Despite record-breaking sales of paintings, no visual artist was named National Artist in 2022

From opened doors to shattered records, 2022 has been kind to the visual arts; post-Covid, 2023 will possibly see more records broken.

“We’re back!” was the most overused sentence in the art industry in 2022 and for very good reasons. After two years of online events, museums reopened their doors, galleries and auction houses were once again holding in-person events, and the public was finally able to see art up close and personal.

The biggest reopening of the year was the refurbished Ayala Museum. Makati City’s premier art destination closed its doors in June 2019—a year before the pandemic hit. But plans for this much-needed renovation were derailed when the lockdowns began in 2020. Employing work-arounds and new-normal adjustments, they were able to hold a soft opening in December 2021. The museum, however, only fully opened its doors to the public in February 2022.

Photo by Ayala Museum

The Diorama Experience—its most popular attraction which depicts the history of the Philippines—has been refreshed. A new gallery was unveiled dedicated to the artist Fernando Zobel. And a Digital Gallery of eight giant screens—the first of its kind in the Philippines—was also introduced.

Galleries also held opening-night events for their various exhibitions. But there is one gallery that will never be the same again. Avellana Art Gallery mourned the passing of its founder, Albert Avellana. A force in the Philippine contemporary art scene, Avellana championed visual artists by providing opportunities for their works to be seen, advocating for their rights, and setting the bar high for the best practices in the industry. At the time of his passing, he was also the president of the Museum Foundation of the Philippines, Inc.

Other galleries, however, continue to soldier on. The return of Art Fair Philippines gave many the opportunity to reconnect with old collectors and meet new ones. The hybrid event combined installations at Ayala Triangle Gardens and selected galleries with online events and transactions.

Forty-six galleries from the Philippines and abroad participated in the fair which truly set the tone for the return of in-person gallery activities. This includes the auction houses who have successfully shifted from online bidding to safe, face-to-face events.

Indeed, the business of art is back and in full force. Two of the country’s most well-known auction houses —Salcedo and Leon—have been reporting record-breaking sales.

ANITA MAGSAYSAY-HO (1914 – 2012). Women Fishing. Photo by Salcedo Auctions

Salcedo Auction noted that a substantial number of their lots have sold for over 100% of their published estimates. Among the most notable sales for 2022 was Anita Magsaysay-Ho’s Women Fishing (1971) which sold for P26,864,000, the highest ever for that particular series. A 1978 modernist bench by National Artist Napoleon Abueva also broke the artist’s record when it sold for P3,036,800. Likewise, record-breaking sales were reported for Lee Aguinaldo and Justin Nuyda for pieces sold for P2,569,600 and P9,344,000 respectively.

Leon Gallery boasted seven sold-out shows in 2022, namely Mark Nicdao, Marrie Saplad, Demi Padua, JAR, Rosario Bitanga, Cedrick Dela Paz, and Ian Anderson.

But the biggest news was the whopping P57.2 million or roughly over $1 million sale of Ronald Ventura’s 2003 piece entitle Blind Mechanism. The artist’s previous record was also transacted through Leon Gallery in 2014 when his Crack in the Hull was sold for P25.6 million.

Ronald Ventura. Blind Mechanism, 2003. Photo by Leon Gallery

The event—León Gallery Kingly Treasures Auction—was held on the first week of December and broke several other records as well. Ramon Orlina’s Mt. Makiling II sold for P15,768,000, the highest not just for the artist but for a Filipino sculptor as well. Danilo Dalena, Emmanual Garibay and Bernardo Pacquing all set their personal best in auction sales when their pieces Quiapo, Kasama and Angel were sold for P18,688,000, P6,424,000, and P3,504,000 respectively.

While the artists were being recognized commercially, 2022 marked a rare time when a visual artist was not named for the National Artist Awardees. Rumor has it that the panel was deeply divided among three hopefuls. With no one budging, a consensus could not be reached and no name was put forward for final consideration.

The only other time that a National Artist for Visual Arts was not named was during the tumultuous period between 1987 and 1989 when then President Corazon Aquino was dealing with epic debt, a challenging economy, and coup attempts against the government. Giants of Philippine art Honorata Dela Rama, Antonio Buenaventura, Lucrecia Urtula and Lucrecia Kasilag were named separately during this time.

But in 1990, a batch of National Artists were named with painter Cesar Legaspi included on the list. Since then, a visual artist has always been included until 2022.

But while the rest of the art world has been proclaiming that they’re back, the Cultural Center of the Philippines announced its closure. The country’s premier artistic institution shut its doors temporarily at the end of 2022 for a much-needed renovation. The CCP is expected to stay closed for two to three years leaving visual artists without access to its major galleries particularly the Bulwagang Juan Luna.

And as the world moves past Covid and lockdowns, 2023 will possibly see more records broken. Indeed, the visual arts are back!

The new lifestyle.