Early in his career, Argentinean artist Antonio Berni (1905–1981) was widely recognized throughout Latin America as a pioneering painter of his own strain of "New Realism."
His paintings of the 1930s and 1940s feature themes of social injustice painted in an innovative realist style that draws emotional impact from sensitive depictions of the downtrodden. In the mid-1950s, motivated by the social distress and poverty he witnessed amid his country’s rapid industrialization and parallel socio-political upheavals, Berni abandoned painting for a more visceral artistic medium: assemblage.
In 1958, he began a series of works that chronicled the tales of two fictional characters, Juanito Laguna and Ramona Montiel. Juanito was a boy who left his home in the countryside to seek work in Buenos Aires and ended up living in poverty in the city’s outskirts in the so-called villas miserias (misery towns or shantytowns). Ramona, on the other hand, was a middle-class teenager who was lured into a life of high-society prostitution by the promise of expensive gifts and a life of luxurious decadence.
Berni continued working with these two invented characters almost exclusively until 1977, constructing narratives of their lives using trash, machine parts, and other discards from everyday life. This link between materials used and the fictional worlds depicted—the substance and the subject—might be characterized as “material realism.” This series developed into a social narrative on industrialization and poverty, underscoring disparities between the wealthy Argentine aristocracy and the “Juanitos” of the slums, and condemning the lurid life of high-society prostitution. Berni gave a voice to the voiceless.
Although he was a tremendously influential artist in Latin America, Berni’s works are not well known in the United States. This exhibition will remedy that, featuring 98 objects that span a variety of media, including assemblage, sculpture, works on paper and a selection of the artist’s sketchbooks and printing plates. In addition, several of his monstruos (monsters) will also be featured, assemblage sculptures that depict the characters that haunt Juanito’s and Ramona’s nightmares. Antonio Berni: Juanito and Ramona is the first exhibition to focus on this iconic series created by Berni and is the first Berni exhibition organized by a U.S. museum in nearly fifty years.
Talk about your experience with the exhibition hashtag #AntonioBerni @phxart.
This special exhibition is included in general admission. During Free Wednesdays and First Fridays admission for adults 18 and above is $5, for youth 6 to 17 admission is $3 and admission for children under 6 is free. Admission for Maricopa Community College students is free.
Public Lecture: Dr. Mari Carmen Ramírez - September 17, 7 p.m. - Singer Hall
Left: Antonio Berni, Juanito ciruja [Juanito the Scavenger] (detail), 1978. Oil, bonded fabrics, tin cans, papier mâché, burlap, canvas shoes, rubber, plastic, metals, wire, cord, nails, and staples on wood. Private Collection, Buenos Aires Right:Carnaval de Juanito [Juanito’s Carnival] (detail), 1962. Gouache, wood, and metals including tin coffee and tea cans, chicken wire, and mesh; egg carton, cardboard, lace, wine corks, and broom fibers on plywood. Collection of Gail and Louis K. Adler, Houston © José Antonio Berni
Antonio Berni: Juanito and Ramona is organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in collaboration with the Malba-Fundación Constantini in Buenos Aires.
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