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Antonio Berni chronicles the various points of view that were expressed during the exhibition of visual arts organized by Latidud [Latitude] magazine in the city of Mar del Plata in 1945. Berni’s comments range from the artistic to the political.
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. Latitud magazine was published monthly during the first half of 1945. Antonio Berni, who was responsible for the painting and print section, was among those who worked at the magazine, together with Enrique Amorim, Leopoldo Hurtado, María Rosa Oliver, Horacio Cóppola, Luis Falcini, and Juan Carlos Paz, among others.This essay refers to Berni’s remark about the Primer Salón de Arte Plástico [First Salon for Visual Arts] organized by Latitud in the seaside resort of Mar del Plata in February 1945. The exhibition presented works by modern artists in a tribute to three of their significant forerunners — [19th-century painter] Prilidiano Pueyrredón, Eduardo Sívori [considered Argentina’s first realist painter], and Martín Malharro [landscape impressionist] — each of whom left a defining imprint on the evolving stages of visual arts in Argentina. Berni makes a theoretical observation concerning the need to create an appropriate medium through which art might evolve. He also notes that artists were enjoying their independence just as their craft was awash in modern, progressive influences—a most relevant issue in that crucial year of 1945 in which visual artists were forming anti-fascist alliances against the nationalist movement, taking up where they had left off ten years earlier. There is a well-expressed sentiment in the text outlining the selection criteria applied to the artists in the exhibition: "those who yearn for unfettered creation in a positive world" and are prepared to organize in defense of the "free world." This essay thus becomes an action document promoting the politics of the united front of antifascist groups at the local level, and setting a precedent for the Salón Independiente, which was also organized in 1945 as an anti-Salón message to the Salón Nacional, for the same reasons.