MAGNIFICART: AUCTION FOR A CAUSE
By Ana de Villa – Singson
It was 4 months into the pandemic, during the July 2020 AAA Board of Trustees Zoom meeting, when the idea for an online auction was born. The prospects for raising funds were not good. Our trusty and reliable Golf Tournament and Christmas Bazaar, both steady annual fund generators for AAA, had been cancelled. How could one play golf and shop physically when Covid had just reared its ugly head and people had retreated to their safe enclaves? Our coffers were bleeding but so were the mission schools and partner organizations that AAA had supported throughout the years. There were dire stories of scholarships being defunded, communities getting sick, desperate scrambling for computers and online facilities so that education, which has always been at the heart of our advocacies, could go on. I remember Chinkey Velayo, AAA President, asking: “ Can someone think of a project? Anybody? Somebody? “ I remember that moment. I remember asking myself why I raised my virtual hand emoji and said “ How about an online art auction?” I should have known. She who suggests, must see it through. And suddenly, I was the newly-minted head of the online art auction.
It was not, as they say, my first rodeo. As a former Trustee of Ballet Philippines, I had worked hand-in-hand with Margie Moran Florendo and successfully raised funds through an art auction held in the former Arts in Park in BGC. But this had to be conducted online, a completely different genre. The pandemic also limited mobility, contact and much-needed networking. I needed recruits and soon a formidable team was formed. Chin Joson, AAA’s very own tech guru was roped in to develop the auction site. AAA’s Pilar Villanueva, Tessa Mortensen and Sabrina Panlilio brought with them the vast experience of having organized AAA’s wildly successful 2019 Golf Tournament. I called, cajoled and begged a classmate and dear friend, Abigail Chan, to join us. Abbie and her husband are renown in the art world and no less than Sotheby’s comes calling on them. At a glance, Abbie can tell an authentic painting from a counterfeit one, a truly handy talent when a HR Ocampo came our way for the auction. After glancing at it briefly on the computer screen, Abbie said “ That can’t be real. He didn’t do impasto at the time ( the painting was dated ).” Abbie was later proven right by art authenticators! And since none of us had mounted an online auction or any online event at all, we called in an experienced hand, Pin Guingona, who had recently organized SpectaculART, the online art auction of Sanctuario de San Antonio.
We needed a name. And because we were hanging by a prayer, we called the auction, MagnificART, a dedication to the Blessed Mother’s canticle. It was a supplication too, to help us in this pioneering event for AAA.
We needed items to auction. A dear friend was selling her deceased mother’s estate and I found a treasure trove of not just paintings but also religious items and houseware. Seeing this largesse, we realigned our auction. We were now going to auction off items of ART, HOME and RELIGION. Then, after working the phones, we had no less than Hans Brumann and the scion of one of the large jewelry notables wanting to join too. We added our last category, JEWELRY.
Our selection was shaping up nicely. We had items by National Artists Abdulmari Imao and Cesar Legaspi, by masters Ibarra de la Rosa, Juvenal Sanso, SYM a.k.a. Sofronio Ylanan Mendoza, by stalwarts Anita Magsaysay-Ho, Lydia Velasco, Onib Olmedo, Angel Cacnio, Ferdinand Cacnio, Jose Tense Ruiz, Toym Imao, Isabel Diaz Marcial plus many more pieces by luminaries of the art world. We had such valuable pieces that we started outpricing ourselves. We had agreed beforehand that the starting bid price for the MagnificART items would not exceed Php 250,000 ( two hundred fifty thousand pesos). So we partnered with auction heavyweights, Salcedo Auctions and Leon Gallery, for our more established pieces. I remember having butterflies in my stomach for the first Salcedo auction. I skipped breakfast and lunch; I was that nervous! We had around 20 pieces on auction, featured on the online catalogue and stamped with the logo of AAA. Via Viber, I was giving the other AAA Trustees a blow by blow account of the online auction. Universal celebration, our first item sold! Then our second, our third! We sold 14 of our 20 pieces that day. Among them was a landscape painting by Romulo Galicano . Another of his paintings from the same series was also on auction by an unknown seller. But our painting was the one that sold! I like to think that the buyer, when deciding between the two very similar pieces, saw our AAA logo and opted for ours. There is equity in the AAA logo and the good deeds it stands for!
Heartened by the success of our alliances with Salcedo Auctions and Leon Gallery, we had to buckle down for our own online auction. First, we needed an auction site. With Chin Joson, our Chief Technical Officer, leading the charge; the site was built. We spent countless nights, with Zoom meetings going on from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. in the morning. Chin would fidget with widgets and plug-ins and figure out the technology to actualize the page designs I would draw on my Ipad. During those all-nighters, Pilar and I were trained to become instant encoders. Working in the backroom of the auction site, we uploaded hundreds of pages to the flipbooks that later fascinated auction viewers. Those flipbooks were the closest simulation of actual catalogues that we could configure. Designed to look just like a book, you could turn the pages to view the images and because it was online, you could magnify them as well; the wonders of modern technology!
