Antonio Berni (Rosario de Santa Fe, 1905–Buenos Aires, 1981). He began studying in Europe in 1925, establishing himself in Paris, where he came into contact with both the Surrealist avant-garde and Communism. Upon returning to Argentina in 1932, he exhibited his Surrealist works at Amigos del Arte [Friends of Art]. The following year, he joined the Equipo Poligráfico Ejecutor [Lead Polygraphic Team] formed by David Alfaro Siqueiros in order to carry out the mural Ejercicio Plástico [Visual Exercise]. Berni developed his New Realism theory out of politically and socially committed art grounded in transcendent realism. In 1944 he created the Taller de Arte Mural [Mural Art Workshop]. In the 1950s, Berni conceived paintings dealing with the rural community, in particular in the northern province of Santiago del Estero, and also began his narrative collage series Juanito Laguna. In 1962 he won the Grand Prize for Engraving and Drawing at the Venice Biennial. The following year, he began his Ramona Montiel series. In the 1960s and 1970s, while he continued with his paintings, collages, and engravings, Berni created objects, installations, and happenings; he also explored diverse stylistic variants of realist representation.
The modernization of the arts in Argentina had one of its main stages during the 1920s. After the artists identified with the Martín Fierro journal—Emilio Pettoruti (1892–1971), Xul Solar (1887–1963), and Norah Borges (1901–1998)—toward the end of the decade, some events took place: the actions of Alfredo Guttero (1882–1932) and the Artistas del Pueblo [Artists for the People] with the socio-political engraving, as well as the activities in the local milieu by artists who studied in Paris: Aquiles Badi (1894–1976), Horacio Butler (1897–1983), Héctor Basaldúa (1895–1976), Raquel Forner (1902–1988), Alfredo Bigati (1898–1964), Berni himself, and Lino Enea-Spilimbergo (1896–1964). In the early-1930s, a confrontation takes place between the artists that defended political art—driven by the arrival of Mexican painter David Alfaro-Siqueiros (1896–1974) in 1933 with Berni and Spilimbergo as key figures—and those wielding pure art focused in formal renewal, among them Emilio Pettoruti, Butler, and most of the artists belonging to the so-called School of Paris. Nevertheless, both circles had in common the awareness of being modern artists, as opposed to academic naturalism. The broad advance of Nationalism during that decade forced a shift in the policies of confrontations between Communism and the liberal, socialist, and democratic sectors, thus focusing instead on making anti-fascist and anti-militaristic alliances. This document presents the growing activity of the “modern artists” at the beginning of 1935, previous to the alliance with the “political” artists through an exposition and a manifest in defense of modernism.
This document is important as a way to analyze Berni’s discourse in 1935, while in Europe. in which he aligns himself with the Communist artistic policy and the defense of mural art with opinions close to those of Siqueiros. Nevertheless, in a contemporary way, and while still in Buenos Aires, Berni criticizes the relevance of Muralism in view of Argentina’s political situation, so that he establishes alliances with the modern painters. Berni was the only Latin American artist that responds to the international survey from the Commune journal, directed in Paris by poet Louis Aragon.