Gassiot-Talabot, Gerald. “[La aventura de Berni].” In Antonio Berni: exposición retrospectiva 1922 – 1965. Exh. cat. Córdoba: Museo Provincial Emilio A. Caraffa, Dirección de Cultura, 1965.
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Gérald Gassiot-Talabot writes about discovering Antonio Berni’s work at the Venice Biennial, and describes the Ramona Montiel series. He speaks poetically about the artist’s Monsters, discussing the allegorical aspect of Berni’s production, his distinctive printing technique, and his use of an autonomous narrative.
Born in Rosario, Antonio Berni (1905-81) is one of the most outstanding Argentinean artists of the 20th century. He went to Europe in 1925 to study art, and 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 presented an exhibition of his Surrealist works at the Asociación Amigos del Arte [Friends of Art Association] in 1932. A year later, Berni joined the Equipo Polígrafo (Polygraph Team organized by David Alfaro Siqueiros) that created the mural called Ejercicio Plástico [Visual Arts 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 Biennial. The following year he began his Ramona Montiel series. During the 1960s and 1970s—while continuing to produce paintings, collages, and prints—he created objects, installations, and happenings, and explored stylistic variations in the field of realistic figuration. The Centro de Artes Visuales [Visual Arts Center] at the Instituto Torcuato Di Tella organized a retrospective of Antonio Berni’s work from 1922 through 1965, the year that the exhibition was presented. Berni’s recent work caused some controversy: Los monstruos del infierno disputándose a Ramona [Monsters from Hell Struggle for Ramona], from the series of objects he started producing in 1964 in which he realigned himself with Surrealist tradition (both in terms of their formal conception and in terms of their status as oneiric works that represented Ramona’s guilty dreams), which were presented within the framework of young avant-garde Argentine artists of that period. The exhibition was introduced by Jorge Romero Brest (1905-89), the director of the Centro de Artes Visuales, with a prologue by Gérald Gassiot-Talabot, who had invited Berni to the Mythologies Quotidiennes [Everyday Mythologies] exhibition at the Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris the previous year. Berni’s exhibition then traveled to Cordoba and Santa Fe, two provincial capitals in Argentina. For the purposes of this document, the texts from the exhibition in Cordoba have been selected, since they indicate the impact of Berni’s work at the local level. This essay by Gérald Gassiot-Talabot (1929–2002) offers powerful insights into an allegorical reading of the Ramona Montiel series, the relationship between a print and a made object, and the distinctive quality of the autonomous narrative in Berni’s works. Gassiot-Talabot coined the term “figuración narrativa” [figurative account] for reviewing contemporary works such as those derived from Pop. He founded OPUS magazine in 1967.