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Antonio Berni muses on the originality of Latin American colonial art, and suggests a way to distinguish between each of the three periods involved by naming them: pre-Columbian, colonial, and “contemporary” (post-independence). He goes on to analyze the individual characteristics and differences in colonial art, and offers his opinion on the contemporary art world.
Antonio Berni was born in Rosario, Province of Santa Fe, in 1905 and died in Buenos Aires, in 1981). Berni went to Europe in 1925 to study art. He settled in Paris, where he became involved with the Surrealist avant-garde and began exploring the Communist theories that were in vogue at the time. On his return to Argentina, he arranged an exhibition of his Surrealist works at the Asociación Amigos del Arte in 1932. A year later, Berni joined the Equipo Polígrafo (the group founded by [Mexican artist] David Alfaro Siqueiros), which created the mural called Ejercicio Plástico [Plastic Exercise]. His theory of Nuevo Realismo [New Realism], an artistic expression of political and social commitment, evolved out of his vision of transcendent realism. In 1944, Berni founded the Taller de Arte Mural [Mural Art Workshop]. During the 1950s he produced a number of paintings that depicted rural life, set mainly in the northern Argentine province of Santiago del Estero. These were, in fact, the first chapters in his narrative series of collages featuring his character Juanito Laguna. In 1962 he was awarded the grand prize for print and drawing at the Venice Biennale. The following year he began his Ramona Montiel series. During the ’60s and ‘70s—while continuing to produce paintings, collages, and prints—he created objects, installations, and happenings, and explored stylistic variations in the field of realistic figuration. Though this document appears to focus on a minor issue that helps to understand Antonio Berni’s work, it actually provides some key insights into his thinking in four areas: 1) Historical analysis: Since the 1930s, Berni had been voicing his concern for the historical evolution of Latin American art. He considered colonial art, to which he was exposed on his travels to Bolivia and Peru, to be a phase of highly original expression, which he believed should form the cultural basis for art in the Americas. 2) Institutional criticism of the "Europe-centric" model used by historians, critics, and museums. 3) Methodology. In this text, Berni defines the new realism, not in stylistic or pictorial terms, but rather as a means of analysis through which to "position a particular group of works of art according to aesthetic and social criteria," an approach designed for "reclaiming and assigning value." 4) The culture and the art of the people. An approach that has one foot in history and the other firmly in Berni’s present as it influences the content and the execution of his work. This analysis on colonial art reveals Berni’s interest in both the sculpture of Quito and the painting of Melchor Pérez de Holguín, which were the subject of other essays written by Berni in the 1940s.