Leon Ferrari, 'Untitled', 2008

How to understand the “poetic phenomenon” León Ferrari? The answer could come from voices such as that of filmmaker Fernando Birri, writer Julio Cortázar, critics Andrea Giunta, Walter Zanini, artist Regina Silveira. Soul dyed by the desire for justice, the life of the Argentine artist is inserted in the troubled changes of contemporaneity.

A mandatory work in contemporary art compendia, which oscillates between Eros and Thanatos, Ferrari weaves a sophisticated record of both. Ferrari is not unanimous, he and his work have already beaten and beaten a lot, which made him a courageous witness to the destruction of the substance of human relationships. Over sixty years of art, he lived in the counterflow of the system being pushed to hell to emerge even stronger. Ferrari observes the world and transfigures it into texts/graphics that point to dimensions submerged in everyday life. Part of his work makes up the retrospective Leon Ferrari, for a world without Hell at Galeria Nara Roesler, in São Paulo, from April 10th. On the 26th, it opens at the gallery's New York headquarters.

The São Paulo show is a panoramic flight that reveals the “young” Ferrari as a timeless artist, a man who wasted no time in superficial criticism, a rigorous researcher of the aesthetics of language, interpreting the universe as he pleased. Poetic, Dionysian and anticlerical traits fill the space of the exhibition, curated by Lisette Lagnado, who brought together the works together with Anna Ferrari, architect, granddaughter of the artist and director of Augusto y León Ferrari Foundation Art and Collection, whose priority is the preservation, cataloging and dissemination of the work and archives of both León and his father, the architect, painter and photographer Augusto César Ferrari (1871-1970). The retrospective is already part of the Foundation's actions.

More than seventy works produced in pencil, ink, watercolor, wire, xerography, heliographs and Braille collages, made between 1962 and 2009, reveal Ferrari's preferences in the artistic-political-cultural field. Lisette highlights the public figure of the artist who has become an inseparable part of his extensive and multifaceted production. The curator warns about the concept of activism, of insubordination expressed in her works. “It is immediately apparent that the key to 'activism' is reductive to explain the monumentality of a work that comprises an extraordinary collection of reproductions collected from the history of art”.

Ferrari's work takes shape in the 1960s, with wire sculptures, executed in Milan and exhibited at the Pater gallery, interpreted as “drawings in space with more light than the body, a sparkling explosion”. An instinctive reaction to literature made Ferrari a reader of Borges, Sade, Gombrowicz, Cortázar and, in the deformed letters, he seems to resort to them, as in the series Letter to a General, 1963. The scriptures reveal an artist who was not satisfied with his time. Luis Pérez-Oramas, in the exhibition catalog Enraged Alphabet in which Ferrari’s work dialogues with that of Mira Schendel, states that “Ferrari’s beliefs or disbeliefs came to include a view of Judeo-Christian sacred texts as perverse calls to exclusion, torture and crime.”

Everything that Ferrari has produced, in various media, demonstrates his keen creativity and chronic mischievousness. Relectures of it Bible, begun in 1983, consists of collages in which images from Christian religious iconography or art history are juxtaposed with oriental erotic images. in your series of Braille, perforates illustrations and photographic reproductions of works by artists such as Giotto and Michelangelo to write poems or biblical passages in the language of the visually impaired. Ferrari said he was influenced by the blindness of Borges, who wrote love poems that enchanted him. “A love poem about a photograph of a naked woman, said Borges, means that you have to caress the woman to read what the poem says. That's when I got the idea." Under the Borges effect, he creates a series of works superimposed on Man Ray's photographs, reproductions by Kitagawa Utamaro and paintings by Giotto and Fra Angelico.

