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The legacy of Enrico Manlapaz

By Elizabeth Lolarga,VERA Files

Art lover Enrico Manlapaz died quietly in April this year, but left an enormous material and spiritual legacy that has kept his near and dear ones busy classifying, indexing, collating and re-arranging things in the late collector's Antipolo City house. They have designated his bedroom the Enrico JL Manlapaz gallery by appointment.

Joel Ajero, a sculptor-carpenter who works with old wood and wrought iron, described Manlapaz, who is also his brother-in-law, as "more of a loner but when in a group, he could be the life of a party. His intelligence found expression in his love for music and the arts. You won't see him dressed like me in sando or kamiseta and shorts, even in the house. He was always properly dressed and well-groomed."

It fell on the shoulders of the deceased's relatives like Ajero and children, Manlapaz's older brother Romeo and sister-in-law Edna, his loyal assistant Harpy Valerio, an art studies graduate of the University of the Philippines now taking her masters in archeology, to sift through the voluminous Filipiniana and Orientalia left behind.

Ajero said he was aware that his in-law was a collector, but when he was alive, he (Ajero) did not go beyond the receiving area. Not until he entered Manlapaz's private quarters after his demise from lymphoma that he realized the enormous scale of the collection.

Valerio said her late employer was nothing less than "awesome."

" He was a man who was into everything and everywhere wherever there was an auction or an art in the park activity. He brought me along, and I'd hear his down-to-earth language, his honesty and loyalty. He's so organized at his Artis Corpus Gallery. There he'd ask the artists to sign a contact. When there were sales, he'd contact the artists right away so they could get their checks, unlike other gallery owners who wouldn't call the artist unless he or she made  inquiries. He refused pro bono work, saying it shouldn't be done because we're all professionals," Valerio said.

She said Manlapaz "had a very hip attitude. Young artists could converse with him freely without losing their respect for him. He liked collaborating with them, conceptualizing works, including the images that should go into them, then having these concepts executed by painters."

As for the collecting bug that bit Manlapaz for the longest time, Valerio said he did not just buy items one by one or in small amounts. "It was bulto-bulto (in big volumes), even the stalactites and crystals. And he couldn't be deceived by the sellers because he did extensive research on these things. He knew what he was buying."

He was also aware of artists' financial situation and lent them money or bought their works outright instead of asking them to consign these.

Apart from the material objects he left behind, Manlapaz also left e-mail letters to his friends where he expressed his views on art. He wrote, "I promote art making by artists who I know have the potential for greatness. I cannot seem to relate, and I am sorry for this, to teaching art for kids to keep them away from home in summer, for bored people who want to have a hobby or art for therapeutic purposes. Chances are the art from this group would be traditional copies, repetitions, etc. I do not promote academic or old art. I believe in the divinity of art. It would be sacrilege for me to use art for mundane purposes other than for its own sake."

A believer in Tibetan Buddhism, he said, "Only certain religions concocted the idea that God is separate from us. That is for the sole purpose of inventing a 'bridge' to connect to God. And we all know what this means. Asian and more 'primitive' belief systems are more attuned to the 'God in me' system. 'Aloha' says the Hawaiian. 'Namaste', 'namaskar', says the Indian. 'Wei', says the Thai. Yes, all these terms mean "I greet God in you."

He liked to question popular beliefs on meditation, for example. He wrote, "Why meditate to practice the Presence? Everything that happens to you, everything that occurs within you and everything you think, say, or do, all emanate from the Divine in you."

Meanwhile, Ajero and the rest of the Manlapaz family have fixed the Antipolo house to receive visitors who may wish to view the collection that includes paintings, sculptures, prints, one-of-a-kind furniture, stoneware, including early works by Ugu Bigyan, Jaime and Anne de Guzman, Nelfa Querubin, among others, feng shui chimes and bells, blue and white, red and white vases and vessels, nearly countless Buddhas and boddhisatvas, T'boli belts, rare Filipiniana books.

To ask for an appointment for a private viewing of the Enrico JL Manlapaz Gallery, email ejlmgallery@gmail.com.

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")

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