Antonio Berni (1905-1981), a promising young man who exhibited in Rosario at the age of 15 and created narratives such as those of Juanito Laguna and Ramona Montiel among so many characters that populate an extensive work of strong social commitment, died 40 years ago and part of his trajectory is reflected in the thought of the curators Marcelo Pacheco and Adriana Lauria, creators of two important retrospectives of the artist.
Along with figures such as Raquel Forner, Alfredo Bigatti, Héctor Basaldúa, Juan Del Prete, Lino Enea Spilimbergo, Berni was part of the Paris Group -with which he later broke up for ideological reasons-, at a time when Argentine artists were receiving scholarships to improve in Europe. He connected with the European avant-gardes, with André Breton -author of the surrealist manifesto- and with the Communist Party.
“I returned from Paris in 1930. I had trained in Europe, in a world of writers, painters and musicians, with little contact with life. When arriving in Argentina the problem was not only the revolution of the form, other changes were taking place“In an interview, the author of fundamental works such as” Manifestation “(1934),” Unemployed “,” Chacareros “(1935) and” Midnight in the world “(1937), dedicated to the Civil War, told about this experience. Spanish.
Berni and his work La Rosita. AGN photo.
Plastic artist, teacher and promoter of New Realism, he adapted his narratives to aesthetic resources and to new practices and trends that he was appropriating. His genius was to go from modernity and the European avant-gardes in which his beginnings are inscribed to the contemporary, assimilating and absorbing techniques, without getting lost in that.
“He was an intellectual who participated in artistic and political gatherings, where the themes of each era were defined,” Pacheco summarizes. He joined exhibitions against the Vietnam War or put anti-church elements in his works“, for instance.
“He was an artist played even in style: for 60 years he was mutating his language, keeping it personal but at the same time looking very carefully and taking what he wanted from anywhere. You have to have a very good waistline to be able to maintain that multiplicity of recognizable voices as one, but which constantly varies in its presentation, ”said the curator.
“The apotheosis of Ramona.”
Berni is the author of emblematic series such as Santiago del Estero, where portrays peasant life and migration to large cities and from which archetypes such as Juanito Laguna, a child who are all the poor children of the world, and Ramona Montiel, the prostitute.
“Style becomes a constant space for quotations and appropriations, a field of reflection. A rebellious surrealist, a disturbing realist, a figurative informalist, a parodic pop, the artist does not rest on his constant and caustic absorption ”, defined Pacheco in a catalog of the Museum of Latin American Art of Buenos Aires (Malba), published in 2005, 100 years after birth of the artist.
On that occasion, as in the retrospective curated by Pacheco in 2013 at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, United States, the prodigious monsters that he exhibited in 1965 at the Di Tella Institute were exhibited, which “represent the threat of powers.” and they have “a series dedicated to Ramona’s nightmares,” says Lauría.
Berni was an interlocutor of the new generations of artists, introduced plastic surrealism in Argentina in 1932 and he disagreed with the postulate of the embodied Mexican muralists.
Antonio Requeni, by Antonio Berni
If the revolution had to be reflected in public murals, in a context such as that of Argentina after the first military coup in 1930 that overthrew Yrigoyen and the consequences of the Great Depression in the United States of 1929, Berni devised “murals that could be transportable, mobile , on racks and that could even be carried as banners in a demonstration ”, explains Lauria.
Thus, for those great compositions such as “Manifestation” he used very resistant burlap fabrics that he obtained in the port of Rosario that were united in a large canvas.
“The surrealist Berni as such does not exist,” says Pacheco, for whom Berni’s model is anchored in the ideal proposed by Xul Solar and the Neo-Creole language that mixes the local, regional and international as a conception of an art and culture rooted in European migration settled in America with its ethnic and cultural crosses as founding elements. In fact, his surrealist works were poorly received by critics in the 30s, although in the 40s he began to win great local awards and since the late 50s his exhibitions and the local and international awards he received placed him as a reference.
In 1962 he received the Prize for Engraving and Drawing at the 31st Venice Art Biennale and from there his career took off internationally. Influenced the emerging artists of Di Tella and others like Oscar Bony and Pablo Suárez, workshop assistants who accompanied him to collect materials for assemblies.
Photo: Camila Godoy
One of his great discoveries comes from the literary field: “He invented two characters and developed the lives of both through painting, which gave him the possibility to change his artistic language as many times as he wanted., from surrealism to the last time with hyperrealism ”, highlights Pacheco.
With these characters there is pop, neo-surrealism, hyperrealism, everything, “they give you the freedom to experience pure language, because you are using pictorial narrative language to tell their lives. It does not have to be declared or assumed as a single language as a whole. There are as many Bernis as there are Bernis, there are variants in all of them, and at the same time it is always recognizable ”, he explains.
“Although he is an artist of modernity by virtue of those mechanisms and procedures that he uses especially from the 1950s on, he quickly became part of contemporary art. Between 50 ′ and 60 ′ the emergence of Juanito as a specific theme of marginalized childhood, slums, and later, with the appearance of Ramona (1961-62) ”, explains Lauria.
“I was constantly drawing. He walked around with a little notebook and started talking on the phone and in the meantime he drew ”, describes Pacheco.
Both stand out the artist’s relationship with photography, which begins in Paris with his Leica camera with which records the environment, people and then uses it for his works. In this extensive photographic archive are his tours of provinces such as Catamarca, Chaco, Santiago del Estero, Jujuy and Buenos Aires, where he visited towns where he spent days painting. “It has complete series from San Antonio de Areco, Baradero, of settlements in the humid pampas when it was not soybean,” says Pacheco.
Over two or three years he decorated the fabrics that would be installed in the chapel of San Luis de Gonzaga in Las Heras, province of Buenos Aires: “El Apocalipsis” (with its four horsemen, television and a suitcase with money) and “The Crucifixion” (with people from the town, and the Roman legionary with a machine gun representing the repression), commissioned by the rector of the school, Father Hipólito Pordomingo. In these two large murals that take up Christian iconography, contemporaneity is manifested in the characters.
Berni reinterprets Christian iconography, as he did with other themes, in works such as “Christ in the garage” (1981), “Christ in the apartment” (1980) and “Magdalena” (1980).
Among his latest works is “Untitled”, from 1981: a woman’s body deposited on the sand of a beach, reminiscent of his “Difunta Correa” and which shows that, even today, 40 years after his death, Antonio Berni’s work is still valid to rethink the contemporary and the popular.