Antonio Berni

La pampa tormentosa (The Stormy Pampas)

Berni La Pampa Tormentosa Collection Of Inés Berni 1500 - © Archivio Antonio Berni
  • Antonio Berni
  • La pampa tormentosa (The Stormy Pampas)
  • 1963
  • oil, tempera, wooden sticks, metals, cardboard, imprint on paper, plastic buttons, threads and fragments of lace
  • 300 x 400 cm
  • Private Collection - © Archivio Antonio Berni

Deeply invested in the political and cultural life of his country, Antonio Berni did not shy away from tackling such subjects as poverty, prostitution, the threat of atomic warfare, or urban ruination. In the 1940s and ’50s, Argentinians left the countryside for the city in record numbers due to a devastating drop in agricultural production. Yet relief did not come easily. Unemployment, crime, and inhospitable conditions greeted many urban newcomers. Life in the city was rough, a fact reflected in Berni’s choice of materials, which would have been found in abundance among the urban refuse. Working in a style he termed new realism, the Argentinian artist was not referring to realism as a style, but to depicting the reality of life as it existed around him.

La pampa tormentosa (1963), Berni’s monumental anti-homage to Argentina’s famous pampas, or prairies, overwhelms the viewer in a subsuming landscape of assembled scraps and garbage. A crocodile chases its prey across the postapocalyptic scene, the Statue of Liberty sits in a garbage dump, and an empty city lies abandoned in the lower right corner. The crocodile’s hunt references the everyday violence faced by city-dwellers. Yet the bits of lace, fabric, and buttons that comprise the creature bring clean, bright colors to the composition, suggesting that even in the midst of obliteration, life continues to thrive, if brutishly.

Megan Hines

Biography of Antonio Berni

  • Born 1905 in Rosario, Argentina
  • Died 1981 in Buenos Aires, Argentina
Antonio Berni received a scholarship to study in Europe in 1925. He first traveled Spain and afterwards settled in Paris, where he attended the workshops of André Lhote (1885–1962) and Othon Friesz (1879–1949) at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. After a brief return to Argentina, Berni lived in Paris again from 1927 to 1930. During this time he created Surrealist works and studied Marxist politics. Back in Argentina in the early 1930s, the dire political and social situation caused a significant shift in Berni’s artistic approach. He established the Nuevo Realismo group in 1933 and began his lifelong involvement with political art, questioning social injustice and inequity. That same year Berni collaborated with David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896–1974) on a mural (Plastic Exercise). Berni’s social realist style was characterized by its large scale, narrative qualities and realistic rendering. In the mid-1950s Berni turned to assemblage, using found trash materials and industrial waste. Beginning in 1958 Berni embarked on a series of prints and assemblages detailing the plights of fictional stock characters of Juanito Laguna (a disadvantaged youngster) and Ramona Montiel (a prostitute). Berni represented Argentina at the 1962 Venice Biennale, where he received the Grand Prix for printmaking.