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Thought-Provoking 'Antithetical Impulses' on Display at Embassy of Argentina

By David Jahng

The Embassy of Argentina opened its latest art exhibition on Sept. 12, part of the embassy’s extensive array of cultural programs throughout the year. The exhibit, titled “Antithetical Impulses” by Argentinian artist Federico Cattaneo, features eight abstract works of acrylic, oil or enamel paint over fabric or silk handkerchiefs that were mounted on carved panels.

The embassy began its cultural programming in 2011, according to Maritza Gueler, the event programmer and cultural affairs coordinator for the embassy. She said the purpose is to promote the arts of Argentina by bringing in different kinds of artists and styles.

“Argentina is a very cultural country,” Gueler said. “This is the idea, to show the broad artistic trends that we have in Argentina.”

Argentinian artist Federico Cattaneo creates abstract works using acrylic, oil and enamel paint over fabric or silk handkerchiefs that were mounted on carved panels. 

The embassy has organized dozens of concerts, reading plays, tango classes, lectures and exhibitions. Gueler said the program quickly grew; by 2016, the embassy was receiving over 200 requests to participate in only seven exhibitions. Calls came in from Argentinian artists living in Argentina or in parts of the United States, she said.

Cattaneo was one of the few artists carefully selected by Alfredo Ratinoff, curator of the exhibition. Ratinoff said being a curator can often be intense, as choosing art for a show is not based on personal taste.

“You are selecting something that you want to convey and that you want to portray for the people,” said Ratinoff. “To invite them to see something new … a new vision.”

Giving people an opportunity to open up their minds is important to Ratinoff. We are so immersed in the digital world that we are losing a bit of our “primal essence,” Ratinoff said. He explained that the best way to get back in touch with that essence is to have an awakening about yourself through someone else’s creation.

Ratinoff and Cattaneo both want art to inspire and elicit personal feelings from the viewers. Cattaneo said he tries to accomplish this by placing secrets into his paintings, keeping many elements from being seen at first glance.

Visitors to the embassy have the opportunity to decipher Cattaneo’s work for themselves. They walk up a winding spiral staircase to reach the lavish ballroom housing the exhibit. The ornate carvings on the high ceiling and walls of the room were a complementary backdrop to the complicated paintings.

Argentinian artist Federico Cattaneo, center, shows viewers his exhibition “Antithetical Impulses” at the Embassy in Argentina. 

Cattaneo creates striking, abstract works using a multilayered technique in which he carves shapes into a main panel and then applies paint with a squeegee to fill in the cavities and create a smooth surface. The resulting compositions feature vibrant, bold hues in the backgrounds contrasted with large splotches of paint, leaving viewers to interpret the images for themselves. According to the embassy, the textile patterns represent nature motifs that evolve and decay across the canvas.

“Jungle,” a piece consisting of a large white shape of a creature over a black, leafy, floral background, spoke to attendees in different ways.

“Some people come and they see a monkey, some people come and see a dog, some people see a tiger,” Cattaneo said. “It is depending on what you project to the painting, what the painting means to you.”

Alec Stewart, a guest at the exhibition opening, said he appreciated the opportunity to enjoy the debut, but found himself conflicted over the art.

“Maybe you want to take it as sort of a Rorschach image test kind of way, where you’re trying to see something in it,” Stewart said. “But then at the same time, you just want to throw that all away and not do that as much as possible.”

Farah James Lawlor II, another guest at the opening, praised the embassy for consistently showcasing quality works. She said she is always impressed with the embassy’s cultural events and enjoyed Cattaneo’s unique style of art.

“It’s very dynamic. I kind of like the black and white,” said Lawlor. “They kind of give you a punch, so I think that was good, and I think it makes a statement.”

Argentinian artist Federico Cattaneo’s abstract artwork features textile patterns that represent nature motifs. 

Lawlor holds a bachelor’s degree in fine arts and design, and said she has a strong background in art history. She said all of her art education came back to her when she appreciated the paintings on display.

Cattaneo also brings his own experience and memories when he creates his work. He began truly appreciating art in a seventh-grade after-school program, soon developing a passion for oil painting and portraits. However, once he moved to the U.S., his style adapted to become more abstract.

“I guess it had to do with the sense that I felt [being] in between two places,” said Cattaneo.

He said since then, he has always incorporated abstraction into his paintings. While he thinks the future of painting is full of possibilities, Cattaneo does expect his own work to build on his current ideas of abstraction and carving. However, he is unsure of where exactly his artistic vision will lead him.

“One of the most beautiful things about painting is that anything goes,” said Cattaneo. “You can take your painting any direction you want.”

“Antithetical Impulses” runs Monday to Friday from 3 to 5 p.m. through Oct. 12 at the Embassy of Argentina, 1600 New Hampshire Ave., NW. For more information, visit http://www.eeeuu.mrecic.gov.ar/en.


David Jahng is an editorial assistant for The Washington Diplomat.




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