Roberto Obregón (1946-2003)
Roberto Obregón (1946-2003)
Roberto Obregón (1946-2003)
2 More
Roberto Obregón (1946-2003)
5 More
Roberto Obregón (1946-2003)


Roberto Obregón (1946-2003)
each numbered (on the recto) and titled 'SDC' and numbered again (on the verso)
cut rubber
16 elements:
largest measuring 17 x 24 in. (43.2 x 60.9 cm.)
smallest measuring 13 5/8 x 14¼ in. (34.6 x 36.2 cm.)
dimensions variable when installed
Executed circa 1995. 16 in one lot.
Private collection, Caracas.
Anon. sale, Christie's, New York, 21 November 2000, lot 59.
Anon. sale, Christie's, New York, 21 November 2012, lot 262.
Acquired from the above sale by the present owner.
Post lot text
1 Roberto Obregón, quoted in Margarita D’Amico, “Las flores de Roberto Obregón,” in CCS- 10: guía de estudio, arte venezolano actual, 43, exh. cat. (Caracas: Fundación Galería de Arte Nacional, 1993).
2 Obregón, quoted in Lourdes Blanco, Cincoincidentes, exh. cat. (Barquisimeto: Museo de Barquisimeto, 1984), in Susana Benko, “Roberto Obregón: The Reckoning of an Unveiled Rose,” Art Nexus 28 (May-July 1998).
3 Tahía Rivero, “Roberto Obregón: The World in the Form of a Flower,” in Contingent Beauty: Contemporary Art from Latin America, ed. Mari Carmen Ramírez, exh. cat. (Houston: Museum of Fine Arts, 2015), 159.
4 Obregón, quoted in Aurora Blyde, “Roberto Obregón: entrevista, para hacerle ofrendas a la muerte,” in CCS-10.
5 Rivero, “Roberto Obregón,” 161.

Lot Essay

“No one shows dismembered or dead flowers,” Obregón acknowledged, musing on his unprecedented, if cynically idiosyncratic place within the genre of flower paintings. A hallmark of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Dutch painting, flower still lifes exemplified the northern tradition of meticulous naturalism, shaped by period interests in botanical science and imbued with moralizing meaning. Extravagant and often exotic, the Netherlandish blooms signaled beauty as well as brevity, reminding a Calvinist public of the sin of vanity and the transience of life. In reprising this genre, famed for its artful and symbolic illusionism, Obregón systematically deconstructed its subject, analyzing the flower—always the rose—through a conceptual process of photography and dissection that began in 1974. His signature series, the myriad “dissections” encompassed a range of media from watercolor and collage to large-scale rubber silhouettes, as installed at the Venice Biennale in 1997. A pioneering figure of Venezuelan conceptualism, Obregón resisted “any attempt to classify what I am and what I do, to the point that I refuse to qualify my work as art,” declaring, “I have enough suspicions about the significance of art.”[1]
Trained in graphic design and illustration, Obregón stopped painting in 1974, turning instead to photography as he began to document the lifecycle of flowers from the opening of their buds to their full blossoming and gradual decay. “A year ago after great thought, I attempted to paint flowers,” Obregón recalled in 1975. “The result was not pleasing and so I decided to study them closer up. I discovered that every flower is unique. Each of its components is different in form and number. . . . First I decided upon a certain flower; it was a pink rose, nearly closed, which I began photographing from the time it was opening until it died. This work lasted one week. During this time I took pictures of it every day until I gathered 24, which represented 24 hours, and therefore, a day. . . . Meanwhile it occurred to me to dissect another rose. I numbered each one of its petals as I removed them. I wished to reproduce this flower on paper and to that end I tried a variety of possibilities.”[2]
Obregón distanced himself from this early naturalism beginning in 1983, fashioning rose petals from black plastic bags for a mural installation and subsequently working with new media, including rubber and linoleum. “This was a significant turning point,” curator Tahía Rivero remarks, “a transition that heralded a new depth of reflection and maturity in his work. The petals he was now producing had come a long way from their original form; these were abstract and emblematic, and his clear and methodical arrangements achieved a level of symbolic expression that was far removed from the earlier realism of his watercolors and from actual dissections.” Indeed, the material transformation from dried, cut-flower specimens to synthetic silhouettes signaled a conceptual shift in Obregón’s practice as he plumbed the darker side of the rose, turning the vanitas theme into corporeal allegory. “The process involved in the dissections expresses a relationship between the scientific study of the human body and the body of a flower,” Rivero explains. “This comparison, based on similarities between the structure of a flower and the human anatomy, is something the artist emphasizes, pointing to the similarly unique nature of every human being and every rose.”[3] In the present work, oversized black petals, hand-cut from rubber and numbered one through sixteen, suggest an ominous memento mori. Their sequential order introduces elements of time and measurement into a psychological narrative, meditating on anatomical sameness and difference, both botanical and suggestively human.
“It is a tremendously hackneyed symbol,” Obregón conceded of the rose, acknowledging both its well-worn associations—with love and marriage, secrecy and sacrifice—and its more potent symbolism, registered in his work, of the “passage between life and death.” Rendered in monochromatic black, the rose became “a kind of funerary offering,” a meditation on the mystery of death, “that sacred passage, origin of all religions.”[4] Obregón’s morphology of the rose broached morbidity, poignantly in the installation Rosa enferma (1993), an allegory of AIDS; in the Masada series, he referenced the ancient Roman siege of Masada, in present-day Israel, and the collective suicide of the Jewish rebels—an event recalled by the Jonestown murder-massacre, in Guyana, in 1978. In the wake of psychotic episodes in 1994 and 1996, Obregón struggled himself with suicidal thoughts and depression, his illness imparting an intense subjectivity to his works from this period. “For Roberto Obregón, the world exists in the form of a flower and the symbols it embodies,” Rivero concludes. “Each petal contains a tribute to florescence, beauty, and exuberance, as well as to the death throes of a drowsy, peaceful demise. We could say that Obregón takes refuge in art in order to transform the commonplace, to find the freedom to express himself in every gesture of his life entirely on his own terms.”[5]
Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park

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