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CESAR PATERNOSTO

STACCATO, 1965

About the Artwork

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.” 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, Josef Albers, Morris Louis , Kenneth Noland, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, 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.

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.

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.”

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