As a young boy in the late 1960s, Carlos Siguion-Reyna remembers at least five oils already up on the walls of their home: an untitled Antonio Garcia Llamas work, featuring three nude women in the middle of lush foliage; another Garcia Llamas portrait of his mother; an expressionistic work of a bridge in Venice; and two low-key lighted portraits of older Filipino women handed down to his parents from a previous generation.
Time was when works of art were collected to be viewed, and every artwork had a story behind it. Each one bearing a different meaning for the art collector, they were private pleasures, extensions of their owners’ true selves. Leonardo and Armida Siguion-Reyna did not look at themselves as collectors with a set of academic criteria or traditional foundations of art movements. Armida was attracted to works where she sensed a “voice” or a strong artistic personality leaping out of the canvas. Simply said, she had to love the artwork, and they were to be viewed and enjoyed; there was always a connection to the art they bought.
They belonged to a breed of collectors enticed by craft, technique, composition, aura, and a story. It was a collection connected by what curators and dealers today refer to as the “soft factor,” the collecting mind behind it. And this, I believe, is why the Leon Gallery curators call their annual September auction the Magnificent September Auction. The Siguion-Reyna Collection joins a formidable mix of lots from different periods in the country’s art history; they are major artworks that were acquired on their own artistic merits.
Giving insights into his mother’s psyche, early influences, and what the Siguion-Reyna collection evokes, Carlos talks about his mother Armida: “Hemmed in by the traditional rules of a strict lawyer-father but encouraged by the supportive and warm guidance of a music-loving mother, she learned to confidently assert herself early on, and with a determined will, check what was out there. As a young girl, these explorations sometimes got her into trouble. Once, she wondered about the texture and make of a sharkskin suit hanging in the utility area. To satisfy the curiosity, she found a razor blade with which she slowly slit the suit jacket into strips. Her visiting uncle was furious: he bundled her into a sack which he then suspended from a beam, amidst all her kicking and yelling. (It was a different time.)
“Later, as a classical music student in Long Island, New York, she stole away from her Catholic school to try out for a Broadway musical production holding auditions in Manhattan. When the nuns found out, they contacted her father, who soon ordered her home. She returned to Manila with an even greater hunger to express herself through music, story, and drama.
‘At a time when it was considered bakya to sing traditional Filipino songs on TV, my mother found her mission by setting up Aawitan Kita’
“She started her career performing in opera, which led to explorations in straight plays. Then, in 1969-1970, when it was considered bakya to sing traditional Filipino songs on television, she found her mission by setting up Aawitan Kita and highlighting Philippine music and culture on free TV for more than three decades. A little later, she rekindled her earlier instincts for straight drama by acting in and producing narrative film and television works. Her experiences in state censorship on these projects solidified her stand for freedom of expression.
“These are a few of the similar personal and career challenges that developed an appreciation for reflection, for dramatic tension, for an assertive identity and confident personal stamp…qualities which she appreciated and found attractive when she recognized them in the works of other artists, including a number of those in her collection.
“Her preferences ranged from traditional pieces to modern figurative (and sometimes abstract) art. She liked 17th century Dutch art, such as Rembrandt’s group portraits (e.g., Syndics of the Drapers’ Guild, The Night Watch), and Pieter de Hooch’s domestic interior scenes, with the outside life glimpsed through those open doorways. She was taken by Botticelli’s Primavera, and Georges Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte. Along with their other qualities, all these pieces stimulated her story sense: they invited her to listen in to what their subjects might be saying or thinking. She was drawn to Fernando Amorsolo and Anita Magsaysay-Ho and regularly featured their works in Aawitan Kita, her own musical-cultural contribution to the national heritage that ran on Philippine television for 35 years. Through many years, my parents’ collection gradually got to include pieces by BenCab, Cesar Legaspi, Juvenal Sanso, Malang Santos, Edgar Doctor, and Romulo Olazo.”
Carlos adds: “Major works included in the auction are Fernando Amorsolo’s Lavanderas, which hung in my parents’ bedroom. I believe its nostalgic tone connected my mother to memories of her youth in Malabon and—along with similar pastoral moments in other Philippine paintings, dance, and music—constantly inspired and sustained her mission for traditional Philippine music and culture through several decades of Aawitan Kita.
‘A gift of the artist to my father, Napoleon Abueva’s sculpture, Code of Kalantiaw, held a special place in the hearts of my parents’
“A personal gift of the artist to my father, Napoleon Abueva’s sculpture, Code of Kalantiaw, held a special place in the hearts of my parents, who hosted a few creative artist sessions from the 1970s to the 1990s.
“I believe the mysterious feel of Juvenal Sanso’s Midnight Hues attracted my mother into a dreamlike world. I recall she was similarly much drawn to the earlier-mentioned Untitled Nude featuring three women against a background of foliage, painted by Antonio Garcia Llamas. Since it was acquired in the 1960s, that piece occupied a major display space in my parents’ living room. When I was about 10 years old, my mother laughed when she caught me practically hypnotized by Untitled Nude…. staring at it for too long.
‘When I was about 10, my mother laughed when she caught me practically hypnotized by Untitled Nude…. staring at it for too long’
“The other works which my parents were fond of and which are included in the auction are: Romeo Tabuena’s Niña con Mariposas, featuring a young girl playing with colorful butterflies, and Oscar Zalameda’s Untitled Cubist rendering of a figure with a pot.”
The artists in the collection stand at the foundation of Philippine Modern Art, and hark back to a time when drawing mattered and shock value wasn’t so highly regarded—a time when art and craftsmanship were one and the same.
Fernando Amorsolo’s Lavanderas highlights the nobility of ordinary folk with a masterful wielding of light and shade. It is his technical brilliance that remains with us, and in the end we are richer for it.
Benefits from encountering artworks in memorable collections are sometimes overlooked. Art doesn’t require any kind of a correct answer; you read what you want from it, if you just slow down and learn to look. Buy, hang, enjoy, and live with it; don’t overturn the very essence of what art is supposed to do.
But then again, we’ve passed the junction as far as art and value are concerned, and changes in thinking and attitudes about assets are now hallmarks of the art market in these times.
For Leon Gallery’s The Magnificent September Auction, works may now be previewed until September 10, 9 am-7 pm, while the auction will take place on September 11, 2 pm.