyes, not my ears.

Not only does he or she exert creative influence on the art that is being produced at the time, his or her actions also help shape and govern taste, scholarship, and contemporary culture.

I am not an anthological collector and I don’t think my collection defines me. I didn’t create anything; I just consider myself really fortunate to be the owner of these works for the time being. I don’t buy a wide range of works by many artists for fear of missing out. That demands a lot of time, money, and space. Almost everything is a favorite. Again, space is such a precious commodity that I wouldn’t waste it on anything I don’t really love. I take every opportunity to look at art in any viewing space, whether it be a museum, gallery, the internet, or catalogs. It takes a while and several exposures to the artist’s work to decide whether I like it enough to acquire it—and if it will work well with the neighbors. I research whatever body of work the artist has produced and decide which pieces are worth acquiring. I take note of the buying opportunities (dealers, auctions, collectors willing to unload), different registers of values, and then try to buy if the work and price are right.


Mouton Transhuman, by François-Xavier Lalanne, and Chaise Gingko, by Claude Lalanne, from the collection of Patricia Coseteng.

Listening to too many voices can lead to an unfocused collection. I learned to buy with my own eyes, not my ears.

My first significant purchase was a Larawan series painting by BenCab from a mall gallery. Desperately jumping up and down in front of the painting did not help my bargaining position with the dealer. That acquisition upped the ante because I could no longer hang a $10 museum poster next to the Larawan. One of BenCab’s strongest techniques as an artist is the use of blank space to emphasize the essential. He strips the appropriated subject bare of references to time and place to allow the viewer to rediscover old images with fresh eyes and achieve the objective of highlighting the dignity of the common man. It’s a risk to reuse a popular image to try and deliver a new message and not have it turn into a horrible cliché.

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Shapes and Figures, by BenCab, First Post, by John Santos, Green Circulation, by Lee Aguinaldo, and Crocoseat, by Claude Lalanne

Technical skill is important but it isn’t sufficient to make the art or the artist.

Zobel is a master in the use of negative space to perfectly situate a single line or brush stroke. Sometimes people see a small patch of paint in the middle of a large expanse of his canvas and they think, “What a waste of space.” You have to realize that the large expanse of space was essential to appreciate the small patch of paint. It takes great confidence and skill for the artist to put away the brush when there is still so much “blank space” on the canvas. It also helps that they are both good draftsmen and colorists when the work demands it. Technical skill is important but it isn’t sufficient to make the art or the artist.


La Piedro del Caballo II, by Fernando Zobel, and BenCab’s Woman Walking and Three Children and Vendor

When I first encountered a whole booth of works by Les Lalanne at Ben Brown at the first Hong Kong Art Fair (it hadn’t been bought by Basel then), I didn’t quite know what to make of their works. I kept circling back to them. It took a while to make the first purchase because I kept wondering in the back of my head if I was buying something akin to a garden gnome. Sometimes the best acquisitions are preceded by long bouts of self-doubt. The works had both the gravitas of a serious work of art and a playfulness that just makes you smile. My family thought I was nuts and our yaya asked me why there was a sheep in the living room. I got to know other dealers of their work—Paul Kasmin and Jean-Gabriel Mitterrand and visited their exhibits in different cities when the opportunities arose. Seeing their exhibit at Musée Les Arts Decoratifs, curated by Peter Marino, confirmed to me that their works could stand up to any other serious work of art. Meeting Claude in Hong Kong and later in Ury was just icing on the cake.

However, if the objective is to understand the art or the artist, nothing beats seeing a properly curated museum or gallery exhibition, or a visit to the artist’s studio.


Edwin Coseteng, Claude Lalanne, and Patricia Coseteng.

The dramatic increase in the number of collectors is great for the artists, dealers, and auction houses, but it has become more challenging to get the right pieces in both the primary and secondary market. I think it’s very exciting to have a lively local auction market and local art fairs. It is definitely more accessible and democratic for anyone who wants to collect art. However, if the objective is to understand the art or the artist, nothing beats seeing a properly curated museum or gallery exhibition, or a visit to the artist’s studio. It’s always great to see the works of the artists that you like receive affirmation in the market, but it’s also pretty awful to be priced out. Your choices are to just keep trying, step back, or to rob a bank.

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TRICKIE COLAYCO LOPA
Collector and public champion of arts


The more I look at art, the more I want to learn about art. The more I learn about art, the more open-minded I am about what its place is in my life, and why I collect art. The only way to get better at collecting is to keep learning and to want to keep learning more, all the time. I read about art, I look at art—again and again. Does that make me a better collector? I’m not sure, but it does make me enjoy art more.


A chair sculpture by Gabriel Barredo; Madame P, by Leslie de Chavez; small sculptures by Israel Gonzales and Gabriel Barredo from the collection of Trickie Lopa.

I don’t think I started out with the intention of building a collection. My passion for art happened progressively; before I knew it, I had fallen under its spell. I had always been interested, of course. Museums had always been my favorite places to visit. I did short courses in art history when my husband Randy and I lived in London right after we got married, but it was on a trip to New York that spurred my interest in contemporary Philippine art. In 2003, at a show at the Whitney Museum called “The American Effect,” I saw a painting by Alfredo Esquillo Jr. called Mamackinley. (The piece belongs to Kim Atienza.) I just stood transfixed before this painting. And I had no idea who the artist was, which I found embarrassing because he was the only Filipino in that exhibit. I came back to Manila and resolved to learn more about him and his peers. Thus began my interest in Pinoy contemporary artists.

