GODDESSES: The P20 Million Pièce de Résistance at Leon Gallery’s Mid-Year Auction

“Goddesses” Commissioned by Pablo Bustamante Jr. from Ang Kiukok, Mauro Malang Santos, and Hugo Yonzon, Jr. in July 1974.
Source: Leon Gallery

MANILA, Philippines — A certain piece worth P20,000,000 stirs up the local art scene as Leon Gallery holds its upcoming Spectacular Mid-Year Auction on Saturday, June 20.

Goddesses, a collaboration between Ang Kiukok, Mauro Malang Santos, and Hugo Yonzon Jr. in July 1974, is a 72” x 144” (183 cm x 366 cm) oil on panel orchestrated by publishing patriarch, Pablo Bustamante Jr. The panorama is a 45-year old artwork resulting from an untold story of elements that tickle a man’s interest — women and poker.

The mural begins with Ang Kiukok’s universe of narrow waistlines, curvaceous limbs and flowing dark hair — barebreasted avatars descending gracefully to earth, floating among the shapes that are infinitely recognizable as Ang’s whose style is clearly influenced by Spanish painter Pablo Picasso. Hugo Yonzon’s panel depicts the first man, a bronzed Filipino, as he cradles the first woman, made from his rib — Adam and Eve entwined in the Garden of Eden, still oblivious to the forbidden fruit. Panel 2 thus portrays the unity of the West and the East, North and South as well as the dream and the reality. Finally, Malang Santos creates an image of a vista of houses (one inhabited by a happy coupling), a fetching maiden acknowledging a compliment from a jeepney driver, the word “Hello”, a colorful matriarch that could be a church’s dome but also a busy mother. A theme of sunset tones on an endless summer day makes his contribution immensely appealing. The masterpiece is indeed a testament to the artists’ brotherhood, how each considered the other, and how their styles blended harmoniously with both style and vision.

The Untold Story

“The year is 1974,” Pablo Bustamante III recalls. The country is abuzz as Manila hosts the biggest beauty pageant in the world. It is, after all, the hometown of Miss Universe 1973 Margarita Moran who won the prestigious pageant in Greece the year before. For the first time in its 22-year history, the pageant was being staged in Asia, specifically Manila. The streets were decorated with the Sari Manok, a mythical bird from Maranao that symbolized power, wealth and prestige, the chosen official logo of the contest. 

It was the time Pablo Bustamante Jr. invited his friends, the three sought-after Filipino artists Ang Kiukok, Hugo Yonzon Jr., and Mauro ‘Malang’ Santos for regular poker nights at the family den in the basement of the Bustamante residence. According to Pablo III, Malang Santos was an old family friend and Ang Kiukok was a former acquaintance of his father. Yonzon, on the other hand, did illustrations for the family corporation, Bustamante Press Inc.

A poster of a joint exhibit by the three masters entitled “Trio” in 1973.
Source: PhilStar

The year prior, the three artists staged a show called “Tatlo” at Gallery One, prompting Pablo Jr. to intentionally choose them. The purpose of the invite was two-fold, Pablo III said. First was poker, second was art. Pablo Jr. wanted to fill a blank wall in the basement that was once a large glass pane through which one could view the swimmers from the basement. Unfortunately, water from the pool leaked around the glass, prompting the space to be renovated with concrete that left the basement with an empty wall.

Each artist was given plywood cut to six feet in height and was requested by Pablo Jr. to paint during their poker game breaks. Pablo III said he could not recall nothing of the process except a few instances when he would hear boisterous laughter from the poker buddies by the stairwell leading to the basement. “They must have found humor in the subject and the various elements of the paintings” he said. Elements such as the female body or their favorite nightclub “Amihan” along Roxas Boulevard might have tickled their funny bones. As they say, ‘boys will be boys.’

“I do not recall how long these ‘poker-cum-painting’ sessions lasted” says Pablo III. He distinctly remembers, however, going down the basement one day to find the paintings joined together to form a 6 x 12 foot mural, framed and hung on the wall. He admits not having much interest in art but “was in awe seeing that mural on that wall by the basement bar.”

Years later, Pablo III noticed the masterpiece was unsigned. His father reveals that during one of their poker sessions, Kiukok and Malang had an argument which was highly talked about in the local art circle, the reason their ‘poker-cum-painting’ sessions ended. Sometime after, Malang and Kiukok eventually mended their disagreement and became friends again.

By the turn of the decade, the three artists were gaining their respective prominence in the local art scene. Ang Kiukok, Mauro Malang Santos and Hugo Yonzon Jr. belonged to a special tribe of artists formed and honed by the Philippine newspaper scene. All three were early members of the legendary Philippine Art Gallery (PAG), the first art gallery to thoroughly — and exclusively — embrace and support the cause of abstract art. Yonzon, however, was the least visible of the trio because his works would be snapped up by his following before he could even organize his exhibits.

Of the three artists that worked on the panorama, only Malang was around to sign his contribution since Yonzon and Kiukok have already passed away when the Bustamantes decided to have the piece signed. They brought Malang’s panel to his residence at West Gallery for his signature before the artist passed on in 2016. 

Leon Gallery’s director, Jaime Ponce De Leon, welcomes all enthusiasts to this year’s Spectacular Mid-Year Auction this month of June as we celebrate independence and continue to fight for our freedom from COVID 19 and the economic restraints it brought with it. De Leon celebrates brotherhood during this times saying “none could be more symbolic than a three-way collaboration between Ang Kiukok, Mauro “Malang” Santos and Hugo Yonzon Jr. — and their longtime comrade-in-arms, Pablo Bustamante Jr., patriarch of the famous Bustamante Press.”

“Collabs are always fantastic — but the combination of Ang Kiukok, Mauro ‘Malang’ Santos and Hugo Yonzon is extraordinary.”

Jaime Ponce de Leon, Director of leon gallery

View the Leon Gallery’s Spectacular Mid-Year Auction 2020 catalogue here.

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