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Antonio Pujia

Pujia was born on June 11, 1929 to Vittorio Pujia and Maria Vallone in a village in southern Italy called Polia. Even as a child, he showed interest in sculpture, modeling his own toys from clay that he would get from the shores of a nearby stream.

In May, 1937, he immigrated with his mother and older sister Carmela to Argentina. Vittorio was waiting for them there; he had left for South America when Antonio was only two.

Once settled in Buenos Aires, he began elementary school. He had some trouble as he was nearsighted and no one had discovered the problem. Finally, his fourth-grade teacher asked his mother to take him to the eye doctor, and he has worn glasses ever since.

During his last years at elementary school, he found himself still trying to adjust to the new language. He began to draw certain aspects of daily life that he found surprising or noteworthy: he drew newspaper salesman and his teacher at school. When his teacher showed the whole class the portrait, he was filled with pride.

When he finished grade school, a teacher gave Pujia a recommendation for his future studies: the teacher thought he should focus on the Fine Arts. Antonio was fascinated by the name alone; he told his parents and was met with a flat-out no from his father, who thought it was smarter to study accounting. His mother was on his side, however, and with her help, he was able to sign up for the entrance exam at the Manuel Belgrano School. When sitting for the exam, he felt a bit intimidated when he discovered that his future classmates were better prepared than he was; nonetheless, he passed the exam and began classes there. Antonio began to hone his artistic talents and soon proved that he was a dedicated student. During this time, he worked hard to pay his own way through school; he always chose jobs that would allow him to use his artistic knowledge and his skills as a sculpture while working with his materials of choice. He did plaster molds, tassel molds, etc. At last, he received the title of “National Drawing Professor” from the Prilidiano Pueyrredon School of the Fine Arts and the title of “Professor of Sculpture” from the Ernesto de la Carcova High School of the Fine Arts.

He studied art from 1943-1954 and his professors included renowned artists such as Troiano Troiani, Alfredo Bigatti, Alberto Lagos and Jose Fioravanti. He also worked as a workshop assistant with these artists as well as lending a hand at Rogelio Yrurtia’s studio.

Some time later, to pay homage to his teachers, he named the patios of his school-workshop after them. He was dedicated to both creating art and teaching, and he served as a professor in sculpture at the Pueyrredon and Belgrano School and also taught at his school-workshop from 1970 to 1975.

In 1956, Teatro Colon Director Hector Basaldua decided to set up a workshop for scenery production within the theater. The director organized a contest that was won by Antonio Pujia, who served as the workshop chief until 1970.

During this period, Antonio became enthralled with music and dance, two of his favorite themes. He regularly attended ballet classes and spent hours taking charcoal notes on paper. During this period, he became friends with Jose Neglia and Norma Fontela, the prima ballerinas at the theater, as well as several other dancers of the troupe. In 1966, he did the portrait of Norma Fontela that now hangs in the foyer of the theater.

In 1959, Pujia won his first important award from the Salon Municipal Manuel Belgrano [Manuel Belgrano Municipal Salon]. This distinction made him even more committed to art. This award was followed by several others, in a growing succession. Pujia was particularly young to receive such prestigious prizes, as most artistic awards tended to go to older artists with longer careers.

In 1960, he won the honorable achievements award from the Salon Nacional de Artes Plasticas [National Visual Arts Salon] at the age of 30.

In 1961, he won the Alberto Lagos Biennial and in 1964, he was awarded the grand prize from the “August Palanza” Fondo Nacional de las Artes [National Arts Fund], one of the most important art awards in the country. These distinctions made Pujia sure of his decision to be an artist and strengthened his commitment to the fine arts.

In 1965, encouraged by all of the awards he had received, Pujia decided to do his first solo show at the historic Witcomb Gallery. Witcomb was one of the first galleries in Buenos Aires, and many of the most important Argentine artists –as well as foreign artists- had exhibited their works there. This show is a true milestone in Pujia’s career: not only was it a big success in terms of both sales and the public’s response, but it was also a chance for Pujia to exhibit a great number of bronze works that he had never been able to show before. On the other hand, he bet everything on the show: he paid for the exhibition with his own savings. Pujia continues to fund his own works even today, as he considers this the only way to retain his independence and his integrity as an artist.

Now that he considered himself a true artist –and encouraged by the success of his first solo show- he began to create art regularly (while continuing to teach and working at the Colón workshop). This led to his second big success: Biafra. In 1970, profoundly moved by press photos showing the devastation of a country in Africa, Pujia did what would be his first exhibition tinged with social activism: the exhibition-exposé of how men destroy other men. This show, which opened on July 23, 1971 at the Esmeralda Gallery, was priased by both the press and the public alike.

This series travels abroad, and in 1974 the Sebert art gallery in Sydney invites him to hold a show there. Very successful, the exhibition includes several Biafra pieces as well as sculptures on other themes. Many of these pieces are bought by Australian collectors.