He composes calligraphic series such as the emblematic Written board, from 1964, developed with complex and gestural text, in which Ferrari describes what he would do if he knew how to paint and incites diverse reflections. Luis Camnitzer, a Uruguayan critic of fine thinking, emphasizes that the work precedes proposals comparable to those of the artist Joseph Kosuth. Critic Mari Carmen Ramírez sees the work as “a central example of a particular inflection of Latin American conceptualism, focused more on relations with the political context of the insertion of the active social subject in the communicational circuit than on the empirical properties of language”. From 1980 to 1986, the artist worked plans on polyester inserting images from Letraset that he used in large blueprints. Among all the works, Ferrari is notable for La Civilization Occidental and Cristiana, from 1965, in which he places Christ crucified on an American fighter-bomber plane, from the Vietnam War. Many years later, the same piece was exhibited at the exhibition Leon Ferrari - Retrospective, curated by Andrea Giunta, at the Centro Cultural Recoleta, in Buenos Aires, and irritates the then archbishop of the city, Jorge Bergoglio, now Pope Francis. His text ignites the ire of Catholics who invade the rooms and destroy some works and the exhibition is closed. Three years later, in 2007, the same work, curated by Robert Storr, received the Golden Lion at the 52nd International Venice Biennale. The Western and Christian Civilization proves its resilience as a transforming agent through time.

In 1977, Ferrari and his family leave Argentina and move to Brazil, with the exception of Ariel, his youngest son, who remains in Buenos Aires and is killed by the repression of the military dictatorship. For Ferrari, “art is not organized around forms and styles, but by ideological coincidences that lead artists to group themselves together, even when they subscribe to different aesthetic trends”. With this spirit, when he arrived in Brazil, where he stayed for 15 years, he settled in São Paulo and approached the group of Ateliê Aster, a place of work and socializing that operated in the neighborhood of Perdizes, directed by Walter Zanini, Regina Silveira, Donato Ferrari and Julio Plaza. Regina remembers that Ferrari visited her in 1978, interested in what she taught in lithography. “The artists, at the time, made works with photographic, photo-mechanical images, in stone or metal matrices. Ferrari wanted to learn this procedure to do his text inversion work”. During his time at Aster, he invented the Gerox exhibition, a mixture of engraving and xerox, in which Mira Schendel participates. Under the curatorship of Walter Zanini, Ferrari and Regina participated in the 21st Bienal de São Paulo, in 1981, when the critic took a major turning point in the Bienal's concept. He eliminates the sampling of works by country, such as Venice, and exposes them by analogy of language, as is the case until today. Both, within this novelty, put works on microfilm, “we were the only representatives of this language”.

In his first phase in São Paulo, he made woodcuts, photocopies and resumed wire sculptures, begun in 1961, which Aracy Amaral called “linear galaxies”. His greatest moment in São Paulo is the sound sculptures exhibited at the Pinacoteca de São Paulo, when critic Fábio Magalhães, then director of the museum, supports him. when building berimbau, which emits sound when played, León decided to use sculptures as musical instruments that “dance their own music”. Musician Caito Marcondes, invited by Michelle Brill (Grupo Quebranto), records and amplifies the sound of these sculptures in dance music Tarot. Some of these pieces are now on display. Sculptures to Listen, curated by Cauê Alves, at the Brazilian Museum of Sculpture, MuBE.

León Ferrari receives the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale, in 2007. PHOTO: Reproduction

In 1991, Ferrari returned to Argentina where he continued an intense, courageous and provocative work, only interrupted in 2013, when he died at the age of 93. The timelessness of León's work is still alive, moving museums and institutions around the world. THE Augusto y Leon Ferrari Foundation the catalog is already working Reasoned de León with the coordination of Andrea Wain, in partnership with the Museum of Modern Art of Buenos Aires, the Mamba. This year, it opens the doors of Taller Ferrari in Buenos Aires where León worked most of his life. In the same direction, Italy will present, next September, a retrospective of the work of his father Augusto Ferrari, at the Albertina Academy in Turin.
Almost unimaginable last year, Words Ajenas, a work carried out during the Vietnam War, with excerpts from speeches by politicians, popes, Hitler, Christ, among 108 other personalities, assembled as a dialogue between them, was staged in its entirety, with eight hours of duration together with the exhibition about the work in the RedCAT Carl Arts within the project Pacific Standard Time, In Los Angeles. From there, the opera traveled to Miami's Pérez Art Museum, where it can be seen until April 14. In parallel The Reina Sofia Museum, in Madrid, is preparing a tour of Europe for 2020.

The validity of León's work is the testimony of an impeccable trajectory.


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