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Ronald Ventura leads contemporary roster in León auction |

Arts and Culture

Ronald Ventura leads contemporary roster in León auction

SUBLIMINAL - Carlomar Arcangel Daoana - The Philippine Star
Ronald Ventura leads contemporary roster in León auction
Ronald Ventura leads the roster of contemporary artists in León Gallery’s “The Kingly Treasures.” In this work, which is a fresh interpretation of Pegasus, the artist touches on many ideas: from the nature of artistic representation to the mutability of myths to the theory creation.

It seems that no auction is complete without a work by Ronald Ventura. He, after all, was instrumental in spurring the growth of the local market for contemporary art when his work, “Grayground,” became the most expensive work of a living Filipino artist, fetching HK$8.4 million in 2011 (or about P47 million in the exchange rate of that time). Before him, it was the National Artists, the foundational masters Juan Luna and Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, and the early modernists such as Anita Magsaysay-Ho who primarily lorded over the market. Because of Ventura’s trailblazing success, works by relatively younger artists were appraised in a new light and extensively collected, not only as viable investments but markers of the zeitgeist.

“Embrace” by Ventura

For “The Kingly Treasures” of León Gallery, slated on Dec. 1 (Saturday) at its auction headquarters at Eurovilla 1 in Legazpi Village, Makati City, the mid-career superstar is represented by two works: “Embrace” (2006) and an untitled work (2013). While separated by seven years, the two paintings share distinct similarities. For one, they feature a (mostly) monochromatic intensity, a focused attention on a singular subject, and Ventura’s unmatched figurative technique.

“Embrace” showcases the iconic nude of Ventura, a luminescent creation more marmoreal than corporeal. The figure is shown to be hugging a transparent cocoon from which he has theoretically emerged, the creases and layers of which offer a generous view of the artist’s stupendous technique. Against an undifferentiated background, the figure casts a shadow, projecting out of the illusionistic space of the painting into the space of the viewer as though it were a piece of sculpture. The embrace appears suffocating, but it alludes to certain psychological dependencies in which people are attached to what traps or chains them.

“The Value of Life” by Jon Jaylo

The other work, more recent, points at Ventura’s capacity as a myth-maker. In this work, a galloping horse, most probably Pegasus because of the presence of wings, voluptuously conceived, transforms right in front of the viewer as it bursts into stars, geometric lines, and crystalline forms — as spectacular as a supernova. The darkness that surrounds the figure is the darkness before the Big Bang, and it is this staging ground in which Ventura renders the metamorphosis of the divine beast. The painting touches on many different ideas: the nature of artistic representation, the mutability of myths, the theory creation. Whatever potential meaning the viewer will have of this work, one thing is certain: it is a gorgeous sight to behold.

“Blue Bed” by Eileen Navas

In this contemporary roster, Ventura is joined by some of the most notable practitioners working today. Manuel Ocampo satirizes the American dollar bill as a harbinger of apocalyptic doom, with the central figure carrying the mark of the devil. Jon Jaylo, on the other hand, employs his distinctly surreal imagery to contemplate the nature of time. Titled “The Value of Life,” Jaylo’s work constitutes not just a painting but a table and two chairs, as if inviting the viewer to sit down and indulge in his magical vision. With his distinctive pop-surreal figuration, Louie Cordero examines the nature of punk.

“W.O.L.F.” by Louie Cordero

Women artists are also generously represented in this auction, as led by Annie Cabigting whose replication of a placard exposes the conceptual rigor that undergirds her visual thinking. Known for her rhapsodic impasto, Elaine Navas depicts the domestic scene of a bedroom as a way to examine emotional and psychological truths and terrors. Johanna Helmuth, who recently won the Ateneo Art Awards, interprets the familiar (and familial) drama of everyday life through her signature technique of vigorously applying pigment onto the canvas with a palette knife.

For an auction lineup that resoundingly concludes León Gallery’s triumphant year and is remarkably filled with important historical documents, one-of-a-kind Philippine furniture, and enduring works by National Artists and established masters, it’s heartening to know that contemporary artists hold their own.

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“The Kingly Treasures” may now be previewed at León Gallery. For details, visit

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