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    Sale 2054

    Latin American Sale Evening Session

    19 - 20 November 2008, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 72

    Leon Ferrari (Argentinian B. 1920)


    Price Realised  


    Leon Ferrari (Argentinian B. 1920)
    signed and dated 'Leon Ferrari 1999' (inside at bottom)
    acrylic ink, metal wire, in acrylic box
    23¾ x 7¾ x 7¾ in. (60 x 20 x 20 cm.)
    Executed in 1999.

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    This work is sold with a certificate of authenticity signed by the artist and dated 4 April 2005.

    "Art will be neither beauty nor novelty," Ferrari declared in 1968. "Art will be efficacy and perturbation. Successful art will be the one with an impact somewhat equivalent to a guerrilla attack in a country that is freeing itself."(1) Ferrari's work over the past fifty years bears critical witness to his longstanding ethical engagement of art as political praxis, uncompromising in its commitments to aesthetic and ideological freedom. For years in the shadow of the repressive Argentine military junta, in "the daily hell of one-sided truths, whether of martial law or of excommunication orders," Ferrari cultivated what Héctor Olea has described as:

    ...a haven to shelter his raging desire for artistic freedom from rigid oppositions such as black and white, beauty and ugliness, Good and Evil. From this safe retreat, Ferrari forged an enduring link between ethics and aesthetics, the two poles around which his entire oeuvre resides.(2)

    A foundational figure in the development of conceptual art in Latin America, Ferrari has made iconoclasm the keynote of a critical practice that has relentlessly redefined the boundaries of language and structured new modes of communication. As Luis Camnitzer has suggested, Ferrari "worked with language as a starting point to explore the limits that were encircling art--as he saw it at the time--and the ways of destroying them."(3) From the early Escrituras deformadas series of the 1960s to the present Untitled (box), Ferrari has exhaustively explored the myriad ways in which language can provocatively suggest, convey, and withhold meaning. The dislocations of his writing, hovering tantalizingly at the edge of legibility, are a product of the deep-seated deformities wrought by torture and the oppression of thought. In the delirium of his script, in which calligraphic scrawls simultaneously anatomize and recuperate language, he has both dematerialized drawing and aestheticized language--conflating art and anti-art and, like others of his generation, re-politicizing the aesthetic field.

    The present Untitled (box) draws upon the full range of Ferrari's conceptual strategies. Here, he combines two-and three-dimensional versions of his abstract calligraphy: an acrylic box, overwritten with mostly indecipherable script, encloses a tangle of twisted wire mesh that recalls Ferrari's earliest experiments in wire sculpture from the 1960s. As his sculpture evolved into the 1980s, Andrea Giunta has observed, "Ferrari went on to incorporate textures and movements; he tangled metal sheets of different thicknesses into the pieces, enclosed wires inside boxes covered by sheets of glass that were written on, used different metals or turned them into a motley, uncertain mass."(4) Although abstract, the sculptures were imagined as "cages for imprisoning members of the military," according to Ferrari's notes; and in the static and kinetic possibilities of the labyrinthine wire masses the artist quietly suggests, as in his graphic work, a metaphor for entrapment and liberation.(5)

    In works such as Untitled (box), Marcelo Pacheco has suggested, Ferrari "links successive channels of concealment in order to illuminate and to demand spaces where individual freedom can be allowed to fracture the homogeneous and authoritarian grip of any type of domination. That includes the domination of political regimes, the domination of art, the domination of words, the domination of religious institutions, and the domination of restricted knowledge."(6) Here, betwixt and between the tangled wires and scribbled writing, Ferrari reflects on the ultimate ambiguity of language and on the nature, and possibility, of freedom. His idiomatic scrawl, rendered in paint and in delicate wire, both promises and withholds meaning; it is, perhaps, in its very impenetrability that his abstraction becomes a potent political strategy.

    Abby McEwen.

    1) L. Ferrari, "The Art of Meanings," in León Ferrari Retrospectiva: Obras 1954-2006, São Paulo, Cosaic Naify, 2006, 439.
    2) H. Olea, "León Ferrari: From the Drawing of Texts to the Texture of Poetry," in Inverted Utopias: Avant-Garde Art in Latin America, New Haven, Yale University Press, 2004, 411-12.
    3) L. Camnitzer, Conceptualism in Latin American Art, Austin, University of Texas Press, 2007), 126, 129.
    4) A. Giunta, "Disturbing Beauty," in León Ferrari Retrospectiva: Obras 1954-2006, 345.
    5) Ibid., 345.
    6) M. E. Pacheco, "Parody and Truth Games," in Cantos Paralelos: Visual Parody in Contemporary Argentinean Art, Austin, University of Texas Press, 1999, 113.


    Acquired from the artist by the present owner.