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Antonio Berni is interviewed by María Esther Gilio, and talks about his training, art criticism, hyperrealism, and the essential Argentine nature of his work.
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. This interview is of great interest when we consider what Berni has to say about his painting and about reality within the oppressive context of the military dictatorship, keeping in mind that the theme of the interview is "to create in freedom." Although, as from about mid 1980, Berni did produce paintings that bore witness to the repression—especially his worker-Christ figures—he did not publicly criticize the regime. This occasionally made it possible for Berni to be used by the military dictatorship’s propaganda machine, as in the case of the Arte argentino contemporáneo [Contemporary Argentine Art] exhibition that was taken to Tokyo, or as in the press coverage of his meetings with Admiral Eduardo Emilio Massera.