But what is an auction if not for the delights it offers? With 2 months to solicit items for consignment, the MagnificART team went into overdrive. We called galleries, artists, invaded attics, called friends, sought consigners. Many responded. We curated over 350 pieces for final inclusion. But what truly touched our hearts was the magnanimity of the Assumption alumnae. We had alumnae artists like Joanna Ongpin Duarte, Karen Fabie Concepcion, Pandy Singian, Lisa de Leon Zayco, Lanelle Abueva Fernando, Elizabeth Fernandez Campos, Corrie Quirino , donating their own creations. We had alumnae like Verona Agustines, Betina Osmena, Pilar Villanueva, Tessa Mortensen ,Abbie Chan, Mert Loinas, AC-Kubo and I donating auction pieces in full. And when we needed to raise more funds and asked for name sponsorships, over a hundred alumnae responded, providing much needed additional funds for our mission schools. Truly , the heart of plaid was beating throughout this auction!
November 6 – 8, 2020! The auction was live and ongoing. We had to monitor the site for 24 hours, verifying bids, weeding out joy bidders, fielding questions, calling family and friends to participate and bid, even entertaining calls on how to strategize to bag a coveted auction lot. (Our sage advise was to bid and bid and bid till the end!). Tessa, Brin, Pin, Abbie worked the day shifts, while night owls Chin, Pilar and I prowled the nights. There were bidding wars going on! Most riveting were the bids for the ensemble period piece paintings of Joanna Ongpin Duarte, with 2 very dedicated bidders adamantly refusing to back down throughout the 3 days of the auction. I got embroiled in a bidding war over a set of crystal glasses that my mom had “ordered” me to bring home! So intense was my guarding of those crystal glasses, that my other bids floundered! (Mom was ecstatic though when I brought her those glasses!). There were bidding wars for the Ibarra de la Rosas and skirmishes by multiple bidders were waged throughout the site. But the one we were keenly watching with bated breath was the intense battle waged for “Dusk”. An Ayka Go painting, it is a meticulous seascape peeping tantalizingly through torn and creased Manila paper rendering replete with layers of messages and meaning. Soliciting this painting was a coup engineered by Abbie. A Holy Grail of paintings, Go’s waiting line exceeds a year and collectors who couldn’t find her in the open market circled our auction. Each bid for it jumped by tens of thousands, but we knew that the real bidding would happen in the last final seconds before the auction officially closed. In the end, it boiled down to who clicked the bid button at the very last second as the clock wound down.
MagnificART raised record funds for AAA. And it’s wonderful secret is the TEAM WORK that went behind it.
TEAM MagnificART rallied to the cause! Refusing to spend on operational expenses, we set up our own studios and took photos of auction lots ourselves. Wanting to save on delivery fees, Tessa, Brin, Pin and I took over the packing and delivery of lots to winning bidders. Erring on the cautious side, auction lots were even sanitized with industrial-grade light equipment before being being carted in and out of our makeshift storage in my den. Even after the auction, the team continued to sell unsold items via private sales, chasing every single lead. Each team member also took over the tasks of sending out notices on winning bids, drafting invoices for payment, contacting consigners and winning bidders, tracking deliveries and payments linked through an omnibus flow chart that we were all plugged into.
TEAM AAA rallied to the cause! When the MagnificART Team created a multi-stage marketing and publicity campaign, each AAA member was assigned batches of alumnae to personally contact again, and Again…and AGAIN! AAA Trustees also went all out in soliciting name sponsorships for the event!
TEAM Assumption Alumnae rallied to the cause! When we knocked on their doors, alumnae of all batches donated their paintings, their items and came bidding generously for a cause!
It takes a village. Despite the pandemic, under the most difficult of circumstances and during the direst hour of need, TEAM ASSUMPTION pulled through!
In ending, let me express profuse and profound thanks to the MagnificART team. They gave over 100% (statistically impossible but true nonetheless!). And to our ASSUMPTION family…there are no words. Know only that your donation or your bid brought joy and hope and transformed lives across our mission schools throughout the country. Know too that we memorialize you in these pages and in our hearts always.
Till the next online activity…THANK YOU!
P.S. We had a rich and wide selection of beautiful items in Magnificart. See some of the pieces curated as editorial picks by each of the MagnificART team members below!
Proceeds from winning bids funded scholars, purchased computers, provided lodging for missionaries, helped in the continuing development of educators, provided against hunger and sickness. From North to South, your generosity was felt in Mission Schools across the nation. Thank you for participating in MagnificART…an auction for a cause!