The Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) throbbed with activity when I arrived Saturday morning. Even if I did beat the crowds who would come later for Mamma Mia’s matinee, an activity in the Little Theater, plus Cinemalaya auditions, meant more groups of people than usual milled about the basement and the fourth floor. In the third floor, however, the usual quiet reigned over Pasilyo Guillermo Tolentino and Bulwagang Juan Luna, the main gallery, where the bulk of the pieces for Roberto Chabet’s To Be Continued had been installed.
It makes sense to begin in the these corridors, with two works that refer to Mr. Chabet’s enduring role as a mentor to many of Philippine contemporary art’s biggest names. To Be Continued (the piece from where the exhibit takes its name) and Apple Painting Lessons have both been completed in collaboration with his former students. As an observer of the year-long celebration that marked Mr. Chabet’s half a century of art-making, it seems to me that his biggest contribution to our visual arts has been his continued influence on those he taught during his more than thirty years as a professor at the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts. Even those who don’t share his aesthetic acknowledge his impact on their creative process.
To Be Continued is an exercise that questions the state of painting. Artists like Louie Cordero, Nona Garcia, Maria Taniguchi, Ringo Bunoan, Mawen Ong, and MM Yu, among others, painted panels of plywood using just primary colors, plus white or black, that they mixed themselves. Their collective effort spans the entire corridor; their pieces form a striking Technicolor array atop a narrow wooden shelf.
Across the hall, more then forty framed works display the results of Apple Painting Lesson. Individual artists created their own versions of painted apples following a four-step instructional guide. A walk down the corridor will yield surprises. Participants include names from Mr. Chabet’s own generation, prominent artists like Napoleon Abueva, Danilo Dalena, Romulo Olazo, along with his students, Romeo Lee, Nilo Ilarde, Soler Santos, Agnes Arellano, Marcel Antonio.
Mr. Chabet’s plywood constructions fill the main gallery, works that had also been shown in Singapore a year ago to launch the Chabet: 50 Years Project (see previous post here). I saw that exhibit, also called To Be Continued, on the night it opened at the La Salle College of the Arts.
This return to the CCP, the institution where Mr. Chabet served as its first director in 1970, made me appreciate these pieces more. Unlike the exhibit in Singapore, wall notes relayed their context and his references. Most of these geometric installations had been created in the 1980s or exhibited at Finale Art Gallery and West Gallery’s now defunct spaces in Megamall in the 1990s. Then, the two establishments stood side by side, and they held their Chabet exhibits in tandem. The notes explain his affinity for plywood as stemming from his training as an architect.
The more memorable pieces include his Russian Paintings series, four works that look to the Russian constructivist Vladimir Tatlin, Cargo and Decoy, and Piero, the piece that incorporates a painted figure from Piero della Francesca’s Baptism of Christ.
A floor down, at the Pasilyo Vicente Manansala, Mr. Chabet’s series of China Collages hang on the walls. I’ve always thought that his collages were the most enjoyable aspects of his body of work. The ones here, from his personal collection, make up just a fraction of the 300 he completed in the 1980s and the 1990s. The first of these inverted L-shaped frames used the maps of China, Mongolia, and Korea as a base, thus providing the title for the rest of the series.
Down by the Little Theater, Day and Night, created in 2011, recalls a memory from the artist’s school days. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize until after I had left that two more works were installed in the fourth floor, Bakawan from 1974 and Remembering Scanga-RA, an homage to Ray Albano, Chabet’s deputy at the CCP, also a fellow artist.
This exhibit concludes the twelve-month commemoration of Mr. Chabet’s career. Now almost 75 years old, Mr. Chabet, who first exhibited in 1961, has been credited as the Philippine conceptual art pioneer. The Chabet: 50 Years Project undertook one exhibit a month in various Metro Manila galleries, museums, and within the UP Fine Arts campus. It also brought his work to Hong Kong and Singapore.
It has not been without its share of controversy, many of them spirited discussions waged on Facebook walls.
That Mr. Chabet can elicit such passionate reactions can be taken, perhaps, as a testament to his significance to Philippine art. No, he hasn’t been the only one who has shaped it. Not everybody appreciates his work and believe them to be as groundbreaking as claimed. Yet we certainly cannot consider our art history without including Roberto Chabet—- especially as he carries on inspiring a new generation of Filipino artists.
To Be Continued runs from 19 January to 31 March 2012 at the Cultural Center of The Philippines, CCP Complex, Roxas Blvd., Pasay City. Phone (632) 832-1125 to 39 or visit www.culturalcenter.gov.ph
For more information on the Chabet: 50 Years project, visit www.kingkongartprojects.org
See previous posts on Chabet: 50 Years: