Bogotá’s MAMBO reveals a hidden legacy of Obregón

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Bogotá’s Museum of Modern Art (MAMBO) latest exhibit features a previously never before displayed side of the work of the late Spanish-Colombian artist Alejandro Obregón: his drawings. The exhibition – which showcases more than eighty sketches made during different stages of his life and artistic career – also includes works in different styles, materials and themes, and rediscovers this artistic genius on the 30th anniversary of his death.

We got the chance to speak to Italian art critic and curator Eugenio Viola, MAMBO’s current Chief Curator, about what it took to bring Obregón’s sketches to the public – and what this exhibit means for the art world in Colombia.

Viola, who will be leaving the country to curate the works of the multidisciplinary artist Gian Maria Tosatti inside Italy’s 2,000 sq meter pavilion at the Venice Biennale, cites first and foremost the assistance of the artist’s family, especially that of Catalina Obregón, and art critic Camilo Chico, who facilitated the archival drawings and sketches that span almost 70 decades of Obregón’s legacy.

Here’s what you need to know to prepare for your upcoming visit: The exhibit is organized by themes, not according to a timeline. The six sections can be appreciated in any given order, so feel free to roam around, and observe as you please.

This is the very first time these sketches are shown to the public, as Obregón himself never considered them standalone pieces; rather, they were a means to a monumental end — his paintings. That’s why one of the sections focuses on his preliminary drawings, of which some are directly related to the artist’s most acclaimed works.

The exhibition is also the first time Obregón is interpreted in an engaging, contemporary way. Rather than placing his works in conventional frames, or hanging them on the museum’s walls, Viola has chosen to place them between acetate sheets and suspend them throughout MAMBO’s third floor in an industrial context. It’s truly Obregón in a way that’s never been done before (hence the title!).

This was also the biggest challenge. “Obregón in Colombia is an over-exhibited artist,” says Viola, “so presenting him in a different way is a tough task. Much has been written about him, so working with such a heavy tradition and attempting to give it a different look is hard.” Which explains the choice for the presentation, as it creates a short circuit between “the work of the modernist artist, and a completely contemporary display that then suggests a new and different interpretation,” said Viola.

The exhibit will give visitors the chance to get a more intimate look at the artist’s talent, even if the themes are a constant in his work; from nature to beasts to portraiture, Obregón Secreto/Hidden Obregón is a refreshing approach to understand the artist’s inner obsessions and visual aesthete.

Connoisseurs will also be able to appreciate strong influences from cubism and surrealism in his lines and compositions. “Obregón was an artist who had the opportunity to travel, to discover, to keep himself up to date with what was happening, for example, in Europe. He was able to say, “I am interested in the color and not in the line. I like Matisse, I don’t like Picasso.” If anything, the star behind this exhibit is Obregón’s skill at drawing, which stands apart as the conceptual skeleton for his larger works.

Why show these drawings now, one might ask, on the thirty year anniversary of Obregón’s death? In Viola’s words: “One of the fundamental roles of museums is the critical rewriting of modernity. We now aim to recover the drawings without the autonomous status of the medium. We are going to restore the autonomous status of Obregón’s drawings.” If anything, the critical distance granted by three decades, in retrospect, reveals the intellectual depth and creative diversity of one of the most important Colombian and Latin American modernists.

Open from March 11 to May 29 on the third floor of MAMBO.

MAMBO: Calle 26 No.6-00. Closed Tuesdays.

Courtesy: MAMBO/Obregón collection.

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