The only way to get better at collecting is to keep learning and to want to keep learning more, all the time.


Kariton Katedral Kambal Dos by Jose Tence Ruiz, flanked by paintings of Jose John Santos III and Joven Mansit; and Zombie Heads, by Louie Cordero.

I bought my first piece in 2004, but I seriously started collecting in 2006, after the first Art in the Park. You want to bring a piece home so you can enjoy it more, take something of the artist’s brilliance with you. I find that the works I have unfold even more as I experience them at home, just seeing them bring me joy, no matter how dark they are. The collecting and choosing of which pieces to bring home are definitely solitary for me but the enjoyment is communal—I love seeing how Randy and my kids react to the pieces. I am usually surprised at how strongly they relate to certain works.

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Detail from Gabriel Barredo’s wall-bound assemblage.

After we launched Art in the Park, I got to know the artists and the galleries, the small coterie that Manila’s art scene was then. My involvement deepened when I adopted the persona of Manila Art Blogger in 2008. I could not find anything online about the exhibits going on in the galleries, so I decided I would write about them myself. That’s when my art education really began. I would sit down with artists and listen to the impetus behind their exhibits, get to know their process. I started to appreciate a broad range of works. As Charles Saatchi once said, “The more you like art, the more art you like!” The blog ran for four years, until 2012, right before the opening of Art Fair Philippines.

I could not find anything online about the exhibits going on in the galleries, so I decided I would write about them myself. That’s when my art education really began.


Works by Pio Abad and Norberto Roldan; and a painting by Rodel Tapaya behind a sculpture by Julie Lluch

Perhaps the most memorable pieces in my collection are the ones that I bought around the time that my involvement with art crystallized, from 2006 to 2008: the first Rodel Tapaya burlap pieces that I bought from Art in the Park and a Geraldine Javier painting, Life Ends at Second Childhood, from her 2007 exhibit at the Megamall Art Center.

I buy art if I love it, the most important part of the process. “Can I afford it?” comes next. I used to worry about “Where will I put it?” but now, I’ve learned to start rotating my pieces, not have them all out at the same time. I have to know what the artist is about, the attitude towards the creative process. I may not necessarily like an artist’s personality, but I need to know if they know what they’re doing. I’ve also gotten more discerning, gravitating towards tougher, stronger pieces that may not necessarily turn out commercially viable in the future. I look for unique expressions, favoring sculpture over two-dimensional pieces.


Pyrograph drawings on wood by Mariano Ching

My collection is modest and I wish I had some signature or landmark pieces by the artists that I follow. Some of my works are as such because of their materiality: three-dimensional works, objects that give flesh to what the artists intended. Kariton Katedral Kambal Dos (2004), by Jose Tence Ruiz, is a sculpture of a Gothic cathedral barong barong that encapsulates the Pinoy everyman’s relationship with the Catholic Church in this country: he lives like a scavenger, all his possessions can fit into a kariton, while the Church looms large, preaches from on high, impervious to his plight. It also mirrors my complicated relationship with the Catholic Church in the Philippines. History, by Patricia Eustaquio (from 2009 or 2010), a ceramic piece that I’ve not seen her do again. I can’t quite figure out if it is of a cow gradually decaying and disintegrating until only its skull remains or if it captures the bloody transformation of the cow’s skull into a scarlet bloom. Untitled assemblage, by Gabriel Barredo, is a piece that contains as many layers and relationships as we maintain in our daily lives. Pio Abad’s terno piece that he exhibited for his degree show at the Royal Academy of Arts is a sophisticated commentary on our history that our generation can totally relate to.

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An oval painting by J.C. Jacinto

In 2010, I came upon an article by Michael Kimmelman in the New York Times. He wrote about an Edward Hopper exhibit in Rome. Kimmelman wanted to relate his experience as an American looking at an American painting in another country, and how, no matter where you come from, Hopper’s piece can only strike you as American. I quote: “No matter how much culture has become globalized, art retains meanings specific to a certain time and place. Good art does, anyway (which accounts for why too much not-so-good contemporary art, aimed at the global marketplace, looks generic and everywhere alike). Those meanings come as it were, bred in the bone.” That really struck me. As such, I find myself— usually, but not always— attracted to art that speaks to me of my time (nothing before 2000) and my place, the Philippines. I find that the work that really, really catches my attention has to have something that grounds it to the Philippines of the past 10 and a half years, nothing before that, until today. I also take into consideration what Richard Dorment, former chief critic of The Daily Telegraph said in a video interview: “The art that I like may not be immediately understood, but must be immediately gratifying.” I couldn’t agree with him more. When confronted with a piece that makes my guts clench and senses still, a euphoric sensation soon follows. Then comes a longing to learn more about the work and the intentions of its maker, and ultimately, some hope to acquire it so I can keep it close by.


Society as Ornamental Decision, by Louie Cordero

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Alicia Colby Sy
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