Years later, in 2000, the same sculptures would be shown at the Eduardo Sivori Museum, where they would provoke the same reaction all over again. Pujia himself attributed great significance to these sculptures; in fact, the full original series is still part of his private collection. A similar group of works is the famous Martin Fierro series, produced in 1972-73; these sculptures also reflect the horror of destruction combined with the artist’s love for the country that welcomed him: Argentina. In his 1975 exhibition at the prestigious salon of the San Martín Theater, the public came to see one of the most intense series of sculptures that had ever been displayed. In fact, the show was such a smashing success that Pujia decided to incorporate all of the pieces from the show into his private collection.

Producing these series was a very intense process, one that would lead the artist to the opposite end of his rich repertoire: in 1977, at Imagen Gallery, he exhibited a series of sculptures that were notably different than his works from the previous years. These works showed female nudes, lovers, eroticism, plants, serenity; this can be seen in works like "Adagio" (a portrait of his pregnant wife) or "Amarnos con pasion" [Loving Passionately], two works that show the artist’s desire to display the emotional range of human begins with the same level of passion and intensity: love and hatred, construction and destruction, apathy and passion, Thanathos and Eros in an ongoing struggle.

In 1976, he moved to Spain (Escorial) for approximately a year. Later, back in Buenos Aires in 1979, he began to work on pieces related to the military dictatorship that had been established in Argentina while he was away. One life-size piece entitled "Libertad Amordazada" [“Freedom Gagged”] and the series of the “mutables” reflect the horror of the detainees. Another example is “El espejo del alma” [The Soul’s Mirror], a piece in which the focus in on enclosure, on what remains hidden behind sinister trappings.

1980 marked the anniversary of the second founding of the city of Buenos Aires and Pujia was commissioned to do a commemorative medal that was cast in Italy. A total of 250,000 of these medals were included as an insert with the magazine “Siete Dias”. He continued to produce pieces related to the dictatorship until 1982, and in 1983, he began to move towards the work of Amedeo Modigliani, beginning with the oil painting "Le grand nu.” This series pays homage to the painter, to beauty, to serenity, and is again a stark contrast to Pujia’s pieces from the previous years. Later, after his trip, Pujia knew once and for all that his roots lay in Argentina, the country where he had lived, worked and thrived since the age of eight. At one point, he had dreamed of belonging to both cultures and dividing his life between Italy and Argentina, but he rediscovered the city upon his return - his family, his workshop, his students, his friends. This led to another series entitled “Canto de amor a Buenos Aires” [Love Song for Buenos Aires]. The medal series is part of this homage, with themes and poems about the city that were included in a book. That same year (1983), the country was on the verge of returning to democracy, and Pujia did another medal to commemorate the inauguration of President Alfonsín.

Having decided he would stay in Buenos Aires, Pujia expanded his workshop, adding more space and more light. He had begun to concentrate once again on the most beautiful aspects of life: couples loving each other. During this same period, his own children had also found their life partners, and he considered them proof of the perpetual cycle of life. In fact, they occasionally served as models for his works. The show entitled “En amor – a dos” [In love - together] exhibited this series. Following this same theme, Pujia headed for families, including his grandchildren, whom he considered the core of happy families.

However, the economic crisis in Argentina began to affect such families, and they were often marginalized as a result of unemployment and social indifference. Pujia responded with a series based on a piece by Ernesto de la Carcova entitled "Sin pan y sin trabajo" [No Bread, No Work]; for this series, he chose pigmented wax. After some time, he returned to the theme of couples and families, combining different materials like wood, marble and bronze.

After the two shows held in 2OOO (at the Eduardo Sivori Museum and Principium Gallery), Pujia decided (in 2003) to pay homage to

Rogelio Yrurtia, his artistic mentor, whom he remembered with great affection and whom he wanted to acknowledge as a master creator and teacher. For this exhibition, he gathered works dating from 1960 to 2000. The show was held at the Rogelio Irurtia House-Museum in Buenos Aires, a museum that displays all of the works and personal belongings donated by the artist to Argentina. In 2006 he held an exhibition at the New World Gallery and in 2008 a production of commemorative medals for the Colon Theater on its centenary. Personalities such as Sergio Renán and Julio Bocca, among others, receive the medals from him. In 2008 he held a large exhibition entitled “Tribute to women” with a series of assembling pieces, lost wax cast bronze, Carrara marble, Belgian marble, ebony with various silver and gold baths. The exhibition to this day remains the record for the number of people in the entire history of the museum. He continues to take private courses in his studio, produce new pieces and hold new exhibitions until his death in 2018 in Buenos Aires. In 2022 one of his works becomes the prize for Radio Nacional Clasica that Martha Argerich and Gustavo Santaolalla receive. In 2023, exhibitions will be held at the Carnacini Museum in Buenos Aires, Boesch in La Baule, France and at the Rossini Gallery in Milan, Italy.