Juanito Laguna Brings a Meal to his Father, a Metalworker

Antonio Berni

Juanito Laguna Brings a Meal to his Father, a Metalworker (1961) by Antonio BerniBuenos Aires Museum of Modern Art (Museo Moderno)

Juanito Laguna is the name of a boy - hero of a series of collages which Antonio Berni began creating in the late 1950s as a social commentary on the issues of industrialization and poverty.

"One cold, cloudy night, while passing through Juanito's miserable town, a radical change in my vision of reality and its interpretation occurred...I had just discovered, in the unpaved streets and on the waste ground, scattered discarded materials, which made up the authentic surroundings of Juanito Laguna - old wood, empty bottles, iron, cardboard boxes, metal sheets etc., which were the materials used for constructing shacks in towns such as this, sunk in poverty."

Antonio Berni in an interview for Le Monde, 1967.

Let's have a closer look at Juanito's world...

A big sun surrounded with a black halo shines over it...

shedding its light upon the chimney of a giant smelter plant behind which we can see the structure of its main building...

... a mess of workshops and lower buildings surrounding the plant...

... and the comb-like gate, half open.

Our attention is also drawn by the vivid red rectangle highlighting the silhouette of a smiling, pretty woman. In fact, she attracts our gaze before anything else in this work.

At a closer look, it turns out to be a huge whisky advertising poster, standing in stark contrast with the somberness of the rest of the work, as if promising an artificial paradise.

There are also a few cars in the street...

...and finally, we find the tiny figure of Juanito who is just about to cross the street and head towards the mass of buildings.

The key for the interpretation of the whole series lies in the fact that it is more than an individual story of a character that is being told here. Juanito represents a whole generation, within a determined social class, which pays with their work for what others want to call development.

"Every artist and all art is ultimately political...In my case, I recognize this; I think that the political reading of my work is fundamental, that one cannot leave it out, and that if one does leave it out, the work will not be understood in depth; and, moreover, I believe that a merely aesthetic reading would be a betrayal.”

Antonio Berni

Credits: Story

Quotation from the interview for Le Monde after: Salinas, Esmeralda. "The Power of Juanito: Antonio Berni and the Continuing Legacy of Juanito Laguna". Academia.edu. Retrieved 27 January 2013.

Final quotation after: Pacheco, Marcelo E. “An Approach to Social Realism in Argentine Art: 1875-1945” p. 153

Credits: All media
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