Antonio Berni (Rosario de Santa Fe, 1905–Buenos Aires, 1981) began studying in Europe in 1925, establishing himself in Paris, where he came into contact with 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 conceive 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 created paintings of the rural community, in particular in the northern province of Santiago del Estero, and also began his narrative collage series Juanito Laguna. In 1962 Berni 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 produced objects, installations, and happenings; he also explored diverse stylistic variants of realist representation.
Following the breakthrough of the artists linked to the magazine Martín Fierro: Emilio Pettoruti (1892-1971), Xul Solar (1887-1963) y Norah Borges (1901-1998), Alfredo Guttero (1882-1932), and the People’s Artists (with their social political engraving), as well as local artists who had been educated in Paris: Aquiles Badi (1894-1976), Horacio Butler (1897-1983), Héctor Basaldúa (1895-1976), Raquel Forner (1902-1988), Alfredo Bigati (1898-1964), Antonio Berni (1905-1981) y Lino Enea Spilimbergo (1896-1964) emerged on the arts scene toward the end of the decade.
This exhibition by Antonio Berni, which occurred after his return to Argentina in 1930, had the local impact of introducing the Surrealist aesthetic that he had linked himself to in Paris; the exhibition also represented the previous stage of the artist’s production which pertained to new realism. Even the checklist of exhibition at Amigos del Arte [Friends of Art] in 1932 is important to the understanding Berni’s artistic thought. Berni organized his work, made between 1928 and 1932, into the following groups: Plastic art, subjective realist compositions, nightmares, and objective realism. The terms used by Berni quickly place him within the modernizing avant-garde as well as within the Surrealist tradition of oneiric representation. Nevertheless, it is of interest to highlight the early use of the term “realism” with a pair of qualifiers: subjective and objective. It demonstrates that an early root of “new realism” stemmed from from Surrealism, in advance of the recognized influence that the visit of David Alfaro Siqueiros had during his trip to Argentina in 1933.