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Antonio Berni writes about the Primer Salón de Arte Plástico [First Salon for the Visual Arts], the Uruguayan art exhibition organized by Latitud magazine in 1945. He also reviews paintings by Cesáreo Bernaldo de Quirós, comparing them to the work of Joaquín Torres García. 


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.

In this essay, Antonio Berni expresses his critical opinion of Joaquín Torres García’s workshop, which had just opened in Montevideo, and refers to the debate concerning the modernization of the visual arts in the Río de la Plata region. A comparison of works by Joaquín Torres García with those by Cesáreo Bernaldo de Quirós prompts Berni to claim that both collections of paintings avoid reality — the former in terms of form and the latter in terms of subject matter. Berni’s intention is to portray New Realism as the only local and personal art at a historical moment when the concrete art movement was just beginning in Argentina, in direct dialogue with Torres García, and Quirós was being acclaimed as the national artist. In this way, Berni challenges the modernization in the face of abstract tendencies and the continuation of the naturalist renovation from earlier in the century, which he calls Post-Impressionism. 

Roberto Amigo
Fundación Espigas, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Fundación Espigas.