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Early Abueva, iconic Joya, signature Ventura at Leon Gallery auction |

Arts and Culture

Early Abueva, iconic Joya, signature Ventura at Leon Gallery auction

SUBLIMINAL - Carlomar Arcangel Daoana - The Philippine Star

The moment that Jaime Ponce de Leon, director of Leon Gallery, laid eyes on the image of the sculpture, he felt that it should be an Abueva. Perched on a base, two columns made of oak reveal a pair of faces, with one, through hooded brows, staring squarely at the viewer while the other — composed of only diagonal lines — tilting towards the former, planting a kiss. It represents the iconic Biblical image of the betrayal of Jesus, encapsulated in the work titled, “Kiss of Judas.”

“I got excited when I knew about it,” said de Leon. “I researched about it. While I was browsing through some old publications, I saw it in the book, Art in the Philippines: 1521 to 1957. I asked Cid Reyes about it and, lo and behold, it appears in his book that he published, the Abueva book. It’s here now. It’s a great opportunity to have not only an early Abueva, but an award-winning Abueva.”

National Artist for Sculpture Napoleon Abueva created the work in 1955 when, at the age of 26, he went to study at Cranbook Academy of Art in the United States as a Smith-Mundt and Fulbright scholar. Declared First Prize and Purchase Prize in the sculpture division of the 4th Religious Art Exhibition and Competition in Detroit, Michigan, the work also exists in an adobe version.

Ronald Ventura represents the contemporary masters in the “Kingly Treasures” auction of Leon Gallery with “In Memorial,” a monumental work that exemplifies the artist’s prowess in anatomy.

“But whether in oak or adobe,” writes art critic Cid Reyes in the auction catalog, “what seized the sculptural imagination of the young Abueva, alone in a foreign land and determined to master the medium of his choice and affection, was the drama of the subject and the challenge of translating the theme into the three-dimensional…but freed of surface excrescences, striving for a purity of form, and reduced to its essence, but without reducing the work to the point of aridity.”

“Kiss of Judas” is one of the 209 lots on offer in the “Kingly Treasures” auction to be held on Dec. 5 (Saturday), 2 p. m., at Leon Gallery (Eurovilla 1, Legazpi Village, Makati City). Highlights of the lots include works of early 20th century masters Fabian de la Rosa, Vicente Rivera y Mir, Dominador Castañeda and Fernando Amorsolo from the collection of J. Antonio Araneta.

For the Carlos and Pat Nievera (a power couple in post-war Philippines) collection, “Talking Birds” made by Hernando Ocampo in 1956 will take center stage, embodying the National Artist’s early style, characterized by his still-discernible figuration such as the Muslim sarimanok. “It’s an opportunity to have something from that period that’s not yet in other people’s hands,” said de Leon.

While the established masters undoubtedly remain as the big draws of the auction, contemporary artists hold their own, led by Ronald Ventura with “In Memorial,” which de Leon considers as “the important if not the most important work of the artist from his early period. It is Ventura’s take on Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man and is the ultimate canon of proportions where Ventura’s prowess in anatomy is fully revealed.”

One of the star pieces of the auction, “Kiss of Judas” was made by Napoleon Abueva in 1955, exemplifying a modern touch without losing an evocative quality.

Aside from Ventura, Jigger Cruz comes charging with “Blares of the Opposite,” a 65” x 80 1/2” museum-worthy piece that summarizes the artist’s trademark signature of erasing a duplicate of a painting from the Western tradition with globs and strips of paint applied directly on the canvas from the tube. The pictorial surface becomes an active minefield of figuration and abstraction, of tribute and desecration. Initially bought for $20,000 at Southeby’s Modern and Southeast Asian Paintings in Hong Kong, the painting will, no doubt, command an exponentially higher price than the P900,000 estimate.

Another magnetic work is “Mud Slide” by the young artist Andre Baldovino. Characterized by an accumulation of layer-upon-layer of thick, expressionist abstract shapes in earth-tone colors that suggest a furious organic growth and replication, the piece is in conversation with “Blue Harbor” — an intense quickening and burst of sea-colored, impasto-inflected forms from a discernible horizon line — by Jose Joya, who is Baldovino’s grand uncle. The painting was made in the mid-1960s, which, according to de Leon, is “perhaps the best period you could have of Joya.”

With 209 lots, the “Kingly Treasures” will be the biggest auction of Leon Gallery, proof that sellers and buyers just keep on coming. “I think it has something to do with the global trend because the appreciation of contemporary art has grown very widely, especially in the States and Europe and, of course, the opening of China that is now a strong acquisitor of art,” explained de Leon. “I think it’s a carry-over. As long as the economies do well, the appetite for art should always be strong.”

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For catalog access and more information, visit

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