There is no shortage of ‘bohemia’ in Buenos Aires. Or rather, you cannot escape claims of ‘bohemian vibes’ as restaurant owners, landlords or entire neighbourhoods attempt to convince you of the authenticity and quirkiness of their offerings. Such claims are commonplace and, in most cases, perhaps best ignored.
Nico Fernández Rubio is the curator of El Gato Viejo art gallery. He describes his new Thursday evening venture, ‘Noche de Emergentes’, as “diverse artists and people, gathering together to eat, drink, and enjoy live music and painting, in a bohemian setting”. On this occasion, the adjective seems apt. El Gato Viejo is one of the most interesting cultural spaces I have seen in the city.
Housed in an old train depot near Retiro, it is a challenge to find. The warehouse roof blends into the corrugated iron horizon of the station, and the space outside could be mistaken for a scrap yard. It is only upon closer inspection that the various eight foot heaps of metal can be identified as intricately designed sculptures of insects and animals, constructed from old car parts, typewriters, pipes and scrap materials.
Inside, the gallery is a shrine to utter miscellanea. The centrepiece is a small stage, bathed in a soft, blue glow, around which is clustered a selection of antique furniture, interspersed with plastic ‘7-Up’ bar tables. Ornamented with small sculptures, vintage trinkets and paper lampshades, each table is dimly lit by candles and equipped with toilet roll, serving as makeshift napkins. Luckily, any danger posed by the potentially flammable tableware could be counteracted using the sandbags which hang above the bar, alongside green orb lanterns and strings of garlic.
The evening begins at 9.30pm, when people start to filter in. The crowd is young and ruggedly arty. They seem unfazed by the inconspicuous location, tiny, unassuming doorbell or impromptu bonfire beside it. It is the first ‘Noche de Emergentes’, and Nico explains that the majority of the guests are regular visitors to the gallery, seasoned art buffs, or artists themselves, who have exhibited there in the past. Many helped with organising the event. For them, the evening is also an opportunity for more people to see – and even buy – their work.
Before the music begins, guests have a chance to explore the gallery, which is spread over three warehouses. Set to a contrasting backing track of Sinatra classics, the abstract and unconventional pieces exhibited provide entertainment in their own right. A baby pink, retro Impala car is surrounded by metal sculptures of cows and greyhounds, pieced together with nuts and bolts. In the main gallery, the work of emerging contemporary artists is showcased in monthly cycles.
However, the most prominent work is that of resident artist, Carlos Regazzoni, for whom the gallery serves as a workshop. He is the man behind the remarkable sculptures and the enormous scenes which line the walls, painted by a feral hand in an erratic palette. A sign welcomes guests to “El Gato Viejo: art gallery, museum and theatre of a bombastic and renowned character with an unlimited imagination…The world of Regazzoni.”
At 10pm, the band takes to the stage, introduced by Carlos Regazzoni himself, whose cameo appearance is fleeting but memorable. With unruly white hair and clad in multi-coloured cargo trousers and a carelessly buttoned shirt, the artist is the epitome of eccentricity. He dances briefly with a waitress, devours a pizza, shouts praise at the band, and disappears.
On the opening night, the act is ‘Sri Lanka’, a Buenos Aires four piece, who fuse acoustic and jazz with world music. Behind them is projected a flock of birds taking flight in shades of magenta, and the resulting atmosphere is calming. Closed-eyed vocal harmonies are met by immense audience appreciation. The spirals of their cigarette smoke catch the light, creating a quintessential bohemian ambience, alongside the laidback sounds.
The evening is accompanied by Nico’s very own cuisine. I find him decked out in a striped apron, dashing through the open kitchen, hands deep in pesto. Each week the house dish will be whatever he decides to cook on that particular evening. The bar offers a good selection of beers and spirits, and wine is priced around $40 a bottle. Drinks were a necessity to wash down the somewhat rock-like pizzas Nico served up at $15 each.
Nonetheless, he is quick to attest: “But the best thing is the place, right? It has a spirit and an atmosphere. It’s kind of homely; hence the toilet paper.” In the weeks to come, different acoustic and jazz bands will play, and he will set up canvases outside for guests to get creative. His philosophy? “The ‘Noche de Emergentes’ is for people to come together who have one passion in common: art. Here, they can relax, enjoy the setting and connect in a different way”. Whether or not you are an artist, and even if you remain sceptical about ‘bohemia’, you will leave ‘Noche de Emergentes’ having enjoyed a feast for all the senses, in a unique space which oozes creativity.
‘Noche de Emergentes’ is every Thursday from 9.30pm until 1am. El Gato Viejo is situated at Av. del Libertador 405, near Retiro station. Food prices will vary each week, depending on what Nico cooks. For more information on the gallery and the bands scheduled each week, contact: [email protected]