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Mr. Manners: Watch The Paddle (The Auction)

It is a big week for the culture scene in Manila. Sunday ended with the historic attendance of the first-of-its-kind 10-day/24-hour book sale with Big Bad Wolf! Alongside it began the 10 Days of Art in synch with Art Fair Philippines, which ends this Sunday. With the Art Fair Collectors Preview and Vernissage done, and open to the public, The Asian Cultural Council Philippines Art Auction at the Leon Gallery is the key event that collectors and fanciers are keeping watch.

The auction and the local auction house may have come to play in Manila only over the last decade. Prominent Philippine Art was once sold internationally with Sotheby’s or Christies. Manilaa—s a nexus for art, with the desire to acquire has become insatiable—is coming onto its own. In the locus of appreciation (like museums, galleries), auction houses can be a place to immerse yourself in what the market is looking for, and what people are willing to pay. It is as invigorating to the collector as it is to speculator. For the newbie, it gives you a crash course on the mind of the collector. For most of us who have watched auctions in the big screen, in the cinemas and on television, buying art overseas can be short of blood sport.

But let me temper that thought, art in the country is in its renaissance, and collectors are making their way to find the next new artist. It could be like a safari to others (blood sport!), hence for the uninitiated, the auction house can be quite intimidating. Reading the catalogue with such major pieces on the block may make it not for the faint-hearted. But there are still items that may still fit your appetite. Like the Art Fair and Art in the Park, the experience of the moment may get you into the groove. Mind you, sometimes an ill-placed gesture may get you through your life savings. As many have said, the auction room is a culture of its own, with certain ritual and norm.

In Manila, I have attended a few auctions at Leon, Salcedo, and even Casa de Memoria. I am not much of an art buyer, and I have kept to what I have in my old corporate accumulation phase. Today, I go to get inspiration and marvel at the tapestry of culture that has been amassed privately, and now pleasurably visible to all. I think that going to an auction, even without the purpose of buying, is a well spent afternoon in providing delight to see such fine art come to market. Socially, it is an endearing afternoon of chatting up collectors and speculators, and seeing where the flow goes. Buying the catalogue is as good as a coffee table book, and it's relaxing to leaf through its pages.

As chi-chi as it sounds, art auctions are very democratic. There are quite a number of items available. This weekends’ auction of masters has exquisite pieces on view. In today’s market, the auction house is the venue where inherited pieces are safely sold at their best values. Collectors who are editing or upgrading, as well as investors, will find the auction houses a fair venue of trade. Be it to determine financial appreciation or so being endearing objects of desire, the auction is way to see art at its finest, with values that give depth to the ownership.

I like going to auctions just to get myself hyped up, and prepare for my own creative discourse with my fans, with FAME coming up very soon. But I think it's really to find what art, movement, style or what have you floats your boat, so with that, here are some tips for your auction-going experience. Auctions, for most part, have become part of a slew of fundraising events—the galas and charities—all take advantage of this. So, here goes:


Do your homework.

Like at the Art Fair, give yourself time and see what really engages you. Get a catalogue, and read it. Or better yet, go the gallery and see the items. Do your research!



Come in during the preview, or way before the auction, and register. The art circle in Manila is small, and much of the transactions are “palabra de honor," as Jaime Ponce de Leon of Leon Gallery notes. But for new buyers, and online bidders, a vetting process is needed to make sure the sale is not bogus. There are new buyers and a simple reference may be needed. You can do it online, but really, why, for a first-timer, get the energy!


Find a seat, mind your paddle, be attentive, and keep still.

With all events, I cannot begin to remind guests to please come in on time or early, and find a seat that you will be ready to take for a few hours. If you frequent the restroom, or will sit in for specific lots, take a seat at the back.

When holding your paddle, be sure to have it seen and acknowledged. Be mindful, a jerk of the hand, unattended, may put you in a spot that would cost you! Jaime suggests that you keep to your place and avoid unnecessary gestures that may get the eye of the auctioneer. Keep your paddle to yourself unless you are ready to buy. Imagine if you made the wrong move during a multi-million peso foray!!!

Also, avoid too much small talk as it may distract your fellow buyers. The lot that you are looking at buying may have slipped by you! Finally, if you must get up, do it after the gavel or “sold” is called.

You need not sit through the whole auction and may want to have a smoke or a bite, but remember, be mindful of the ongoing transaction.


Know how much you will spend.

It isn’t gambling, but when the minimum bids could be in the millions as it will this weekend, keep in mind what you are willing to part with. You’ve earned it right, but sometimes, there could be buyers’ remorse. Either way, be set in how much money you are willing to spend for that to-die-for piece. Also, rarely, some people tend to drive the pricing up only to help the owner or peeve a buyer who will end up with it. I know it may sound tres-declasse but it does happen.


Settle up per the house rules.

Since transactions are held in the highest honor, settle the bill per the agreed terms of the house. As they say, be ready to pay.


Finally, like all events, mind your manners. Be mindful, watch your footprint, and be courteous. The auctions are now part of the social whirl we are engulfed in. Remember to understand clearly what you are going into, and be kind. It will and has been an art-filled week, let us be happy for the renewed sense of pride in Philippine Art, and look forward to having a piece of history in your home.