May 17, 2022 3:46 am

San Martín, Rosas, Perón: the odyssey of a painting that passed from hand to hand between politicians

A painting by the Santa Fe artist Alfredo Bettanin (1920-1974) stars Out of series (Until Trilce), the new novel by writer and editor Gabriel Lerman narrated at different times in the country’s history, from the late 1950s to 2018. The “odyssey” of Bettanin’s painting, entitled San Martin, Rosas, Peron, condenses violence, outbursts and forgetfulness of Argentine society. Lerman, who was born in Buenos Aires in 1972, knew the work in his childhood. “Since I was a child, I have seen at home that painting on the cover of Journal of Argentine history, by the writer Jorge Perrone, because my father used to sell that encyclopedia and it always captivated me”, says the author to LA NACION. The novel reconstructs scenes from the childhood of two of the protagonists, Professor Atilio Diez and researcher Laura Mazarik.

Gabriel Lerman is a writer, university professor and editor of the Astier labelKindness Gabriel Lerman

Bettanin – who, in addition to being a visual artist, was a set designer, illustrator, theater director and political activist – finished painting the three-meter-high and two-meter-wide work in 1972, at his home in the Congreso neighborhood. During the dictatorship of Alejandro Agustín Lanusse, this place was the venue for political meetings and clandestine screenings of Cine Liberación, in which Pino Solanas and Octavio Gettino, writers and journalists Rodolfo Walsh, Paco Urondo and Pedro Orgambide, and Cristina Bettanin, a photographer, participated. From the newspaper News and daughter of the artist, among many others. Once the painting was finished, he sold it to Tulio Jacovella, owner of the weekly Most. Bettanin died on August 26, 1974, weeks after one of the characters in his work: President Juan Domingo Perón, who appears in the lower panel together with the greatest hero of American emancipation, José de San Martín, and the governor and leader Juan Manuel de Rosas.

cover of "Out of series", by Gabriel Lerman (Until Trilce)
Cover of “Out of series”, by Gabriel Lerman (Until Trilce)Kindness Gabriel Lerman

In the novel it is reported that Bettanin was going to show the painting in early July of that year; the importance that the death of the Peronist leader had in the country prevented him from doing so. From that moment on, his family lost contact with the work and, since 1976, the artist’s sons, sons-in-law and daughters-in-law (Militant Montoneros) were kidnapped and tortured. “I met the painter’s granddaughters, who also have a tragic relationship with the painting because their father and uncles are portrayed there,” says the author. The work was carried out shortly before Perón’s first return. In some sense, the painting reproduces historical scenes from different centuries and, at the same time, prefigures others, each one so dramatic”.

With the return of democracy, interest in this painting was recovered. The heirs of Jacovella gave the painting to the political leader on consignment Felipe Solá, who kept her safe in his house for several years. According to the narrator of Out of series, the work witnessed the meetings between “cadres” of the renovating Peronism, who lost the internship with Carlos Menem, such as Antonio Cafiero and Solá himself. But it was only publicly exhibited in 1997, at the Teatro Roma de Avellaneda, as part of an art and political exhibition organized by the municipality.

Bettanin's painting, political and historical, also includes segments "psychedelics"
Bettanin’s painting, political and historical, also includes “psychedelic” segmentsKindness Gabriel Lerman

With Kirchnerism in power as of 2003, Solá (governor of the province of Buenos Aires) gave the painting to the marriage of Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández. In 2009, after the list headed by Kirchner was defeated in the parliamentary elections by Francisco de Narváez y Solá, the former president gave a press conference with Bettanin’s painting behind him. In 2011, months after Kirchner’s death, President Cristina Fernández sent him from the Olivos Residence to the Bicentennial Museum, where he remained until the end of his term. The art gallery where it was exhibited San Martin, Rosas, Peron It was disarmed at the beginning of Mauricio Macri’s administration. And also in 2016, unexpectedly, Solá’s ex-wife, the leader Teresa González, intervened in history, who gave the painting to the secretary general of the Argentine Union of Rural Workers and Stevedores (Uatre), the unionist Gerónimo “Momo” Venegas, opponent of Kirchnersimo. Today, the painting is exhibited in the library of the union, in Urquiza at 800.

