Arts and Culture

Roberto Chabet, Father of Philippine Conceptual Art, dies at 76

“The Inner City” 42.5 in. x 38.5 in. 1986, Roberto Chabet. One of the works in his exhibit at The West Gallery recently.

Roberto “Bobby” Chabet, acknowledged as the father of Philippine conceptual art, teacher and mentor, and whose conceptual art installations in the ’60s and ’70s were considered as renegade works, passed away on Tuesday, April 30, in a hospital in Manila. He was 76.

Reports say Chabet suffered from a first heart attack at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, and later died of a second attack at 7:30 p.m. His remains will be brought to the Arlington Memorial Chapels in Araneta Avenue, Quezon City beginning May 1.

Born on March 29, 1937 with the name Roberto Rodriguez, he used Chabet, his mother’s maiden name, when he started to make art. At the time, and as he previously explained it, he didn’t want to be confused with another artist Manuel Rodriguez Sr., who was already established and had no relations to him.

He graduated with a degree in Architecture at the University of Sto. Tomas and founded a conceptual art group called Shop 6. He taught for over 30 years at the UP College of Fine Arts, where he was referred to as “Sir,” by his students, many of whom are now established figures in the art scene both locally and abroad.

In 2011, a year-long retrospective and traveling exhibition entitled “Roberto Chabet: Fifty Years” was dedicated to him and mounted in prestigious galleries in the Philippines, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

Though a previous stroke has made him visibly weaker, Chabet remained an active figure in the art circuit, either curating shows, lending support to other artists and former students during the opening of their own shows, or pursuing his own exhibition, the latest of which was “China Collages, Ziggurats, & Other Unexhibited Collages,” which concluded last April 23 at the West Gallery in Quezon City. Chabet’s work can also be viewed in an ongoing group exhibit at the Cultural Center of the Philippines called “The Mona Lisa Project.”

One of his major contributions in shaping Philippine contemporary art is the yearly Thirteen Artists Award that he pioneered in 1970. In 1967, he was founding museum director of the Cultural Center of the Philippines and had thought of giving the award to promising young artists.

Often perceived as too upfront and candid, Chabet readily spoke his mind out and showed a disdain for false accolades and the conventions dictated by players in the art world. If anything, he was uncompromising in his quest for creation and his search for the sublime, which he readily found in commonplace objects.

One of his memorable—and then considered scandalous—early works was for a group exhibit titled “Objects” in the 1970′s where he tore up a coffee table book on Philippine contemporary art and threw it in a trash can. Chabet titled his work as Tearing into Pieces, later described by Purita Kalaw-Ledesma in her book as “anti-museum art.”