The Chabet Archive: Covering Fifty Years of the Artist’s Materials
Initiated in 2008, this project compiled and digitised primary materials on the renowned Filipino artist, teacher, and curator Roberto Chabet (b. 1937), as one of multiple entry points into the complicated discourse of modernity and contemporaneity in the Philippines.
The Chabet Archive: An Introduction
Ringo Bunoan, Researcher for the Philippines
In memory of Joy Dayrit (1944 – 2011)
The Chabet Archive is a milestone project that has brought together and digitised over 8,000 documents covering over fifty years of work by Filipino conceptual artist Roberto Chabet. Including personal and unpublished photographs of works and exhibitions, from his earliest documented student work from 1959 to the recently concluded ‘Chabet: 50 Years’ series of exhibitions from 2011 – 2012, interviews, notes, letters, sketches, catalogues, brochures, invitations, videos, and clippings, the collection maps the artist’s extensive body of work and his contributions to Philippine art.
An important artist of the postwar generation, Chabet plays a key role in the development of Philippine contemporary art. Through his expanded art practice as artist, teacher and curator, he has supported and nurtured the artistic development of several generations of Filipino artists, from his contemporaries in the 1960s and 70s to his numerous students at the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts. Chabet curated and documented many of their exhibitions, which form a significant portion of the Archive. Their complicity and camaraderie are also seen through intimate photographs of their gatherings, letters, portraits, and tribute works.
The collaborative spirit in Chabet’s work is reflected in this Archive, which has been assembled not only from Chabet’s own records but also from the files of various artists, friends, galleries, museums, and other institutions, who have responded to a call for contributions of material related to Chabet. Their collective memory sheds light on an unwritten part of Philippine art history by providing the most comprehensive account on conceptual art in the country, which has been largely misrepresented due to the previous lack of research and access to information.
A few months after the project was launched in 2009, Typhoon Ketsana hit the Philippines. Roberto Chabet was among the hundreds of thousands who were severely affected by the massive floods in Manila. The typhoon left in its wake thousands of damaged undocumented artworks, books, files, objects, and other artifacts collected and kept by the artist in his studio. While we have saved and documented many works, a huge number are now irretrievably lost. The experience tragically highlights the importance of the archive as a way of preserving the invaluable ephemera of our culture.
Today, we still continue to enrich and add to this growing archive as more material is created and recovered.
The Chabet Archive is a growing collection of digitised material on pioneering Filipino artist Roberto Chabet. The Archive includes Chabet's personal photographs of his work, letters, writings and exhibition notes, clippings from various books, newspapers and magazines, and invitations from the 1960s to the present, donated by Chabet himself, other artists, institutions, galleries, collectors, and friends. It also includes material on the first year of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, where Chabet was the founding museum director, the Thirteen Artists award, which he initiated in 1970, as well as rare documents on Shop 6, a group of conceptual artists in the 1970s led by Chabet.
Several generations of Filipino artists, many of whom were students of Chabet at the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts, are also part of the collection.
Since the project was initiated in 2008, over 8,000 documents have been gathered and digitised, the majority of which are unpublished photographs and manuscripts from artists’ personal archives and special library collections, which have limited public access. The documents compiled in The Chabet Archive are organised in the following five sections:
I. Roberto Chabet
This section contains the largest inventory of Chabet’s works, from his earliest documented student work from 1959 to the recently concluded ‘Chabet: 50 Years’ series of exhibitions from 2011 – 2012, which are grouped into the following categories: Early Works; Drawings; Collages; Prints and Photographs; Paintings, Installations, Ready-mades and Found Objects; and Collaborations. The majority of the works, particularly the works on paper from the artist’s own collection, have never been exhibited and are rarely seen. Many of his installations also no longer exist and are only recorded through photographs and writings, most of them by the artist himself. Apart from his individual works, this section also includes photographs, notes, press clippings, catalogues, brochures, posters, and invitations of group exhibitions, in which Chabet participated, both as artist and curator. Also included in this section are records of solo exhibitions by other artists who were not his students, but were curated by Chabet. Additional textual documents such as biographical notes and excerpts from select publications, essays, official correspondences, and personal letters are also part of this section. Chabet’s iconic image as a ‘virtual artistic barometer’ is also pointed out in a sub-section that brings together works by other artists for, or against Chabet.
II. The Cultural Center of the Philippines
The Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) is the realisation of a dream of then-First Lady Imelda Marcos to build a national center to showcase and foster Philippine arts and culture. With Jaime Zobel de Ayala as Executive Director and later on President, Lucrecia Kasilag as Theater Director, and Roberto Chabet as Museum Director, the CCP, hailed as ‘Asia’s Mecca for the Arts’, was formally inaugurated in 1969. Its first year is documented in this section, which includes photographs and records of the exhibitions curated by Roberto Chabet during his brief tenure. The Thirteen Artists award, initiated by Chabet in 1970 to support and give recognition to young artists whose works show a ‘recentness and a turning away from the past’, is highlighted in this section.
