PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 November, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 November, 2002, 12:00am

Art patronage has always been a fashionable cause in high society. Some of the most celebrated black-tie affairs are held in support of the arts. So when an invitation lands on my desk for the Philippe Charriol Foundation annual dinner and auction, I dress in my best 'monochrome' colour, as requested by the host, and go along to see if the sluggish economy has dimmed people's support of young artists.

Unlike most fund-raising functions, people don't buy tables at this gala: they are invited by the foundation and are enticed to bid for artworks selected from the finalists of the company's annual art competition. The organisers set up an online auction before the gala dinner and received zero bids. Another silent auction during the cocktail session receives eight bids for the 24 works up for grabs. And there are close to 400 guests.

I am feeling a little nervous for the artists in attendance when they announce the highlight of the evening: the live auction. There is nothing worse than having your work paraded only to be greeted by silence. It happened last year. This time, there are some philanthropists around: almost all of the pieces find new homes - the highest for $20,000. When my favourite piece - a mixed-media work by Denis Murell - comes up, I cross my fingers hoping there'd be no takers so I can grab it for the base price of $3,000 but after a flurry of hands Chine Gallery owner Anwar Islam wins it for $10,000.

But one thing has baffled me throughout the evening. I have always thought the foundation's competition is open to young, yet-to-be-established artists with the goal of launching their careers. The winner of the painting competition this year is, surprisingly, Konstantin Bessmerty (pictured), the Russian-born, Macau-based artist who's sold around the world and has gallery representation. I think I will go back and read the rule book more carefully.