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In this essay, Antonio Berni writes about mural painting in Argentina. He bemoans the fact that it has not fulfilled its potential in spite of the skill of local artists, and refers to the muralist’s dependence on assigned spaces and the limits on freedom of expression that that implies. He criticizes the poor quality of murals in both government and private sector facilities, especially those painted by Post-Impressionist artists. He mentions a lack of controversial criticism and an absence of any form of protest in defense of the modern generation of artists. He requests public mural painting competitions, which should be open to artists with the required technique.
Antonio Berni was born in Rosario, Provincia de 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. In 1942, while he was traveling in the Andes, in Bolivia and Columbia, Berni gave lectures on the techniques of modern painting and mural painting. This essay refers to his final lecture on that tour, in Bogota: "Mural Painting in the Americas and my Experiences with the painter Siqueiros," as well as to a similar matter that he mentioned in his presentation to the Universidad de Montevideo in 1943. In this essay, Berni has harsh words for mural painting in Argentina, referring back to some of the topics discussed with [Mexican artist] David Alfaro Siquieros. He repeats his criticism of the system in which the Argentine government provides the mural space on which to create this public form of art. Berni submits a pragmatic proposal which offers a solution to the political issue: he requests public mural painting competitions and artists who are technically competent to compete.