III. Shop 6
Shop 6 was a seminal artist-run space operate by a group of conceptual artists led by Roberto Chabet in the 1970s, during the time of Martial Law. After his resignation from CCP, Chabet formed the group, which included Joe Bautista, Joy Dayrit, Rodolfo Gan, Yolanda Laudico, Fernando Modesto, and Boy Perez as a kind of alternative to the institution. Other artists who later joined the group were Danny Dalena, Nap Jamir, Julie Lluch, Red Mansueto, Berna Perez, Alan Rivera, Eva Toledo, and Nestor Vinluan. Their experimental exhibitions featured ‘mixed-media works, constructions, situations, environments, and other exploratory projects’ using mostly everyday materials, found objects, and ready-mades. This section includes rare documents of their works, as well as unpublished notes by Joy Dayrit and interviews with some of the Shop 6 artists by Francesca Enriquez.
IV. UP College of Fine Arts
Roberto Chabet taught at his alma mater, the University of Santo Tomas for a few years after he finished his degree in Architecture. However it was at the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts (UP CFA) where he made his mark as a teacher. The College became known as a hotbed of experimental art during his time. From 1971 to 2002, he taught at UP, mentoring and guiding countless batches of artists, who are also included in the Archive. Chabet was a committed teacher and supporter of his students, curating and documenting many of their first solo shows and large-scale annual exhibitions at the CCP, The Art Center, Finale and West galleries, and various artist-run spaces in Manila. The photographs, texts and other related documents on exhibitions curated by Chabet are gathered in this section. Chabet was a mentor to many of his students and their camaraderie is captured in their personal photographs, which are also compiled here.
V. Angel Flores
In 1968, news spread of Angel Flores, an expatriate artist who died in a motorcycle accident, leaving behind his works, which were turned over the following year to his former high-school classmates, Roberto Chabet, Benjamin Bautista, and Ramon Katigbak. Little did they know that Flores was actually a great artist and his works commanded the attention of others. Soon the paintings were shown on a popular television show, ‘Two For The Road’, a solo exhibition was mounted in Joy Dayrit’s Print Gallery, and a magazine published a lengthy feature, written by Katigbak and Bautista. Flores’ works were also selected for the 1970 CCP Summer Exhibition and the survey ‘A Decade of Developmental Art’ also at the CCP in 1979, the records of which are filed in the first section of this Archive. This section contains photographs of the only remaining work of Flores, the zipper paintings from the CCP exhibition, documents from the Print Gallery show, and the article by Katigbak and Bautista.
In reality, Angel Flores was an elaborate work of creative fiction by the three classmates, who actually convinced the public that a significant Filipino artist had been discovered. He continues to live today in cyberspace, posting daily on his blog images and readings on art for everyone to enjoy and ponder.
Roberto Chabet's Profile
Roberto Chabet (b.1937) is a Filipino conceptual artist whose works are a result of the process of unraveling fixed notions about art and meaning. His drawings, collages, sculptures and installations, questioning modernity, are highly allegorical. They are meditations on space, the transitory nature of commonplace objects and the collisions that occur with their displacement.
Chabet studied Architecture at the University of Santo Tomas where he graduated in 1961. He had his first solo exhibition at the Luz Gallery in the same year. He was the founding Museum Director of the CCP from 1967-1970 where he initiated the first Thirteen Artists Awards, giving recognition to young artists whose works ‘show a recentness, a turning away from the past and familiar modes of art-making’. He led the 1970s conceptual art group Shop 6 and taught for over thirty years at the UP College of Fine Arts, where he espoused a kind of practice that gave precedence to idea over form. Since the 1970s, he has also been organising landmark exhibitions featuring vanguard works by young artists, many of whom are among the most active and innovative artists in Manila today. He is the recipient of the 1972 Republic Cultural Heritage Award, the 1972 Araw ng Maynila Award for the Visual Arts and the 1998 Centennial Honor for the Arts.
The digitisation of The Chabet Archive has been made possible with the support of the Lopez Memorial Museum.
AAA would like to thank the following individuals for their invaluable contribution to The Chabet Archive: Roberto Chabet, Carmen Mesina, Joy Dayrit, Nilo Ilarde, Patrick and Yolanda Johnson, Agnes Arellano, Fernando and Eleanor Modesto, Daisy Langenegger, Lito and Kim Camacho, Maribel Ongpin, Lito Dayrit, Paulino and Hetty Que, Mario and Mimi Que, Raymond See, Edna del Rosario, Joseph Sedfrey Santiago, David and Mawen Ong, Pardo de Leon, Virgilio Avaido, Soler and Mona Santos, Anamie Gutierrez, Conrado Velasco, Boots Herrera, Gerry Tan, Juni Salvador, Ronald Achacoso, Romeo Lee, Mm Yu, Poklong Anading, Gary-Ross Pastrana, Nona Garcia, Wire Tuazon, Lena Cobangbang, Jayson Oliveria, Robert Langenegger, At Maculangan, Katya Guerrero, Sam Kiyoumarsi, Bembol dela Cruz, Ranelle Dial, Jet Melencio, and many others who shared their stories, pictures and memories of Chabet.
AAA also wishes to extend its sincere thanks to the following museums, galleries, foundations, and libraries who gave access to their records: Cultural Center of the Philippines, Ateneo Art Gallery, Finale Art File, Galleria Duemila, West Gallery, MO_Space, King Kong Art Projects Unlimited, BPI Foundation, Businessworld Library, University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts, and the University of the Philippines Main Library.
Project Researcher: Ringo Bunoan, AAA Researcher for the Philippines
Research Assistant: Gail Vicente