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Take a tour through some of the most significant objects in the MFAH collections. On these pages, you can browse 100 highlights from collections throughout the institution. Then visit the Museum in person to discover your own favorites.
© Lily Berni
Argentinean, 1905 - 1981
Juanito va a la ciudad (Juanito Goes to the City)
Wood, paint, industrial trash, cardboard, scrap metal, and fabric assemblage on board

129 x 79 x 15 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Museum purchase with funds provided by the Caroline Wiess Law Accessions Endowment Fund

Arts of Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean

Juanito va a la ciudad is a monumental collage documenting the life of Juanito Laguna (Johnny Lagoon), an archetype for a poor boy from the villa miserias, or slums, of Buenos Aires. Intent upon depicting the plight of the urban working class, Antonio Berni invented this character as a tribute to boys from all over Latin America whose lives are determined by the squalor in which they live. The series highlights the contrast between the life of these children and unbridled modernization.

Juanito initially appeared in Berni's paintings as oil-painted images with an expressionistic spirit. One day, however, as the artist walked through Juanito's neighborhood, a radical change in the conception of the character took place. Berni realized that if he really wanted to convey the misery that surrounded Juanito's life, he had to do it not with paint but with the discarded materials and pieces of scrap that made up Juanito's universe. From then on Berni bought fewer cans of paint and began to accumulate a veritable reservoir of nontraditional materials.

Between 1960 and 1964, Berni created approximately 15 monumental assemblages and a series of very large woodcut prints based on the story of Juanito. The accumulation of refuse in these works functions to convey the disparity between poverty and modernization while at the same time creating a nontraditional work of art in which the material itself is fraught with meaning. Juanito va a la ciudad remains one of the outstanding moments in the Juanito story and in Antonio Berni's art. The work combines all the elements of the Juanito story: the character of the street urchin walking against the urban backdrop combined with a sophisticated and textured style that simultaneously recalls an abstract landscape and a Cubist composition.