"Manifestación” (Demonstration) is an imposing work on canvas of the Argentine artist Antonio Berni, beyond many other productions that have also acquired great recognition worldwide. I still remember when I saw the picture at an exhibition at the Malba Museum in Buenos Aires some years ago. I was impressed. At that time, although it was not the first time I saw some of his work, something inside of me was different. I could connect with his work, understand the artist. To think about an artist in connection to multilingualism and migration was a bit of a challenge, yes, but Berni himself is a product of that.
About “Manifestación” by Antonio Berni:
The painting is from 1934 and its topic is the crisis of the 30´s: unemployment, poverty, Nazism,
fascism and Spanish civil war. All of them were reflected around Antonio Berni´s “Manifestation”, an emblematic work of national art of Argentina. It shows harmony and equilibrium in a superlative way. Faces are superposed and facial expressions call the viewer´s attention within an accelerated perspective of an elevated vision. Each face has a distinctive expression. It is not about a uniform mass of people. The composition of the piece of art is characterized by individuals.
These men and women are painted over sackcloth with industrial painting, which is a very effective material as well. Most probably Berni draw them having in mind the pictures he took or the ones from police chronicles on the newspapers. We only see the faces in a frontal position which reveal their mood, differences and conflicts.
There is a board which reads: Pan y trabajo. In the back of the demonstrators there are painted houses which look like uninhabited. That is a characteristic of Berni´s painted houses at that period of his work. He has used pure colours, or he mixed them with black and white. Lines are straight and curved, geometrical or sensitive; and there is perspective: as houses get far away, they look smaller and details are simplified.
Besides, our look takes us to the middle of the work, there is a boy represented with a piece of bread in his hand. He is a symbol of hope, maybe because of the saying: every kid is born with a piece of bread under his arm. In front of the boy, a closed fist reinforces the idea of struggle and strength that is being claimed.
Berni´s popular Nuevo Realismo paintings include Desocupados (The Unemployed) and manifestación (Manifestation). Both were based on photographs Berni had gathered to document, as graphically as possible, the "abysmal conditions of his subjects. Moreover, Antonio Berni´s painting contains main features of European painting of end of 19th century and beginning of 20th century which Berni incorporates to his Argentinian vision. He therefore includes a nostalgic, dramatic and intense aspect; all this resulting in a painting of great maturity and plastic soberness related to the spirit of the time and place. The quality of his work resides in the precise balance that he attained between narrative painting with strong social content and aesthetic originality.
About the artist:
Delesio Antonio Berni (Rosario, 14 May 1905 - Buenos Aires, 13 October 1981) was an Argentinian figurative artist. He is associated with the movement known as "New Realism", a Latin American extension of social realism. His work, including a series of Juanito Laguna (a character he created for his paintings) collages depicting poverty and the effects of industrialization in Buenos Aires, has been exhibited around the world.
His mother, Margarita Picco, was the Argentine daughter of Italians who settled there. His father Napoleón, an immigrant tailor from Italy, died in the first World War. The Jockey Club of Rosario awarded Berni a scholarship to study in Europe in 1925.
He went back to Rosario for a few months but returned to Paris in 1927 with a grant from the Province of Santa Fe. Studying the work of Giorgio de Chirico and René Magritte, Berni became
interested in surrealism, and called it "a new vision of art and the world, the current that represents an entire youth, their mood, and their internal situation after the end of the World War. A dynamic and truly representative movement." But he would discover that Surrealism didn't convey the frustration or hopelessness of the Argentine people.
In 1931 Berni returned to Rosario, where he was then hired as a municipal employee. The Argentina of the 1930s was very different from the Paris of the 1920s. He witnessed labor demonstrations and the miserable effects of unemployment and was shocked by the news of a military coup d'état in Buenos Aires (Infamous Decade).
Human portrait was one of the most used genres by Berni with very diverse techniques, always linked to his social compromise. He was one of the Argentinian artists more characteristic about it. He began painting realistic images that depicted the struggles and tensions of Argentina.
In 1941 Berni travelled to Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru and Colombia to study pre-Columbian art. The 1940s saw various revolutions and coups d'état in Latin America, including the ousting of Argentine President Ramón Castillo in 1943. Berni responded with more political paintings.
From 1951 to 1953 Berni lived in Santiago del Estero, a province in north-western Argentina. The province was suffering massive ecological damage. While in S. del Estero he painted the series Motivos santiagueños and Chaco, the latter of which was exhibited in Paris, Berlin, Warsaw, Bucharest and Moscow. In the 1950s, he returned to expressionism. Berni's post-1950s work can be viewed as "a synthesis of Pop Art and Social realism." In 1958 he began collecting and collaging discarded material to create a series of works featuring Juanito Laguna.
The series became a social narrative on industrialization and poverty, and pointed out the extreme disparities existing between the wealthy Argentine aristocracy and the "Juanitos” of the slums.
In 1965 a retrospective of Berni's work was organized at the Instituto Di Tella, including the collage Monsters. Versions of the exhibit were shown in the United States, Argentina, and several Latin American countries. After a March 1976 coup Berni moved to New York City, where he continued painting, engraving, collaging, and exhibiting. He conveyed his observations about New York in subsequent work with a touch of social irony. Berni's work had gradually become more spiritual and reflective.
External links for Berni´s work: