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In 1941, the magazine, Argentina Libre [Free Argentina], did a survey of Argentine visual artists on the system of juried shows and art competitions, and whether or not it served to spur artistic production. In this essay, Antonio Berni responds to the following questions: 1) Could the state attempt to encourage artistic production? Would it be better for the state to have nothing to do with the arts and allow them to define their own way? 2) Are juried shows, to which artists submit work and exhibit in groups, effective in their attempt to encourage artistic production? 3) Is it advisable to offer cash prizes to the artists who participate in these juried shows? 4) Are the prizes awarded in an unbiased way? What are the merits and flaws of the network of juried shows throughout the country? 5) Would it be preferable, as is so often suggested, for the cash prizes to be replaced by the purchase of the valuable works exhibited? 6) How can the arts in Argentina be encouraged toward social ends, as they should, and thus become more worthy of respect? Berni’s response provides a thorough analysis of the framework of the visual art in Argentina at the time.
Antonio Berni (1905–81) is one of the most important Argentine artists in the twentieth century. Starting in 1925, he studied in Europe, settling in Paris where he came into contact with the Surrealist avant-garde and communist ideas. Upon returning to Argentina in 1932, he showed his Surrealist works at the Amigos del Arte [Friends of Art]. The following year, he joined the Equipo Polígrafo [Graphic Work Team] founded by David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896–1974). That group made the mural, Ejercicio Plástico [Visual Exercise], in Don Torcuato on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. His Nuevo Realismo [New Realism] theory was based on the idea of a transcendent realism by means of politically and socially committed art.In 1944, he started the Taller de Arte Mural [Mural Art Workshop]. In the fifties, he made paintings about rural workers, especially those from Santiago del Estero, a province in northern Argentina. This gave rise to his narrative series of painting-collages on Juanito Laguna. In 1962, he was awarded the Grand Prize for Prints and Drawings at the Venice Biennale. The following year, Berni began working on a print series on Ramona Montiel. Though he continued working in the media of painting, collage and printmaking, Berni (who was from Rosario, Argentina) also made objects, installations, and happenings in the sixties and seventies while exploring stylistic variations of figurative realism. This document sheds light on Berni’s political position within the art scene, as well as the role of the state in furthering and funding the arts. Berni believes cultural development takes place in phases, and therefore he maintains that artists must look to historical examples and support any and all mechanisms that can serve to strengthen a local art scene. This document is also important insofar as it indicates how cultural issues were viewed by antifascist forces at a time when Argentina Libre was one of the publications voicing prodemocracy propaganda.