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.

Cataloguing data may change with further research.

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Antonio Berni, Argentinean, 1905–1981
Juanito va a la ciudad
Juanito Goes to the City
Wood, paint, industrial trash, cardboard, scrap metal, leather, and fabric on wood
129 × 79 × 15 in. (327.7 × 200.7 × 38.1 cm)
Credit Line

Museum purchase funded by the Caroline Wiess Law Accessions Endowment Fund

Current Location
Not on view
Accession Number

The artist; [Moeller Fine Art Ltd.]; Jorge Helft and Marion Helft, Buenos Aires; sold to MFAH, 2007.