León Ferrari was born on September 3 rd 1920, in Buenos Aires , Argentina . His long 92-year old life led him, according to his own definition, to create works without having in mind a specific ethical intention (drawings, sculptures and paintings in which he explores various themes, materials and materialities in his own configuration of the visual artistic language) and, at the same time, this same expression led him to develop themes that deeply questions the christian western society .
León Ferrari graduated in Engineering from the Faculdade de Ciências Exatas, Físicas e Naturais – UnBA [ College of Exact , Physics and Natural Sciences of the University of Buenos Aires ] and, for three years, from 1955 and 1957, he calculated church projects designed by his father, who was an architect. For him, not having a specific art-related educational background was actually beneficial to his work as an artist. In 1952, he went to Florence and, later, to Rome , where he carried out his first works with pottery, cement, carved wood and wire sculptures. In the latter, various linear threads in different directions constitute the sculpture space; they are predominantly straight and short, in silver-welded stainless steel, bronze, copper and gold. Some of these sculptures are hung in the ceiling ( Gagarin , 1961) and others placed in pedestals. The abstract drawings from that time became unreadable writings and involved by the wire sculptures that gain twisted shapes ( Torre de Babel [Babel Tower] , 1964). It is interesting to see that the same entangled lines found in the sculptures penetrate boxes ( Reflexões [Reflections] , 1963, Mãos [Hands] , 1964) and bottles ( Garrafas , 1964). In the following years, León Ferrari intensified his critical attitude towards political and religious principles and the works he created aimed at profaning them, deconstructing them, messing them around: the erotic-poetic elements present in these series of works serve to expose the most dramatic aspects of reality. On March 24 th 1976, a coup d'état took place in Argentina . After threats against his family, León Ferrari moved to Brazil in October of that same year. He lived here from 1976 to 1984.
The show León Ferrari – Lembranças de Meu Pai [León Ferrari – Memories of My Father] , currently held in MAC USP New Building , features works created by the artist from 1976 to 1984, time when he lived in São Paulo . After arriving in Brazil, León Ferrari became part of a group of artists that encouraged him to experiment new ways of making art: drawing using conventional material, such as India ink, graffiti, crayon, ballpoint pens, fountain pens and postmarks, as well as using printing techniques in heliography, serigraphy, photocopy, microfiche, videotext and offset.
In this variety of artistic languages, León resumed issues from the 1960s. No title , n/d. and Lembranças de Meu Pai , 1977, are wire sculptures. In Lembranças de Meu Pai , four vertices of a vertically-placed parallelepiped separate linear threads of silver-welded stainless steel. These lines are together in vertical and diagonal positions, following a geometric construction. A light projected from its base goes along the sculpture in its interstices, which may be related to the calculations the artist did for the churches his father designed.
The engravings Partitura , 1978 [Sheet Music]; Memória , 1979 [Memory]; and No title , 1984; as well as the 1979 drawings, are studies the artist made on graphic signs, and each one of them is characterized by specific infinitely repeated drawings. The result is a diversity of writings that are impossible to be deciphered. They are pages and pages in which the artist drew, creating new proposals for traditional languages, such as drawing and engraving.
At that same time, León used different mediums that are common in an industrial society: he created architecture projects on polyester that were, later, reproduced in heliography. In these projects he used letterset printing as a graphic element, but with establishing different codes for each spatial project of the buildings: furniture, doors and toilets. Characters, also in letterset, or reproduced in postmarks, also walk around the projects. In the serigraphy works from this phase, these modules are repeated, superimposed, crossed and point to opposite directions.
Cruzamento II [Crossing II] and Passarela [Footbridge] , of 1981; and Tabuleiro [Board], of 1982, are improbable architectures . Critic Roberto Jacoby said that these heliographic copies , whose architectural language offered a map of habitable places, “(...) indicated that these mazes that had no logic (and ‘no center') could not belong to the genre of utopic architecture. No one would dare to design such a horrible future for the human species.”
Autopista do Sul [South Road], of 1982; No title , of 1983; Espectadores , Espectadores Recíprocos [Spectators, Reciprocal Spectators] and serigraphy No title, of 1984, are other modulations proposed by León Ferrari: the use of graphics printed in new media becomes a critique to mass culture: a vision of the various losses society suffers when large cities grow hastily; no doubt, it was an anticipation of what would happen to the cities in the future.
The two series La Basílica [The church] and Parahereges [Toheretics] , created in the form of books: the first published in the 1985 and the second in 1986, in São Paulo, mark the beginning of León's discussion, as of 1983, on ethical and aesthetical values in Western culture and, particularly, on the power and violence relations in the Latin American political processes in the 1970s. They mark the reflection upon eroticism, about the woman as a social and (christian) religious symbol, as the propelling force of the unethical and non-esthetical states. La Basílica presents collages of images and texts; in Parahereges , Ferrari mixes reproductions of engravings by Albrecht Dürer, especially those from the Apocalipse series, and pagan erotic drawings. The sinful relations christianity talks about so much are present in a large portion of this production of his, and they address the discussion on the catholic dogmas and the contradictions inherent to religious practices. They are images that address sexuality, which is at times almost destroyed by biblical characters, or hidden in the composition. Punishment, sin, the way how christian culture addresses sex is put in perspective in the plane. The artistic action, in this case, corresponded only to joining shapes that pre-existed in a composition. In this case, it is not about seeing the result coming from the artist's hand, as in the drawings and engravings here presented, but about observing an intellectual re-elaboration to seek for a new meaning that is different from the original meaning of each image.
The work Cristo [Christ] , nd, which is probably from the late 1980s, presented a crucified christ on a canvas. This new realism, presented in the exhibition A Nova Dimensão do Objeto [The New Dimension of the Object] , held at the Contemporary Art Museum of the University of São Paulo – MAC USP, in 1986, shows, once more, the critical view of León towards the implicit violent relations in christian religion and the explicit violence that exists in the defense policy promoted by the United States. The photocopies of the series Aviões [Planes] , of 1986, address this same concern.
In 1982, León returned to Argentina, after six years away from his country, and started his long way back, which only occurred in 1991, when he left Brazil for good, after so many arrivals and departures, and many exhibitions held here, such as the 18 th São Paulo Biennial, in 1983; in MAC USP, in the years 1979, 1982, 1985, 1986, 1987, and 1988; as well as in other museums of Brazil and of São Paulo.
Carmen S. G. Aranha and
Evandro C. Nicolau
© 2013 Museu de Arte Contemporânea da Universidade de São Paulo