Arts & Culture

Surprise: Someone Bought an Unsigned Artwork Not Knowing It Was a BenCab

Would you buy a BenCab if you didn't know it was a BenCab?
IMAGE COURTESY OF GIGO ALAMPAY
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As this year’s edition of Art in the Park drew to a close last night, Gigo Alampay, founder and executive director of the nonprofit Center for Art, New Ventures and Sustainable Development (CANVAS), made a stunning announcement on his Facebook and Instagram accounts. 

He revealed that one of the artworks he had sold earlier in the day was an unsigned painting by National Artist BenCab.

Being an affordable art fair, the maximum price for any artwork sold at the fair is 50 thousand pesos. BenCab’s original works go for much, much more.

Alampay would not reveal how much he had sold the work for, but he said it was priced the way other students’ works were priced.

“I honestly have no idea how much the BenCab would go for, but I estimate it would be at least ten times more than what we sold it for,” he said.

Art in the Park Treasure Hunt Story #2: If you liked my previous story, you’re going to love this one. Again, di na namin sasabihin presyo. Basta sobrang mura. We sold this artwork at Art in the Park today. It was unsigned and we told people who asked that we didn’t know who the artist was because it was consigned to us and we didn’t realize we didn’t know by whom. So we told those interested that we would inform them later once we found out the name. One person liked it enough to buy it even if he didn’t know who did the piece. Just before leaving he said, with a smile, that he hoped our mystery artist would grow up to be someone important. Well, nagdilang anghel ka Sir! Your artist is all grown up and now goes by the name of BenCab! :-) #artintheparkph #artph #canvasph #walalang #treasurehunt

A post shared by Gigo Alampay (@diegomaya_ph) on

BenCab’s work was 18x12 inches, mixed media on paper.

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“We sold this artwork at Art in the Park today,” wrote Alampay on his social media accounts. “It was unsigned and we told people who asked that we didn’t know who the artist was because it was consigned to us and we didn’t realize we didn’t know by whom. So we told those interested that we would inform them later once we found out the name.”

“One person liked it enough to buy it even if he didn’t know who did the piece. Just before leaving he said, with a smile, that he hoped our mystery artist would grow up to be someone important,” Alampay wrote.

“Well, nagdilang anghel ka Sir! Your artist is all grown up and now goes by the name of BenCab! ;-)” wrote Alampay.

Alampay said when he approached BenCab, the artist said yes right away. Alampay said BenCab’s partner, Annie Sarthou asked him, “where do you get all these fun ideas?”

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“It was to see if people would buy just for the art itself and not for the name,” said Alampay, who also approached well-known artist Emmanuel Garibay with the same idea in mind. Garibay sent him two works, 22x16 inches, acrylic on paper.


One of Garibay’s works sold about three hours after they were both hung, said Alampay. The other remained unsold at 5 p.m., the cut-off time Alampay had set for the experiment.

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“Lots of people asked about it, and quite a few even seemed amused that we had ‘forgotten’ to get the artist’s name,” said Alampay. “Some said they’d think about it and come back. They were quite a few who took pictures of the Garibays. But I had set 5 p.m. as the deadline and then we would take down any work that remained unsold by then. So there may have been collectors who did plan on going back, but they might not have gotten back on time.”


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“Alas, not all treasures are meant to be found, and not all hunts come to a satisfying close,” said Alampay on his social media accounts. “This unsigned Manny Garibay piece was on display for a full seven hours and while hunters came really really close, no one was able to close the deal by 5 p.m., our self-imposed deadline.”

“Ah, the thrill of the chase. And the regret of a chance not taken. Such is life. :-)” he wrote. “But no worries. Their loss is the children’s gain. This work will now be sold at full price, with all proceeds going to our One Million Books for One Million Children campaign. It’s been a good day. :-) “

Alampay said the BenCab work went pretty quickly, just ten minutes after it was hung. The gallery had deliberately hung the work at 12:30 p.m., much later than the opening frenzy of professional collectors at 10 a.m.

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“It was probably fortuitous timing—the buyer was an art teacher who happened to be in our booth at the time, looking at another work,” said Alampay. “When he saw the BenCab piece, he asked about it and when we told him it was done by a student, he said the strokes seemed so assured and mature. That’s why he decided to get the piece, he told me just before he left, after I asked him what he liked about it.”


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Now that the story’s out, Alampay said the artists will not be signing the works. 

“That’s now part of the works’ charm and our social media posts should be enough to reassure people of their provenance,” said Alampay.

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Yvette Fernandez
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