We had gone to the auction last Saturday expecting something out of North by Northwest.
Given recent news of fraud in the art market—a Luna being sold for Php55 million appears to be in a French auction catalogue for much, much less, only it’s by someone else—we were hoping for someone to yell “Fake!” and start bidding downwards. (Not that we’re suggesting that anything at that auction was less than real. The contested Luna was not part of it.)
Instead, the auction looked like a cockfight, with people in T-shirts and jeans raising numbers on sticks. The paintings were crammed onto the walls, and every plastic chair was taken. “Stay for the Magsaysay-Ho, I bet it goes for Php20M,” said my collector friend, who might as well have been at a basketball championship. (There’s probably a bookie with odds on what the hammer prices will be.)
A small piece listed at Php800,000 went for Php6.9M. It’s enough to make dead artists come back to life and paint some more. In fact they do, except that the actual painting is done by someone else. In a market like this, the genuine-ness of a piece is directly proportional to the price it might fetch: to raise questions of authenticity seems almost rude. You’re killing everyone’s buzz.
We didn’t stay long because the place was packed and we have a horror of crowds. Our friend reports that the Magsaysay-Ho listed at Php2.2M went for Php21M, but the biggest seller that day was the Ronald Ventura painting that went for Php22M.
Watch Vincent and Theo by Robert Altman, which opens with a painting by Van Gogh fetching jillions at an auction in the 1980s, then goes back to Van Gogh’s lifetime when he didn’t sell squat (and his brother Theo was a well-known art dealer).