Ariel Mlynarzewicz (1964 - )

Gardel (1986)

Etching and aquatint on paper
height: 25cm
width: 20cm

Donated by Ariel Mlynarzewicz 1996


Carlos Gardel emerges as a chiaroscuro in this etching by Ariel Mlynarzewicz. Once again, the artist privileges the portrait, albeit an evanescent one, of Gardel as symbol. The hat, the cigarette, the suit and the handkerchief are four symbols of this now legendary urban singer, which distinguish him from the earlier Gardel whose origins were rural.

Gardel summarises the attributes of “the new Argentine” in his depiction: an immigrant of unknown origins who was brought up in a poor neighbourhood of Buenos Aires climbing socially and economically through his own means. This is the result of what Beatriz Sarlo defines as “a culture of mixing” with Buenos Aires as an epicentre as a city transformed from village into metropolis. The new Argentine arose from the fusion of the influx of immigrants, which peaked between 1880 and 1950; the previous inhabitants of the city; and the rural population that abandoned the countryside to settle in the big city. This convergence of diverse people redesigned the country’s social structure and put the question of identity at the centre of collective concerns. Gardel was born in Toulouse, France on December 11, 1890. His birth name was Charles Romuald Gardes. He changed his surname later during his artistic period. As the son of a single mother, who pretended she was a widow when she arrived in Buenos Aires, very little is known about his biological father. The controversy surrounding the singer’s origins was constant during and after his life. His comments on the matter were always ambiguous and never did anything more than perpetuate uncertainty, on several occasions he even claimed to be Uruguayan.

Gardel began his career as a national singer, which is the equivalent of saying that his repertoire was made up of “criolla” songs.* He began by forming an artistic duo in 1911 with José Razzano, also a singer and guitarist. In 1917, an event took place that would later shift Gardel’s career: he sang his first tango. As a solo performance, the singer debuted “Mi noche triste” (My Sad Night), which is often considered to be the first time a tango had lyrics sung with it. Gardel gradually transformed into a tango singer, introducing more tangos into his repertoire, at the expense of his criolla songs. In 1925 his artistic partnership with Razzano was definitively dissolved, due to Razzano’s recurring throat problems. Gardel went on to become established nationally and internationally as a tango singer.

In the 1930s Gardel’s image was cast into the global collective memory thanks to his entry into the film industry, appearing in films shot in New York and Joinville, France. His career was abruptly interrupted when he died in a plane crash in Medellín, Colombia. His premature death in this modern tragedy, in tone with what the goings on of the time, only served to further promote the legend of Gardel as a symbol of Argentine nationality both of the working class neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires and the cosmopolitan class. His true origins remain perplexingly unclear.

Text by Dulce María Dalbosco

Translated by Max Turner and Sebastian Bustamante-Brauning

*Translators' note: Criollo is often translated as “creole” although the word has a specific set of meanings in the Argentine context. In the context of the music described here it refers to the popular song traditions from rural parts of Argentina. For a discussion of the term see Pite R,E “La Cocina criolla..” in Alberto, p. (ed.), Rethinking Race in modern Argentina, Cambridge University Press, 2016, pp. 101

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