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Self-taught artist León Ferrari (Buenos Aires, 1920) is considered one of the instigators of the international Conceptual Art movement. Since the 1960s, his work has brought together the poetic and the political to question hegemonic discourses of power. His extensive production includes outstanding works like Cuadro escrito (1964) [Written Painting] –which describes in writing how a painting is made– and La civilización occidental y cristiana [Western and Christian Civilization] (1965), a contemporary crucifixion scene where a plastic Christ figure is placed on a North American bomber plane; this was one of the first pieces produced anywhere to protest against the United States’ military intervention in Vietnam.
León Ferrari’s art encompasses a wide range of media, including sculpture, painting, drawing, theater, assemblage, film, mail art, poetry, performance, collage, etc. It is characterized by an irreverent approach to the creative act and ongoing ethical commitment.
The series Relecturas de la Biblia [Rereadings of the Bible] and Brailles, whose production began in the mid-1980s and mid-1990s respectively, epitomize some of the themes and strategies that run through much of Ferrari’s work. By means of "montage," Ferrari produces unlikely encounters between images (or between images and texts) representing disparate and distant realities in order to displace canonical interpretations and generate new ones. By confronting reproductions of masterpieces from the history of Western art, Biblical quotes, erotic Eastern images and images from the mass media, Ferrari incites critical reflection on organized religion, war, sex and power.
The Relecturas de la Biblia [Rereadings of the Bible] series consists of collages in which the artist juxtaposes images from Judeo-Christian iconography or art history with erotic Eastern images or images from the mass media. With humor and irony, the intersection between two disparate realities removed from one another in time aims to question values that, to Western culture, seem absolute.
Valorizing touch over vision, Ferrari, in his Brailles series, pierces illustrations and photographic reproductions of works by artists like Giotto and Michelangelo to write poems or Biblical passages in Braille. "I got the idea for the Braille pieces, " Ferrari states, "because Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, who was blind, wrote a number of very beautiful love poems […] A love poem on a photograph of a nude woman means that you have to caress the woman in order to read what the poem says. That is where I got the idea."
1920 - 2013 Buenos Aires, Argentina
Ferrari initiated his artistic production in Rome, as a self-taught sculptor, making works in terracotta. Back in Buenos Aires, he worked in ceramics, plaster, cement, wood, stainless steel wire, collages and drawings. Since 1962, he started to a introduce conceptual strategies in his work, connecting drawing and writing. He went back to work in metal esculpture, and also experimented with photocopies, mail art, heliography, video-texts, musical instruments, printmaking, collage and assamblage. All these ressources were useful to strongly criticize the political and religious power. In 1965, he did his most emblematic artwork, La civilización occidental y cristiana [Western and Christian Civilization], a fundamental piece in history of political art. In the last years his production has reached a great international recognition. He exhibited at the 52th Venice Biennial in 2007, where he was awarded the Golden Lion. León Ferrari lives and works in Buenos Aires.