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Santiago A. Ferrari writes about meeting Antonio Berni in New York; he discusses the artist’s everyday life and the changes in his political views concerning Marxism.
Antonio Berni was born in Rosario, Province of Santa Fe, in 1905 and died in Buenos Airesin 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 Biennial. The following year he began his Ramona Montiel series. Duringthe ‘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 article highlights certain aspects of Antonio Berni’s visit to New York in 1977, when his exhibition, The Magic of Everyday Life, was presented at the Galería Bonino. His show offered a harsh view of contemporary society, articulated from a sexual perspective, in works such as Chelsea Hotel and Promesa de castidad [Promise of Chastity]. Keeping in mind that Argentina was under a military dictatorship at the time, it is interesting to note that the New York correspondent for the La Nación newspaper claims that Berni has lost his faith as a "political painter," and adds that, among artists, Marxism was a passion akin to a religious conviction. He goes on to say that there is still a noticeable Marxist influence in Berni’s paintings even though that particular source of inspiration has faded. In that same year, 1977, Marta Traba criticized Berni for having agreed to the retrospective at the Museo de Bellas Artes in Caracas that was sponsored by the Argentine military regime.