Osvald Romberg, 81, formerly of Elkins Park, an abstract artist and educator who worked and taught in the Philadelphia area for two decades, died Sunday, Nov. 24, at his home in Tel Aviv, Israel, after an 11-month battle with cancer.
Mr. Romberg was born in Buenos Aires in 1938 and trained in painting and architecture at universities there. He taught at the University of Tucumán in northwest Argentina before a junta’s brutal campaign against opponents forced him to emigrate. He went on to five decades of creative activity in the United States, Europe, Israel, and Latin America.
Mr. Romberg was best known for his brooding abstract painting that sought to explore the limits of geometry in art. The aim was to defy those constraints, he said in a 2014 online manifesto. He called the approach “Dirty Geometry.”
“I want to undermine the rigid, global imposition of geometry that has dominated [art] from the beginning of the 20th century,” he wrote. “Geometry, as we traditionally conceive it, can only be legitimized by a tight, rigid theoretical framework.
“Dirty Geometry is therefore a rebellious attempt to break from all theoretical frameworks and thus invent a geometry that would be free from theory.” He applied the thesis to painting, 3-D contraptions that he built and then photographed, and art installations.
Reviewer Donald Kuspit, writing in the April 2013 issue of Artforum International, an arts journal, said Mr. Romberg’s abstract painting “achieves a dramatic intensity and moody power that is as emotionally resonant and intellectually complex as an old-master painting.”
For 20 years, Mr. Romberg was a professor of art at the Bezalel Academy in Jerusalem before coming to the United States. He served as professor at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) in Philadelphia from 1994 to 2012.
In 1992, he met Carlos Basualdo, now senior curator of contemporary art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
“I remember Osvaldo being simultaneously welcoming and slightly intimidating,” Basualdo wrote in an email. “He was larger than life in all possible senses, a mountain of a man with a voracious intellect and inexhaustible energy.
"Many of his works were groundbreaking but I believe that he never got the recognition that he deserved. He was too restless, too intellectual, too outspoken to fit in. At the end, he remained an exile, an Argentine artist in Israel, an Israeli artist in the U.S.
“A true cosmopolitan that had little patience for anything but excellence and invention. I think he was happiest in his little island in Brazil, where he would escape at least once a year, far from social obligations and cell phones, smoking a cigar, endlessly talking about art.”
Mr. Romberg mentored and championed many artists of his own generation as well as curators. Basualdo said he was regarded as “an amazing teacher” both at PAFA and at the Bezalel Academy in Israel.
Mr. Romberg served as a senior curator at the Slought Foundation in Philadelphia. Slought is a nonprofit on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania that engages the public in dialogue about cultural and sociopolitical change, said its mission statement.
His work has been exhibited at the Negev Museum of Art, Beersheba (2018); the Museum of Modern Art, Buenos Aires (2012); and the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2011). In addition, the Art Museum here exhibited seven of Romberg’s works, called “Homage to Osvaldo Romberg,” from May 26 to Sept. 16, 2018.
His works are in the collections of the Museo de Arte Moderno, Buenos Aires; the Museo de Bellas Artes, Buenos Aires; the Ludwig Museum, Cologne; and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Norman Keyes, communications director for the Philadelphia Art Museum, said Mr. Romberg’s collage The Calling of St. Matthew. Caravaggio, will be on display in Gallery 276 starting Wednesday, Dec. 11, to memorialize the artist.
He is survived by his wife, Raquel Romberg; children Joanna S. Romberg-Blatchley, Noa Maliar, David Romberg, and Victoria A. Romberg; and four grandchildren.