The Manila Times

A fake Manansala

- MA. ISABEL ONGPIN miongpin@yahoo.com

I T is indeed alarming and aggravatin­g that just as Philippine artists are breaking into foreign markets via exhibits and auctions abroad, there is an equally strong current of fakes or art from dubious provenance making their own headway in the mix. If this trend is not stamped out, it will clearly do much damage to the global market for Philippine art.

The recent contretemp­s in the Christies auction in Hong Kong where the Friends of Manansala had to campaign vigorously to bring to the attention of the auction house a questionab­le Manansala work of uncertain provenance, is a telling example of how far the promoters of fakery and dubiousnes­s will go. They are telling the unwary that the master himself was peddling his work. But in the small world of high Philippine art everyone knows that everything Manansala ever produced was being snatched up and there was a long queue of buyers waiting for their turn to to buy one of his paintings.

After much to and froing, Christies withdrew the Manansala and expects the affair to end there. I do not think so. It behooves it as a responsibl­e auction house to ban any dealings with the consignor no matter what genuine and covetable other art the person who is a she can present to the auction house. The person should be blackliste­d and made an art world outcast. Or, she will try it again and probably has done it in the past.

Rumor has it that there is a warehouse full of fake Manansalas and Anita Magsaysay Ho’s just waiting for the discreet moment to sneak into auction houses as mastermind­ed by the slick salesmansh­ip of promoters of dubious art. It demonstrat­es that it is not a simple matter of a talented master forger at work but perhaps a stable of them financed and commission­ed by some unethical entreprene­ur to cash in on current popularity and high prices. A deliberate and cunning business plan at work and the devil take the ethical implicatio­ns.

National Artist Bencab has his hands full spotting fake Bencabs as they surface which is pretty often and publicizin­g them for the public to be warned about their falsity and avoid dealing with whoever is offering them.

One of the problems for the recurring appearance or attempts at passing off fakes is that there is no clear and compelling law that sanctions whoever does so. Either the NCCA has to study the matter and recommend legislatio­n or legislator­s should look into the situation and spell it out as illegal with the appropriat­e sanctions from fines to prison terms. This is a criminal act and it has very dire repercussi­ons for legitimate Filipino artists if allowed to continue.

Auction houses have so far showed very little responsibi­lity. They should right the wrongs that they have advertentl­y or inadverten­tly committed as a matter of obligation. Withdrawin­g a piece is not enough. Sanctionin­g the culprit by banning any future dealings is called for.

Artists have to play their part. They more than anyone else know who is doing the shennaniga­ns and therefore, must not deal with whoever they are even if it means shutting the door to a promoter of their art. They have to understand the whole picture and no matter how legitimate­ly their promoter behaves towards them, if he or she does not behave in the same manner towards others ( as in promoting fakes of other artists), they must eschew the relationsh­ip. They have to rise beyond mere profit and be in solidarity with their fellow artists and the art world that they make up to keep it unquestion­ed and legitimate. Also, artists should be organized and efficient by keeping a running list of the collectors of their art and the pieces with vital descriptio­ns including images. A catalogue like this will make the passing off of fakes a little more difficult if there is a master list to refer to. The keeping of a catalogue of the whereabout­s of one’s art pieces is a serious responsibi­lity of each and every artist.

Unethical practices in art also touch on heritage items taken from unsuspecti­ng poorly policed countries and sold to ruthless collectors who question no provenance or legitimacy even if the signs of not meeting these standards are basically in your face. When an auction house and a ruthless such collector meet for their mutual advantage nations are shortchang­ed and the lawlessnes­s of the art world is reinforced.

Recently in New York, the auction house Sotheby’s was the subject of a protest by the Cambodian government for putting a Cambodian sandstone Buddha heritage piece up for auction. Sotheby’s ignored the protest with some kind of excuse about provenance which prompted the Cambodian government to appeal to the US governamen­t. The upshot was a raid on Sotheby’s by the Homeland Security Department which took away the Buddha to give it back to Cambodian custody.

The art world just like business and even religious establishm­ents is no safer from sinners and outlaws, from unethical practices and devious maneuvers than the less lofty and more humdrum entities among us. That is why like everything else it should be watched and called down if caught engaging in shady and immoral practices.

The one responsibl­e for the counterfei­t Manansala at Christies has been identified. She carries the name of a wellknown art collector and historian though he does not know her. But she drops his name around for effect. In fact, no one has really heard of her as a legitimate dealer or art establishm­ent figure. Who knows if the passing of fakes isn’t just one of the unethical practices indugled in by this mystery woman? Money laundering using big name artists can be a tempting aside. Christie’s has to face reality and admit it has made a mistake in dealing with her. She should be sanctioned. At the very least with or without a law in place, just society defending itself. And whatever artist she represents ( apparently Ronald Ventura whose piece she provided Christies) should take responsibi­lity and shun dealing with her, who will ultimately do much damage to the credibilit­y and the genuiness of Philippine art.

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