‘Objects of study’: Marcoses art treasure and ill-gotten wealth on display in the Philippines

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MANILA, July 17 (Philippines Daily Inquirer/ANN): In an unprecedented move, the government agency responsible for recovering the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses and their associates has opened an exhibition of some of the sequestered artworks of the family of late deposed dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

The Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) has temporarily loaned selected works of art from Italy, the former Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia, which are among the works of art traced to the Marcos family, at the Vargas Museum of the University of the Philippines. (TOP) Diliman.

The exhibition, which opened on July 12, includes paintings on canvas, glass and wood. Others were those made in lacquer, the medium of egg tempera and copper and the ornament of gold leaf.

In the central part of the “Objects of Study” exhibition, 36 lacquerware from 207 plates, lipstick cases and jewelry boxes that had been seized by the PCGG over the years since its creation in 1986 after the revolution of Edsa popular power that led the Marcoses out of Malacañang.

“To study is to learn”

These items have been hand painted with miniature scenes from legends, old village life, fairy tales and Russian landscapes – exuding the “excess, identity and prestige” of “illegal” possessions of the dictator.

“These are objects that are the subject of studies. To study is to investigate, to seek, to investigate with a view to exploring the unknown, revisiting the familiar, grasping the delicate, even inviting misunderstanding,” the museum explained in a note on one of its walls.

“It’s a chance to probe the preconceived, to question what’s widely held, and finally to make objects sensible: felt and thoughtfully imagined to mean something else,” he said.

After the 1986 revolt, the PCGG found evidence that Marcos and his wife, Imelda, had acquired works by European masters like Van Gogh, Picasso and Monet that cost millions of dollars, well beyond their legal income.

“Among those sequestered was found at the Metropolitan Museum in Manila – designed by Imelda in 1976 as a site to exhibit non-Filipino art that would ‘raise the Filipino people’s awareness of world cultures'” , the museum said.

“Since then a number of paintings, including those of Botticelli, Raphael and Titian, had been sold by the PCGG at auction, with the proceeds going to land reform. But some pieces remained,” he added.

altar room

The “objects” of the exhibition are works of art made for worship or commissioned by patrons, some created by well-known artists and others “supposedly by peasants”.

The most remarkable, placed in front of the lacquer, is the “Altar piece of 5 saints” around 1330 by Lippo Memmi, an Italian painter from Siena.

Memmi’s work consists of two distinct parts: a lower predella which represents certain stories from the Bible and an intersection with two fixed wings on each side where the five saints are painted.

The left and right wings of the museum display “Yugoslavian Naif paintings”, which depict “ideals of social criticism and realism”.

According to the museum note, the first generation of the Hlebine school (or Yugoslav naive painters) encouraged the abandonment of paintings that depicted rural life and poverty.

The works of Franjo Klopotan and Duro Belosa showed visions of folklore, fantasy and surrealism, but for some artists like Ivan Lackovic Croata, Mirko Horvat and Peter Grgec still life images prevailed.

“The exhibition responds to the need to situate these cultural objects in a social context, to productively appreciate and accept the levels of difficulty presented by the PCGG art collection in its involvement of a story complex politics,” the museum said.

“They are entangled in the matrix of refinement and excess, of identity, prestige, taste, power and beauty, development, nationalism and internationalism, acquisition, cold war, third world, martial law, new society, people power,” he said.

In dispute

The museum noted that the artworks in the collection were still the subject of litigation and that searches for the sequestered property continued.

When it opened, the public was prohibited from taking photos of the artworks, but since Saturday photography and videos for ‘educational, research, publicity, press and catalog purposes’ have been permitted .

The PCGG has recovered 15 paintings worth over 400 million pesos while more than 800 paintings at home and abroad are still in dispute, according to previously released reports and documents.

In 2019, the Sandiganbayan declared 896 works of art as ill-gotten and “illegally acquired” and ordered the Marcos to either return them or locate their locations.

More than 100 works of art, including works by Van Gogh, Picasso, Monet, Rembrandt and Michelangelo have been reported as missing by the PCGG. He estimated that these missing paintings were worth around $300-500 million in 2016.

Some of the paintings were found to have been sold on the black market, including Monet’s ‘Water Lilies’ which was sold by Vilma Bautista, the former first lady’s assistant, for $32 million to a London gallery in 2010. Bautista was later convicted of conspiring to sell the painting and tax evasion by a US court.

Three other works of art seized by US authorities in Bautista were auctioned off by Christie’s in November 2018. The paintings, which fetched $4.31 million, include Alfred Sisley’s ‘Langland Bay’, ‘The church at Vétheuil” by Claude Monet and “The cypress by Albert Marquet”. by Djenan Sidi Said.

A few other paintings have been seen exhibited in the residences of the Marcos family. – Philippines Daily Inquirer/ANN

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