Argentinian Social Realism: Pío Collivadino
On the 20th of August 1869, post-impressionist and social-realist painter Pío Collivadino was born in Buenos Aires. Trained at the Italian Argentine cultural society and the Societá Nazionale de Buenos Aires, he travelled to Rome in 1889, where two years later he became part of the Accademia di San Luca. After his return to Buenos Aires, he founded the Nexus group along with Fader, Bernaldo de Quirós, Ripamonte, Lynch, Rossi, and renowned sculptors Dresco and Yrurtia. His paintings, which are worked in impressionist and pointillist styles, have a photographic quality to them, manly due to the angles and lighting that the artist explored in them. Collivadino was notably the director of the Pueyrredón School until 1944, when he was forced to retire by the new military regime of General Pedro Pablo Ramírez, a dictatorship, whose cultural policy was opposed to European influences.
A lot of Pio Collivadino’s art was concerned with social issues. One eloquent example was a work called “Futura Avenida, an evocation of the outskirts of the rapidly expanding city of Buenos Aires where mostly poor persons lived and where utilities were non-existent. Here we see Collivadino’s skill with various etching tools as he delineates an off-balance scene on a cloudy day as workers scurry along the dirt sidewalk. Though the work’s title indicates that Collivadino had faith in the ultimate triumph of modern urban culture over these impoverished areas, the print does depict more poverty than one normally sees in Argentine art. Collivadino is in some ways a godfather to Los Artistas del Pueblo, since he was the teacher of Faeio [an important representative of this group] and at times he made works that took the lower classes as subjects. For example, in 1903 while still in Italy, he painted a large genre scene called Workers’ Lunch (La Hora del Almuerzo– see feature image to this article) that depicted manual laborers resting. Collivadino and other Argentine artists at times made works in Europe that had a certain realist quality to them. But once they returned home, such subjects were mostly forgotten and the artists produced almost exclusively in styles that would be of interest to the collecting classes of Buenos Aires.” (Patrick Frank, Los Artistas Del Pueblo: Prints and Workers’ Culture in Buenos Aires, 1917-1935, University of New Mexico Press, 2006).
In Los Artistas del Pueblo (The People’s Artists), Patrick Frank analysed social realism in Argentinian art, marking this group’s work as part of the first movement of social realism in Latin American art. In Argentina, the period between 1912 and 1930 was generally considered the ‘Golden Age’, economically prosperous and with a bright international reputation. Los Artistas though pointed out the hidden shortcomings: poor working conditions, restrictive labour legislation, dilapidated housing, and disenfranchised immigrants who made up half of the capital city’s population. The artists shunned the formal circuit of galleries, preferring to show their solidarity with workers through displays of protest art in union halls, community centres, and the Socialist Party libraries. Their prints were intended to stir sympathy for the less fortunate and to motivate workers to take a political stance. The artists rejected the principles of modern art and believed that art should be accessible to the majority of Argentinians, especially to the under-privileged classes. It was their emotional, as well as political point of view.
“The sort of printmaking that Los Artistas del Pueblo envisioned represented a radical break from both the painter-etcher tradition and from the dominant Impressionism of Argentine art. The studio on Rioja Street would become a headquarters for socially concerned art, a hotbed of radical leftism that made common cause with similar
currents in literature for example.” (Patrick Frank). Collivadino was sympathetic with these ideas, and in many ways prefigured
them. Around 1900, Buenos Aires abandoned peasant traditions on behalf of the concept of a modern city and modernity at large. The changes in the structures of the city inspired him greatly, which is visible in his paintings. They portray simple everyday topics, from the street corners lit by gas lamps, the villages and slums, to the first skyscrapers, factories, bridges, boats or scenes of workers relaxing after work. Collivadino broke with the stereotype of an ugly, uninteresting Buenos Aires and set out to show what nobody wanted to show. He was also the first Argentinian artist to participate in the Venice Biennale of 1901.