Beyond the procurement and valuation of art pieces, an auction house can be a veritable repository of important art that have been hidden from the public view. These auctions contain not just rare and beautiful works but also pieces that are a reflection of a country's rich heritage and history.
Measuring an astounding 90x900 cm, Mga Kiti is one of two monumental artworks of National Artist H.R. Ocampo, the other being a tapestry, Genesis, which is part of the collection of the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Is it the largest piece of important Philippine Art to date? “Arguably, there might be others,” shares Richie Lerma, Director, Salcedo Auctions. “But, by a significant artist? You'd be hard-pressed to find something else that would challenge the size of Mga Kiti.”
Rendered as acrylic on tetoron, the piece depicts various stages of undulating biomorphic lifeforms in warm tones of yellows, ochres, and crimsons. It was commissioned by its original owner back in 1978, the year that the artist passed away, easily making it the last masterpiece finished by the national artist.
“We haven't had the privilege of being able to speak with the original owner and determine what the motivations were for comissioning such a painting,” reveals Richie, “However, we do know, at least by looking at the art work in terms of its subject matter, the patron of Ocampo was looking to rekindle a certain style of the artist which was notably present in his works from the late 1950s to early 60s.”
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But, why keep such an important piece hidden, for nearly half a century? “The first consideration is that, given the painting's scale, it is not easy to display,” reveals Richie, “The owner's own home simply didn't have the wall space for it.”
Salcedo Auctions was contacted by the third owner of the artwork on April 2017, having been familiar with the establishment and the kind of collections they have worked with previously. Richie adds that the owner shared that it was high time for him to organize his affairs and passing on such a treasure was paramount in his mind. Thus, Richie and the current owner began the intricate negotiations that would allow Mga Kiti to be part of Salcedo Auctions' event, The Well Appointed Life, a series of four auctions in September 2017 of carefully curated pieces of rare art and collectibles culled from various sources.
Careful attention to Mga Kiti's storage kept the painting vibrant, looking almost like it had left the studio, considering that it is a painting that is 40 years old. “We haven't touched it at all when it was entrusted to us,” shares Richie. The patina of age added a distinct characteristic to the piece, arguably enhancing it further. “You will see at the very end of painting that the cloth has obviously aged, but in a very even way."
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While the nature of his job allows Richie exposure to significant art pieces, having such a work unfurled in front of him was an indescribable experience altogether. “Mga Kiti showcases Ocampo's immense artisitry for his craft and his mastery of color. It's a very nuanced piece. I was already forewarned that I would be seeing a great piece,” he shares, “But, nothing truly prepares you for seeing something like that for the first time.”
For inquiries, contact Salcedo Auctions through [email protected] or call +6326594094 , 823.0956 , and +63917.894.6550
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Photographs by the author