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

Roberto Chabet, Father of Philippine Conceptual Art, Dies at 76
Roberto Chabet at the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts, Quezon City, circa 1980s.
(Photo: Soler)

MANILA – Architect, painter, printmaker, sculptor, stage designer, teacher and writer: the multifaceted and influential artist Roberto “Bobby” Chabet died Tuesday, April 30, of cardiac arrest at the University of the East Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Hospital in Manila. He was 76.

Widely acknowledged as the father of Philippine conceptual art, Chabet's pioneering conceptual work and role as teacher and curator has been instrumental in shaping the country's contemporary art scene. He is best known for radical installations created from commonplace materials and found objects like plywood and stale bread.

Born Roberto Rodriguez in 1937 in Manila, Chabet took his mother's maiden name when he started out as an artist to avoid being linked to the unrelated, established artist Manuel Rodriguez, Sr. He graduated in Architecture from the University of Santo Tomas and held his first solo exhibition the same year in 1961, at Luz Gallery.

Between 1967 and 1970, Chabet was the founding museum director of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) where he initiated the Thirteen Artist Award, which remains the most prestigious recognition to be given by a national institution to young Filipino visual artists today.

In 2011, a year-long retrospective dedicated to the artist titled “Roberto Chabet: Fifty Years” toured galleries in Singapore, Hong Kong and the Philippines, and culminated in an unprecedented show taking up all four stories of the CCP.

Although weakened by two strokes and often wheelchair-bound in his later years, Chabet continued to create and show new works until he died. An ongoing group exhibit at the CCP called “The Mona Lisa Project” includes his take on Leonardo da Vinci’s iconic portrait, and runs until 16 June 2013.