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.