Art is willful voyeurism. Starting on July 31st in the Galeria Jacques Martínez, you can peep on a private collection of artistic works produced during renowned Argentine artist Antonio Berni’s taboo relationship with his last love before death, a 30-year old model dubbed “Graciela Amor” who was 46 years his junior.
That is, if you’re lucky. The exhibition is available only by selection and appointment, and none of the items are on sale, but it won’t hurt to drop a call. After all, with only an allotted 20 minutes per visit, you may never get to view the art again — even in the event that you are chosen.
There’s a good reason for this exclusivity. The person presenting these works is Graciela Amor herself, so her exhibition is highly personal. Little is known about Graciela’s secret relationship with Berni in Paris the year he died, but we know she is now a 66-year-old woman from Mendoza. She confessed her identity to biographer Fernando Garcia, who wrote the book The Eyes: Life and Passion of Antonio Berni.
In addition to the central painting, Untitled, 1981, the exhibition features a folder of 30 poetic letters, nudes and erotic drawings of Berni’s model, whom he christened “Graciela Amor” as per his tendency to fictionalize his subjects. (See “Juanito Laguna,” a working-class boy from Buenos Aires whom Berni created in the 50’s; and “Ramona Montiel,” an imaginary prostitute he painted in the 60’s.)
Now, take this with a grain of salt, but according to a Clarín source who prefers to remain unnamed, the only painting of Graciela Amor used to be a sunny image of the woman lying nude on a beach. However, near death Berni told Graciela, “I don’t think I can finish this painting.” She found it re-painted to midnight, her own body portrayed as dead, and the artist passed away a few days after the transformation.
Unlike Berni’s other characters, Graciela is real — yet the ephemeral quality of his work blurs the line. This likely speaks to a combination of Berni’s years in Spain and Paris, where he studied Surrealism and theories on political revolution, and also Argentina’s literary history of magical realism which embeds itself deeply into the country’s cultural consciousness. Indeed, even in his last months, the dreamlike influence of De Chirico appears strongly in Untitled, 1981: the low light on the horizon, saturated viridian, and pale body looming disproportionately large in the foreground like the Italian painter’s marble figures. However, Berni’s painting lacks De Chirico’s long shadows, evoking instead the flatness of the Argentinian’s collages produced in the 60’s.
The life and work of Antonio Berni is, at its core, quintessentially Argentine. In 1933 he led the leftist artistic movement, “Nuevo Realismo,” specializing in a gritty figurative style that depicted poverty as a result of industrialization. His subjects are so stark they are surreal, rendering their grief all the more visceral.
If you get the chance, you might be able to view the great painter’s last elegy. You can view the exhibition’s website here.
July 31 – September 1
Monday – Friday, 2 PM-8 PM
By Appointment and Selection
Avenida de Mayo 1130. 4to G
Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires
+54 (011) 4381.7458