Critics’ Picks

Antonio Berni, Juanito Laguna Going to the Factory, 1977, oil, wood, metal, dye, electrical components, aluminum, tin, paper, cardboard, ceramic, plastic, tissue, suede, corduroy, wire racks, glue, nails, staples, 72 x 48".

Antonio Berni, Juanito Laguna Going to the Factory, 1977, oil, wood, metal, dye, electrical components, aluminum, tin, paper, cardboard, ceramic, plastic, tissue, suede, corduroy, wire racks, glue, nails, staples, 72 x 48".

Buenos Aires

Antonio Berni

Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (Malba)
Avenida Figueroa Alcorta 3415
November 9, 2014–March 1, 2015

Bold as this may sound, the great Latin American novel may have been written by Antonio Berni, the Argentine artist awarded first prize in drawing and printmaking at the 1962 edition of the Venice Biennale. His characters Juanito Laguna, son of a metalworker, born and raised in a shantytown, and Ramona Montiel, lower-middle-class seamstress who decides to earn a living as a prostitute, are the protagonists of a narrative cycle that took the shape of paintings, collages, assemblages, and woodcuts that Berni produced between 1960 and ’77. Titled “Juanito and Ramona,” this exhibition, which was produced jointly between the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, gathers over 150 pieces from this large body of work, with each representing a fragment of daily life, a wrinkle in the psychological makeup of these two archetypes from the South American periphery.

These works are often constructed from urban waste—sticks or nails lodged into large wooden supports. For example, in Juanito Laguna Going to the Factory, 1977, our antihero heads to work, walking down a winding red path that runs by a trash dump. The sea of tin cans, plastic containers, and discarded consumer products is a passing commentary on the concrete reality of the material object. Berni clearly did not eschew his emotions or a moralizing vision, and this distances him from Pop art, New Realism, Arte Povera, or any other dogma that might have attempted to domesticate him. Instead, he turned to his Surrealist origins, where the confrontation between the self and the world provided him with a way to grapple with the real.

Translated from Spanish by Jane Brodie.