According to the Philippine Daily Inquirer a few weeks back, lawyer Fernando Topacio claimed that paintings of young contemporary artists were being used by jueteng lords to launder their profits abroad.
He identified Ronald Ventura, Mark Justiniani, and Elmer Borlongan as among the most popular artists for this purpose, and he claimed further that the practice partly explained steady rise in the price of artworks by younger Filipino artists in the international art scene.
We don't really know how credible Mr. Topacio is, but we find it hard to believe that auctioning off artworks - even granting their rising prices - would be worth the time and effort of laundering a few thousand dollars worth of jueteng lord proceeds.
And indeed, according to Artnet, a quick look at the Artnet auction database doesn’t provide much evidence for at least one major part of his claim.
"Justiniani has only two works in the database," they say, "with the highest selling for about $6,200 in 2005, and Borlongan is not listed at all. Ventura’s auction record of about $280,000 was set at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in 2008, with other works going for considerably less at more recent sales."*
* A recent auction of one of Ronald Ventura's pieces, however, sold for about $331,000.00.
** Photo credit: Artnet.com