Even immersed in the global health crisis due to Covid-19, and severely affected by it, art institutions and companies in the world struggle to keep their structures alive. The ways of accessing art have changed, but it is still possible to visit an exhibition, to fall in love with an artwork, to travel to the parallel world that the artist proposes to us, and even taking that universe home.

This past November 13th, Christie’s New York allocated, in its Latin American Art auction, lots 3 and 37 to two pieces by the artist Roberto Fabelo. The first of them, a triptych from 2015, entitled "Heaven, earth and sea", made in acrylic on silk (61 x 144 inches), was shown in the auction house's catalog on two double pages. In one of them, an essay by the art critic, editor and curator Paul Laster was included. On the other hand, lot 37 was a bronze sculpture with a stainless steel base (78 x 24 x 24 inches) entitled “Romantic Rhinos”. The piece represents a naked woman emerging from a sea shell, crowned with a conch shell, whose body is traversed by seven golden rhinos. The female nude has a black patina.

Both pieces were listed as recommended by the Auction House, as they were very representative of Fabelo’s work, and also taking into consideration the exquisite technique. Both works reached price of $ 437,500.00.

Cielo, tierra y mar

“Cielo, tierra y mar”, sold by 437.500 usd.

Rinocerontes romanticos

“Rinocerontes románticos”, bronze sculpture sold by 437.500 usd.

Below we share Paul Laster's text included in Christie’s New York catalog, for more reference on the piece “Heaven, earth and sea”.

One of Cuba’s most celebrated contemporary artists, Roberto Fabelo has had his installation of colossal cockroaches with human heads displayed on the façade of Havana's National Museum of Fine Art, a sculpture of a giant cooking pot stuck with hundreds of forks presented on Havana’s legendary Malecón boardwalk and totemic columns of kitchen wares exhibited in the Cuban Pavilion at the Venice Biennale—yet he’s just as internationally recognized for his remarkable paintings and drawings.

Beginning his long artistic career in the 1970s as a draughtsman illustrating imaginative ideas in styles inspired by the Old Masters, Fabelo quickly honed his skills to express contemporary concerns. Exploring myths, folklore and dreams, the 70-year old artist has used caricature and symbolism to communicate a personal vision of life that has a universal appeal.

Gaining popularity for his mixed-media assemblages in the 1990s, he made altar-like self-portraits chock-full of eccentric hand-carved figures and illustrated with carnivalesque characters that were reminiscent of Joseph Cornell’s poetic box constructions. Likewise, he created multi-paneled, paintings on wood that featured scores of small caricatures brought together on door-like structures not unlike Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns imaginatively crafted combines.

Over the past 20 years, Fabelo has constructed massive sculptures and installations with readymade and enlarged kitchen commodities, akin to Arman’s accumulations of repeated products forming something new and Claes Oldenburg’s playful Pop Art blow-ups of commonplace things. And like the Indian contemporary artist Subodh Gupta and Emirati artist Hassan Sharif, Fabelo has employed ordinary household objects to comment on consumerism, but while the former artists used new goods he chose to resurrect the worn and recycled to represent the characteristic Cuban way of life.

Equally Dadaist and Surrealist in their point of departure, his assemblages using found objects are brought together through poetic juxtapositions, and he’s also explored these types of visual puns and narratives in highly imaginative works on paper and paintings on decoratively embroidered silk. His 2015 triptych Cielo, tierra y mar is one of his standout paintings on silk. Rendered in acrylic on silk with overall patterns of floral and dot motives, the triptych consists of three Arcimboldo-style portraits of a young woman whose hair and clothing are composed from creatures that metaphorically represent the skies, lands and seas.

The first femme fatale’s hair is woven with intricately drawn images of various variety of birds, while her clothing looks like feathers. The second panel features the woman’s curly locks shaped from realistic depictions of rhinoceros—a recurring symbol in his work—that are intermixed like one of M.C. Escher’s puzzling graphic pieces. And the third part of the triptych portrays mermaids and shells interlocked in a sensual scenario, while the figure’s blouse becomes an encompassing conch shell.

Similar to the effect that Sigmar Polke has gotten from painting on bed sheets, the ornamental surface provides a type of veil that distances the viewer from the subject, thus making it even more desirable. The floral patterns also add a level of opulence and elegance to Fabelo’s otherwise dreamlike and disconcerting world, where the artist cleverly turns thoughts of nature and mythology into art.

Paul Laster, October 2020.

(Paul Laster is a writer, editor, independent curator, artist and lecturer. He is a New York desk editor at ArtAsiaPacific and a contributing editor at Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art, FLATT and artBahrain. He is a frequent contributor to Time Out New York, Modern Painters, New York Observer, Art in America and ARTPULSE)

Rinocerontes románticos (right) and Cielo, tierra y mar (right) on view at Christie’s, New York, 6-13 November 2020.
Photo by Marysol Nieves.