Cesar Paternosto – Painting and Architecture

Nov 29 - Feb 19, 2012

The year following my graduation from law school in 1958, I registered at the school of architecture of Universidad Nacional of La Plata, the city in Argentina where I was born. I felt that it was a field more in line with my artistic vocation: at that time I could hardly imagine making a living as an artist. But due to various reasons it was impossible for me to continue my studies. Looking back, I have come to realize that there was something that was more important than searching for a profession that was closer to the visual arts.

The passing of time proved to me that many of the legitimate solutions I would come to uncover in my painting—and even in my sculptures, which go at a slower pace— had a profound and instinctive inclination towards the architectural space. ?In the mid-1960s, I began to question the quality of the object of my painting, and not only by elongating the image around the support of the canvas, which gradually became wider and eliminated the frame.

In 1966, I started to integrate various components into my paintings (each part consisted of a combination of curved and rectangular shapes), hung at a predetermined distance. In what is even more significant from the point of view of my relationship with architecture, the interstitial wall space would become an integral component of my composition, which, as a whole, could be seen as a sort of architectural relief.

From the point of view of today’s terminology, it is possible to regard each piece as a wall installation due to the fact that the sections lack any independent sense outside of the wall. I was embarking, then, on a modality to which I would return years later, meaning that the pieces would acquire an identity solely upon their installation. Initially, I exhibited these works—“shaped canvases”, in the art dialect of the time—at Galeria Bonino in Buenos Aires in 1966. Later that year I exhibited my works at Di Tella Institute (as a candidate for the na- tional award) and at the III American Art Biennial in Córdoba, where the jury, presided by Alfred H. Barr, awarded me first prize and awarded Carlos Cruz-Diez the highest honor. Subsequently, Mr. Barr decided to acquire Duino, one of the pieces, for the MoMA collection. ?

 Beginning in 1969, I proposed a non-conventional way of re-reading a painting by only showing elements on the sides of the canvas while maintaining the frontal spaces white. With it, I stimulated the ambulatory participation of the spectator, who would need to move from one side to the other to be able to see the work in its totality.

This approach, at the same time, served to radically consolidate the nature of the painting as object, which was no longer presented as an illusionist screen (as passed down from the Renaissance) but rather as a robust object flat against the wall, that seems to project from the wall.

In what seemed to be a logical extension of this approach to painting, I came back to the concept of using various components in my works (“wall installations”), which I had started in 1966, as I mentioned previously. In 1972 I retook the concept anew in a more systematic manner: each piece was composed of three or four rectangular format canvases hung vertically at 20-centimeter (8 inches) intervals. The canvases were of various widths determined by a module. The front of each panel was white, and the sides revealed sequences?of bands in contrasting colors. ?

Afterwards, in 1974, I concentrated on three-panel pieces only, composed of a horizontal panel on the lower section and two vertical ones, all of them also showing white fronts with colors on the sides. I called these works “complex-units,” and a group of them was exhibited at Denise Rene-Rive Gauche Gallery in October of that year.

This work reiterated the decisive relationship of paintings and their surrounding space, as they manifested themselves again as architectonic relief.

The approach of my broad pictorial vision, which motivates the spectator’s participation and which through- out the years was gradually complemented with the appearance of pictorial notations on the work’s frontal plane—a true integral vision of the object of the painting—caught the attention of the Spanish architect Rafael Moneo, winner of the 1996 Pritzker Prize, and of his partner, architect Pedro Elcuaz, both commissioned to remodel the Atocha train station in Madrid. They re- quested me to carry out a pictorial intervention project for the large metallic structure that supports the roof at the Madrid-Valencia high speed train arrival hall. The structure is 51.83 meters wide, 7 meters tall and 1.28 meters deep.

 I conceived the idea of red, blue and black planes precisely because of the depth of the lateral planes of the two diamond rows that make up the structure (actually, one large beam), and I organized them in a rhythmic manner to reflect the pattern move- ment of the passengers arriving at the station. In other words, when the passenger/spectator walks along those planes, colors appear and disappear. ?This way, my long-standing interest in painting as related to the architectural space had come to full realization: a pictorial vision that fully integrates itself with the structural element of space.” Cesar Paternosto.