Roberto Obregón - Latin America New York Tuesday, May 26, 2015 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist
    Private Collection, Miami

  • Exhibited

    Caracas, Fundación Sala Mendoza, Roberto Obregón - el elocuente silencio de las formas, May 5, 2013

  • Literature

    A. Jiménez, Roberto Obregón - El elocuente silencio de las formas, 2012 n.p. (illustrated)
    A. Jiménez, Roberto Obregón - En Tres Tiempos, Caracas, 2013, p. 212-213 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    The present lot, Ene Eme, y Ene De, 1994, is a monumentally important piece within Roberto Obregón’s pivotal series Las Niágaras. This intimate series evokes aspects of Obregón’s personal life through the portraits of people close to him, who impacted his life in one way or another. The present lot is the culmination of a primary leit motif throughout his body of work: the rose and the concept of cyclical time, which encompass the unique and complex symbolism that defines his practice. It is this highly personal approach and subject matter that has placed Obregón at the forefront of the Latin American contemporary art scene.

    The motif of roses first impacted Obregón at the early age of nine, when he visited his aunt who had a garden with a very prominent rose bush. These exquisite roses caused an indelible impression on him, exacerbated by the fact that he was forbidden from touching them. He would go on to obsessively collect images of roses that he gleaned from magazines and postcards. His earliest work focused on documenting his physical, bodily decay over time, which would become his obsession. He expressed this notion of cyclical time through his work, for example in Crónicas de una rosa (no.1) [Chronicles of a rose (no.1)], 1974. In this case, he photographed the decay of a rose sequentially, in a style reminiscent of Eadweard Muybridge. This method of documentation has interested many artists throughout history, including Monet who would document the chromatic transformations of environments over time. Obregón later stopped using photography as a medium, and started physically dissecting the flower in numerous ways, one of them being through the use of cut rubber, as he believed the use of rose imagery “gave weight to my work”. Ariel Jiménez aptly describes the symbolism of the rose where “…a flower is not only a flower that has petal after petal in a circular structure, rather, it also superimposes symbol over symbol: of youth, of freshness, of love, of loving commitment. It can allude to mourning, and from what I see, it is also a very old organism, prior not only to culture, but to humanity itself.” In this sense, Obregón’s petal dissections can be read as the intent to gradually accumulate (in consecutive layers) everything that a rose could possibly mean for humanity. The dissected flowers rendered in his creations highlight the bond that exists between the body and nature, as cycles of time and decay affect both the body and the flower. This visual comparison can also be found within the work of Félix González-Torres.

    In the series Las Niágaras, Obregón brought another autobiographical dimension into his body of work. The title of the series originated from Marilyn Monroe’s movie Niagara. The title of the movie was translated in Spanish as Torrentes Pasionales (Torrents of Passion.) Obregón believed that a person’s biography is like a torrent of passion and, coincidentally, the name of Marilyn Monroe’s character in the movie was Rose. Each work in the Niagara series is like an encounter or an imaginary conversation between two persons—usually a female and a male character— who Obregón knew or who influenced him. Depending on the characters, the frame or border that surrounds them will sometimes change color according to gender, red for females and blue for males.

    The title of the present lot is the initials spelled out “nm and nd,” alluding to Norma Marilyn and Marcel Duchamp. Throughout this series Obregón attempted to write Marilyn’s name in different languages, ranging from Chinese to Russian and French. In the case of Ene Eme y Ene De, he writes her name is Arabic and introduces a commercial brand of a perfume called “Evening in Paris”. What we see here are two broad layers of dissections framed within the thin red line. The upper layer consists of the dissected rose petals alluding to cyclical time and the above-described symbolism of the rose. The lower layer renders the silhouettes of Marilyn Monroe and Marcel Duchamp facing each other in conversation, surrounded by their initials and all the implications of mass production and commercial elements that these two historical figures have come to symbolize. It is also important to point out the type of font Obregón employed. He used a gothic font that Hitler had expressly prohibited, thereby adding a connotation of counter-culture and oppression.

    In presenting us with such an intimate autobiographical context through his works, Obregón would seem to be ensuring the endurance and accessibility of his personal legacy over time. This is reminiscent of Duchamp’s attitudes towards his own work, due to the fact that he grouped many of his important pieces in his famous Boite-en-valise (de ou par Marcel Duchamp ou Rrose Sélavy), 1935-1941. As Ariel Jiménez states, this suggests “a fragile accumulation of memory in a type of small personal museum that he takes with him and that will disappear with us,” very much in the same way that Obregón is leaving behind his Niágaras. Thus, this towering work exemplifies Roberto Obregón’s intensely poetic, complex oeuvre, replete with intimate autobiographical and historical nuances. Each viewer will read and interpret clues that only Obregón has the keys to fully understand, and this oscillation between image and hidden meaning is ultimately at the center of his practice.

  • Artist Biography

    Roberto Obregón

    Venezuelan / Colombian • 1946 - 2003

    Venezuelan artist Roberto Obregón studied at the Escuela de Artes Plásticas Julio Árraga in Maracaibo and was influenced by Eadweard Muybridge and Marcel Duchamp. The primary leitmotif in his body of work is the concept of cyclical time and roses. Obregón's works document his physical, bodily decay over time through the physical dissection of roses: He created installations of large rose petals made from cut rubber, which symbolized the dissection.

    These petal dissections can also be read as an accumulation of everything a rose could signify for humanity. Further, they denote the bond between the body and nature, as cycles of time and decay affect the body and the rose equally — a concept reminiscent of Félix González-Torres's work.

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Ene Eme y Ene De

cut rubber and long-staple wool
79 1/8 x 262 5/8 in. (201 x 667.1 cm)

$150,000 - 250,000 

Sold for $173,000

Contact Specialist
Kaeli Deane
Head of Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1352

Latin America

New York 26 May 2015 4pm