Currently, the painting can be seen in the library of a union that was once opposed to Kirchnerism: the Uatre
Currently, the painting can be seen in the library of a union that was once opposed to Kirchnerism: the UatreKindness Gabriel Lerman

“They received the work because Solá’s ex-wife withdrew it from the Bicentennial Museum and took it to the Uatre,” Lerman tells LA NACION. Although the work is cared for and appreciated there, it is not a very popular place for the public. For Lerman, it is not bad that there is an artistic work in a union (as happens, for example, with much of the work of Ricardo Carpani), but he believes that the painting deserves another exhibition. LA NACION contacted the Uatre library (where there is also a hotel for members) and reported that it will reopen in the second half of February. To see Bettanin’s picture, those interested should contact by phone.

“Alfredo Bettanin died in 1974 and little is known about him – observes Lerman-. He was a theater and film director, an illustrator for magazines Most Y Head on, and his nationalist and revisionist-leaning portraits put him on an awkward line. Although it did not reach the legitimacy of Antonio Berni or Ricardo Carpani, the popular symbology that it embodies invites us to think of it as a precursor to Daniel Santoro, who considers it a reference. On the other hand, his unorthodox character, who already in the 1960s traveled from the cinema to the theater, and from illustration to militancy, define him as a versatile and advanced artist”.

Maximum hero of American emancipation, José de San Martín, appears represented in Bettanin's painting together with Juan Manuel de Rosas and Juan Domingo Perón
Maximum hero of American emancipation, José de San Martín, appears represented in Bettanin’s painting together with Juan Manuel de Rosas and Juan Domingo PerónKindness Gabriel Lerman

In Lerman’s novel, the character of Professor Atilio Diez and Laura Mazarik reconstruct the history of the work, and the historical moments it went through, from the guerrilla to the crack, passing through the last military dictatorship, the return of democracy and the crisis of 2001. “Both Laura and Atilio have something of me -reveals Lerman-. And my relationship with different intellectuals and cultural figures are recreations or free versions of contacts, situations and readings that have directly enriched me”. Released Spring 2021, Out of series It is dedicated to the philosopher José Pablo Feinmann, who passed away last December. “It is a political novel that I try to inscribe in the line of Artificial respiration by Ricardo Piglia Flowers stolen in the gardens of Quilmes of Jorge Asis or The cunning of reason by José Pablo Feinmann”, defines the author.

-Why did you choose those moments in Argentine history?

-The novel tries to replicate the model of historical scenes that Bettanin’s own painting has. As the name implies, San Martin, Rosas, Peron, apparently it is a recreation of emblematic historical moments that allude to the wars of independence, civil wars, social and popular struggles, plus a series of dreamlike and surreal elements that float and fly over the figurative.

-The novel emphasizes the political crack in the country. Does this affect cultural policies?

-The moment of the change of government between Cristina Fernández and Mauricio Macri is developed in detail, after twelve years in which Kirchnerism worked intensely on historical political symbology. The protagonists of the novel suffer from that turn of coldness and depoliticization: they remove the heroes from the banknotes, they cancel Zamba and other historical content, processes and figures are disconnected. Sometimes I think that the fate of Bettanin’s painting, which Kirchner knew how to have in his hands, can be read as a symbolic response to his leadership in Peronism.

-What is your point of view as a cultural manager specializing in heritage and an editor on cultural policies in the country?

-It seems to me that Bettanin’s painting deserves public recognition for the transcendence and beauty of its composition, for the political commitment of the author and his family, and because the course it has taken as a work of art has added a layer of meaning extremely key bonus.

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