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The Argentinean painter Antonio Berni surmises that the perceived decadence of art is a result of a disconnection between the artist and the public. In his judgment, art has always been firmly rooted in a search for realism. Then, Berni proposes that the “new realism” should be a provocative image mirroring the prevailing spiritual, social, political, and economic reality of the time.
Antonio Berni (Rosario de Santa Fe, 1905–Buenos Aires, 1981). He began studying in Europe in 1925, establishing himself in Paris, where he came into contact with both the Surrealist avant-garde and Communism. Upon returning to Argentina in 1932, he exhibited his Surrealist works at Amigos del Arte [Friends of Art]. The following year, he joined the Equipo Poligráfico Ejecutor [Lead Polygraphic Team] formed by the Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros in order to carry out the work Ejercicio Plástico [Visual Exercise]. Berni developed his New Realism theory out of politically and socially committed art grounded in transcendent realism. In 1944 he created the Taller de Arte Mural [Mural Art Workshop]. In the 1950s, Berni conceived paintings dealing with the rural community, in particular in the northern province of Santiago del Estero, and also began his narrative collage series Juanito Laguna. In 1962 he won the Grand Prize for Engraving and Drawing at the Venice Biennial. The following year, the artist began his Ramona Montiel series. In the 1960s and 1970s, while he continued with his paintings, collages, and engravings, Berni created objects with miscellaneous materials, installations, and happenings; he also explored diverse stylistic variants of realist representation. In 1936, Berni provoked a strong public reaction in Argentina with his large canvases painted on jute (Manifestación [A Protest], Desocupación [Jobless] among others) whose social subject matter was given a realist representation. That same year after returning to Buenos Aires, Berni published this article in Forma, the magazine of the Sociedad de Artistas Plásticos, in which he defended realism against the decorative nature of modern art—in his opinion, represented by works like those of Horacio Butler and Emilio Pettoruti. Thus, he continued with the same positions established in the essay “Siqueiros y el arte de masas” [Siqueiros and the Art of the Masses], published the previous year. This was a foundational text for the concept of “new realism,” the backbone of Berni’s oeuvre. Furthermore, this was also the same year of Berni’s official recognition via the Acquisition Award for his work Chacareros [Farmers]. In spite of his critiques concerning modern painters, at the end of 1936 Berni exhibited together with those same artists in various shows (Amigos del Arte and Galería Moody), thereby marking the new antifascist alliances that were taking root in the art field.