The Maestro and the Master: Roberto Chabet and Bencab in Singapore

Roberto Chabet, "Psychopathology of Everyday Life 2.1", "Piero", and "Cargo and Decoy"

Pinoy art lovers couldn’t but strut on the streets of Singapore —after they stopped to catch their breath from all that scurrying from one affair to the next.  Almost all the fringe events organized around Art Stage Singapore last week involved Filipino visual artists. “That says a lot”, art writer Gina Fairley remarked as we discussed the very palpable Philippine presence in an important week for Southeast Asian art.  Mok Kim Chuan, Head of Southeast Asian Paintings at Sotheby’s observed, “For the first time, Filipinos, not the Indonesians, got all the attention.”

Roberta Dans, Annie Sarthou, Isa Lorenzo, and Bencab at STPI

While two days didn’t give me enough time for everything (I completely missed Manuel Ocampo at vwfa), I’d like to think that I caught the two most important exhibit openings of the week:  To be continuedRoberto Chabet at ICAS La Salle, and Bencab’s Glimpses at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute.

To Be Continued:  Roberto Chabet

Roberto Chabet, "Observatory"

The year 2011 promises to belong to Roberto Chabet.  He marks half a century since his first solo exhibit in 1961, fifty years of practicing art.  Although “practicing” seems such an inadequate word for the influence he has wielded on the contemporary art landscape.  This exhibit launches Roberto Chabet:  50 Years, a yearlong project that will span 15 exhibits across various museums and galleries in Manila, Singapore, and Hong Kong.  Organized by former students who revere him as a mentor, the undertaking will reexamine the works of an iconic personality, a former professor at the UP College of Fine Arts, the pioneer of Philippine conceptual art.  It will also explore his impact on a generation of visual artists, many of whom we regard as the most commercially successful in

Roberto Chabet, "Pier and Ocean"

Manila’s current art scene.

Roberto Chabet, "Dutch Painting"

To Be Continued:  Roberto Chabet has been laid out over two capacious galleries at the Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore, inside the La Salle College of the Arts. It surveys Chabet’s installations that utilize plywood boards, usually painted or set against other objects.   To quote the exhibit notes:

“Chabet used plywood in his early kinetic sculptures in the 1970s, but it was in the Eighties

Roberto Chabet, "Psychopathology of Everyday Life 2.1" and "Psychopathology of Everyday Life 2.2"

when he adapted plywood to painting. As an architect, he had a natural affinity with this basic construction material…Plywood is matter as much as metaphor for Chabet and for the post-war generation, (it) symbolized the desire for reconstruction and a new social order.”

Robeto Chabet, "Russian Painting 1" and Untitled

The breadth of the exhibit staggers and each piece delivers quite a visual impact.  I had no inkling of the scope of Chabet’s work, to think that this exhibit only covers his installations from the 1980s.  However, I did wish for more background information on each piece.  I remember catching the recreation of Cargo and Decoy (which is also reprised here) at MO Space

Roberto Chabet, "Russian Painting 4"

sometime last year and getting so fascinated with the cargo cults of the South Pacific that inspired it.  I can just imagine how much more enriching the experience of viewing all these works would have been had I had a handle on his concepts.  Perhaps some wall text on the more groundbreaking pieces would help, even for the students who will be wandering through these galleries.

Roberto Chabet, "Two Paintings"

Unfortunately, I missed Ringo Bunoan’s talk the day after the exhibit opening.  She curated the show along with Isabel Ching and Nilo Ilarde.  I understand that a monograph of these works will complete this yearlong celebration, which will culminate in an exhibit at the Cultural Center of The Philippines, the institution where Chabet served as the first director.

"Cargo and Decoy" and the opening night crowd

Milling about "Boat"

Bencab, Untitled, cast paper pulp

Bencab, Glimpses

National Artist Benedicto Cabrera—Bencab—holds the distinction as the only artist ever invited to do a residency twice  at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute (STPI).  Glimpses presents works that

Bencab, "Monumental Figure II"

Bencab completed during the month he spent at the institute late last year.  He renders familiar themes, glimpses of indigenous tribes people and his trademark Sabel,  in etching, lithographs, and relief print on handmade paper.  The institute’s technical capabilities has allowed Bencab to return to printmaking in a major way, stretching his repertoire to include large-scale works with a new, richer palette.  The exhibit includes four sets of edition prints, 36 unique works, and 19 pulp paper paintings.

Bencab, "Dance Form III"

STPI takes its name from Kenneth Tyler, the master printer who worked with several post-war greats like Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Lichtenstein, and Stella.  In 2002, the Singapore government purchased all the original printing presses and equipment from his workshop to the tune of US$10 million.  STPI publishes and exhibits work done in its premises to elevate the art of printmaking in this part of the world.  The Singapore Art Museum also holds a substantial amount of Tyler’s work in their collection.  Now why can’t our taxes be put to such good use?

Bencab, "Glimpse of the Past/Present XXIII"

STPI's Ricky Francisco

To Be Continued:  Roberto Chabet runs from 14 January to 11 February 2011 at the ICA Galleries 1&2, La Salle College of the Arts, 1 McNally St., Singapore, Phone (65) 6496-5070.  For more information about Roberto Chabet:  50 Years, visit

Bencab Glimpses runs from 15 January to 12 February 2011 at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute, 41 Robertson Quay, Singapore 238236, Phone (65)6336 3663 or visit

Bencab, "Untitled 1" and "Untitled 2"

Bencab, "Variations on Sabel 2"

Mayumi Cabrera, Bencab, Annie Sarthou, Silvana Diaz, and Rico Hizon

Bencab, Untitled


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