Robbie Antonio is a flamboyant character. Dubbed “dynamo” by the media, the Filipino collector is continually implementing cutting-edge ideas related to creativity. Every project is for him a deep dive into new territories, whether this is contemporary art, design or architecture.
Being the managing director of a major Philippine real estate development company, established by his father, architecture is somewhat of a natural interest for him. Not being quite the hobby type, he quickly transformed his passion into a bit of an obsession. This led him to work with 12 Pritzker Prize-winning architects, including the late Zaha Hadid, I.M. Pei, Rem Koolhaas, Tadao Ando, and Jean Nouvel.
“I always want to work with the best people in the world, whether it is business, politics, art… because that makes you a better person,” he says. “You learn from the best and it’s a privilege. I want to impart that to the world.”
Antonio’s latest venture is called “Revolution Precrafted Properties”, also known as the “first billion-dollar unicorn startup” in the Philippines. Its aim is revolutionary, i.e. to engage starchitects to create prefabricated architecture and to democratize design in parts of the world where this is not commonplace. Moreover, the buildings are customized to the buyer’s specific needs, and are meant to host and display contemporary art, becoming private residence cum museums.
“We try to customize the buildings depending on the clientele and their needs. Some people want a little private museum but not everyone has the budget of Guggenheim. We provide a flexible space which could take the shape of a library, a performance area, a nightclub or a big restaurant. We first launched in December 2015 showing at Miami Art Basel.”
You have been actively collecting international artists and also Filipino artists. Since you are trained in the US, your eyes were used to Western contemporary art. When you came back to the Philippines, how did you look at the local art?
My references are what I’ve seen and what I’ve been exposed to in my life. It has nothing to do with regions or parts of the world. It is just what draws me visually. I am more familiar with Western artists, so that’s mostly my reference. Of course I like to go to the art fairs and galleries to see and support local artists, but I am also retraining my eyes to look at new types of work. Collecting is a journey and a learning process. I am always open. I am very inquisitive and I am going to learn more about this part of the world in terms of art.
Do you find Asian artists’ works fresh even when they are referencing another master?
Every work is a derivative of someone else. I have probably gone to every single major museum in the world and have seen lots of artwork, from the impressionists all the way to contemporary. Everything has precedents. Jeff Koons references Duchamp. Picasso references the old masters. Everything will remind me of something. It is very difficult to surprise me. However, I think artists have a different perspective as well. The point is: it depends on who the viewer is, as well and how he or she portrays the subject matter.
Did your own perspective or point of view of artworks change over time?
First of all, when it comes to art I am so much smarter than ten years ago. I’ll tell you why. I go to galleries and shows to train my eyes. I go to museums all the time. I like reading art books. It’s just like anything. I find myself more mature. I used to collect emerging and contemporary art, and then at a certain point I transformed and only wanted masters. Art is an expensive passion and I did not want to take that risk at the time. I thought I couldn’t go wrong with a major modern master, versus someone you’ve never heard of. Remember, I am also a business person, so I also need to see that it doesn’t depreciate in value. It is hard for me to disconnect my right brain from my left brain. I consider all of those things as variables in part of the curation.
You make more careful decisions…
More calculated. Before, I was like, “Get this”, and now I am training myself more to get better pieces by great artists. Today I am more strategic. But it’s not an actual business. I am not in the business of art. I just collect art.
Given your international network, do you also promote Filipino art or Southeast Asian art to your circle of art friends?
I promote whatever I believe in. I cross every geography.
How do you see the future of Philippine’s economy? Are you promoting the country to foreign investors?
This is my business and the connection to the international arena is my strength. I brought in all these brands for my real estate development company. I brought Armani, I brought Versace, I brought Missoni. These are all brands from the West to the Far East. What I am saying is, I am true to what I believe in. I love the Philippines. I am trying to educate the Philippines and trying to bolster them by bringing in brands. Nationalism can be done in several ways. You can tell people, “I am from this country and I am doing this for this country”, but I took the other direction. I am hopefully trying to elevate the Philippines and the economy in our own little way, in the real estate by bringing in the brands. I think you are doing the country a great service if you create good structures. That logic applies for me on a personal basis in my passion for art. I don’t benefit from it, I don’t make money from it, it is not a business for me. I love to educate people on what the history of western art is here. Other people are already promulgating the Filipino artists, so they do not need me to do that. I am coming from the opposite direction. I am stronger at western ideologist and this is where I am present. I’d rather disseminate information that I have been exposed to, where this is lacking.
I am interested in this conscious decision of stopping your “Obsession” project, the series of commission portraits of yourself. Why did you put a stop to it?
There was a specific time where I really put a lot of effort into art. The Obsession project was for me the ultimate direct communication with the artist. When someone tries to portray you, he or she is trying to understand you at an intimate level. I haven’t put a hard stop to Obsession. I am a very passionate individual. When I do something, I do it all the way for a certain period of time. Right now I am doing multiple other things. Art is not all my life. I have other things to do. These days I am obsessed with Revolution. Maybe tomorrow it will be something else. I’ll wake up with another idea.
Is Revolution Precrafted your obsession nowadays?
I am seriously obsessed with architecture. The greatest thing about art, architecture and design is that people who know a little bit about it know a little bit about the other topics, and sometimes fashion, etc. It is very creative. I like interacting with my clients, the artists and the people. It is a relationship that you form with them. That is the most interesting part for me.
The reason why I am trying to democratise luxury design homes is because we, here at Revolution Precrafted, ultimately believe we are the only ones doing high impact level design work. There are prefab companies out there around the world, but no one does it to the same level, with 61 of the world’s best architects providing high impact design at the most affordable price possible for the end user.
I think there is a big social cost too and we are going to do it in other parts of the world. We started with pavilions, which are more art objects than homes. We are now creating vertical structures, as well as prefab museums. We are taking prefab to a whole different level. It could be a museum that is erected in three months, as opposed to three years. What does that do if you are the landowner? First of all, a museum always increases the value of the land, and it also increases traffic. I would like to say this is so because it’s very important, it brings culture.
It is different for museums because you look for a unique design there, as the impact of a museum space is far more significant.
Not everyone has the budget of $2 – 300 million to build a Guggenheim [museum]. Some people want a little private museum. It is a flexible space, so it could be a library. It could be a performance area. It could be a nightclub, a big restaurant or whatever. The point is, it’s a flexible space. They are boxes that could be expandable. There are twelve boxes in one here, and you can get either the smaller kind or the entire thing. This idea of modularity gives you flexible space. That is where creativity comes in. It is the idea of flexibility and that’s why we like this modularity at Revolution Precrafted. It provides you with a different use for the space. You may want it as your guesthouse or pool house, and she may want it as her primary home. Let’s go. We try to customize it, depending on the clientele, and the needs of the client too. We can help to build cities and erect things quickly. In our little way, we are trying to have an impact on the biggest audience of all. It is called the world.
Thank you very much!