Cesar Paternosto, Argentinian, born in 1931
Height x width: 59 x 70 3/4 in. (149.9 x 179.7 cm)
Medium or Technique
Oil on canvas
Saundra and William H. Lane Galleries (Gallery 332)
Staccato is the product of an extraordinary and short-lived period of artistic experimentation in Buenos Aires, which the painter described as a moment of “great vitality.” link As Argentina experienced new economic prosperity and social freedom in the early and mid-1960s, intellectual and creative activity flourished. At this time, the Torcuato Di Tella Institute, a museum and cultural center founded in Buenos Aires in 1958 by wealthy industrialist Torcuato Di Tella, played a key role in fostering avant-garde artistic expression by bringing to Argentina provocative work by cutting-edge artists including Robert Rauschenberg link, Josef Albers link, Morris Louis link, Kenneth Noland link, Jackson Pollock link, Mark Rothko link, and others. This pushed the boundaries of acceptable artistic expression in Buenos Aires, forcing local artists and critics to confront the most radical works of contemporary art. Writers argued back and forth over whether works like Jasper Johns’s Fool’s House of 1962 (private collection), which included a broom adhered to its canvas, qualified as art. The institute also sponsored two annual prizes, judged by such leading critics as Clement Greenberg: one for international contemporary art and one for promising young Argentine artists.
Paternosto recalls this period as a time when he anxiously searched for his own voice, a quest that led him to the “aesthetics of the band of color.” He worked to develop an abstract style he calls “sensitive geometry,” which “left room for the touch of the painter.” Staccato, with its subtle diversity of tones within each color plane and its lightly varied application of paint, is a strong example of this approach. “Sensitive geometry” was also a reaction against what Paternosto describes as the uniform, “detached look” characteristic of the first wave of Argentine geometric abstraction of the 1940s. Paternosto instead envisioned “sensitive geometry” as a way of distancing himself from that earlier generation and turning towards international sources. There was also a practical component to this desire for a varied surface: the paints available in Argentina at the time had a “less-consistent quality” than Paternosto and his contemporaries chose to embrace. link
Paternosto claims both jazz and tango as major lifelong artistic influences, and his painting’s title, Staccato, connects this work to the rhythm and motion of lively music (the word staccato refers to sounds that are abruptly detached or separated from one another). He has described the painting’s vivid colors and thick, sharply differentiated bands in musical terms. In his book White/Red, he writes of this and related works from 1965, stating “I started painting bands exploring the ‘atonality’ of color: strange chords, such as a brown next to a pink, and the like. Soon the bands became waving and concentrically arranged.” link
This moment of artistic and cultural vigor in Buenos Aires was cut short in 1966, when General Juan Carlos Onganía seized control of the government. Onganía immediately initiated a program of cultural control that included the official repression of the “immoralism” of the avant-garde and the military arrest of university professors. Soon after, many artists and intellectuals left the country. Paternosto made his way to New York in 1967, never again to live permanently in Argentina. Staccato remained in South America until 2008, when it was acquired by the MFA.
1. Heather Hole, interview with César Paternosto, December 15, 2010, video recording, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
3. César Paternosto, White/Red (New York: Cecilia de Torres, 2001), 93.