León Ferrari (1920-2013)
León Ferrari (1920-2013)
León Ferrari (1920-2013)
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León Ferrari (1920-2013)
7 More
León Ferrari (1920-2013)


León Ferrari (1920-2013)
stainless wire
32 ½ in. (82.6 cm.) diameter
Executed in 2004. Unique.
Acquired directly from the artist.
Post lot text
1 Padre Guillermo Marcó, quoted in Vikki Bell, “Writing to the General, and Other Aesthetic Strategies of Critique: The Art of León Ferrari as a Practice of Freedom,” Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies 21, no. 2 (June 2012): 277.
2 Andrea Giunta, “León Ferrari: A Language Rhapsody,” in Tangled Alphabets: León Ferrari and Mira Schendel, ed. Luis Pérez-Oramas (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2009), 49.
3 Aracy Amaral, “León Ferrari: The São Paulo Years (1976 – c.1984),” in León Ferrari: Retrospectiva, Obras 1954-2004 (Buenos Aires: Centro Cultural Recoleta, 2004), 357.
4 Luis Pérez-Oramas, Tangled Alphabets, 35-6.
5 Ferrari, “Berimbau” [Flasharte no. 1, 1979], in León Ferrari, 401.
6 Ferrari, Notebook 1, 1962-63, quoted in Pérez-Oramas, Tangled Alphabets, 23.
7 Bell, “Writing to the General,” 277.

Lot Essay

This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity from the Fundación Augusto y León Ferrari Arte y Acervo, signed by Julieta Adriana Zamorano, dated 28 March 2019.
“To think that art is exempt from ethics and, because it is art, it cannot be incriminated or censured,” observed Padre Guillermo Marcó, “you would have to live on Mars.”[1] Ferrari long antagonized the Catholic Church, beginning with his infamous and oft-censored sculpture Western Civilization and Christianity (1965), which depicted a nearly life-sized Christ crucified on an American fighter plane. The controversy over his retrospective at the Recoleta Cultural Center (Buenos Aires, 2004), to which Marcó directed his rebuke, marked a later point of inflection: to the Church, Ferrari’s art was blasphemous and un-patriotic, literally out of touch with the world; for Ferrari, art had always been a praxis of ethics, addressing among other concerns the Church’s complicity with Argentina’s military dictatorship. In this light, the present wire sculpture, which recalls an earlier Planeta (1979) now at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, suggestively reconstitutes Ferrari’s planetary conscience, pondering anew the meaning of the world and of our existence upon it.
Ferrari worked principally in sculpture, in ceramic and cement as well as with wire and wood, from the mid-1950s through the early 1960s. “History is embedded in these metal works,” curator Andrea Giunta has observed of his early wire sculptures. “The circular outlines of Gagarín, for example, may replicate the orbits of a rocket around Earth, or the appearance of the Russian astronaut Yuri Gagarin in a spacesuit. The work then captures a historical moment: the confrontation between two superpowers, mediated through the conquest of space—a chapter in the Cold War. Ferrari’s delicate patterns of wires crossing in air are not just lines; they have titles like Gagarín, or A un largo lagarto verto verde (To a long green lizard), a quotation from the Cuban poet Nicolás Guillén, expressing the hope represented by that island in the story of postwar colonialism. The titles help us to reimagine the hidden contexts of the works’ shapes, the cultural issues to which their swerving and turning lines refer.”[2]
At the beginning of his exile in Brazil, in late 1976, Ferrari began again to weld wire, reprising his earlier metal sculptures and relating them to his contemporary Letraset drawings and Heliografías series. Notable among his wire sculptures from this period are the Berimbau (“artifacts for drawing sounds”), comprised of stainless-steel rods that could be played like musical instruments, and the monumental Planeta, a spherical bundle of wires so immense that a gallery had to break down a door to move it into the space. Writing on the occasion of Ferrari’s exhibition at São Paulo’s Pinacoteca do Estado in 1978, critic Aracy Amaral described these works as “suspended nuclei in contained spaces, the infinite imprisoned in prisms, in vertical expansion or multidirectional irradiation.” Likened to architectural maquettes, they “probe[d] the visible depth of the prismatic space via its structures, where light falls transfiguring these delicate linear elements, simultaneously organized in a musical and poetic form.”[3] To curator Luis Pérez-Oramas, writing three decades later, “the sculptures are models of absurdity, figures for how very crazy the world was and is. . . . They developed through a logic of accumulation, repetition, and juxtaposition, manifesting density through strips of iron rather than signs or letters. Despite their abstraction, for Ferrari these sculptures were representations, tools for visualizing impossible dwellings, cages, enclosures, labyrinths.”[4]
The subtle dissidence of these works is conveyed through their densely entangled structures, veritable cages rendered in metaphorical, as well as deeply personal and exilic terms. Ferrari addressed these works to “the birds who long for that instant of happiness that is never repeated and never equaled, when the wind breaks the cage open, allowing them to enter into that open cage, feign the tears that the years have dissolved and escape like they did that other time, to escape, and escape again. Or, the comfort that those for whom the cage is ever-present in nightmares will feel, the hope inspired by flexible bars that give way with this slightest effort, that separate and open like a seduced woman, hard, but submissive and complacent, transformed from a jail-keeper into an accomplice in freedom.”[5] Ferrari resettled in Argentina in 1991 and, over the remainder of his career, broadened his longstanding critiques of the Church and Argentina’s military regime, interrogating art (history), language, and power in mixed-media objects and collage.
Ferrari returned to wire sculpture beginning in 2004, developing new series—Spirals, Shines, and Ties with Wire—that encompassed coiled spheres, like the present Planeta, in addition to boxes, nets, and foam. A recurring motif in his work, spirals formed Möbius-strip highways, as in the diazotype Southern Highway (1982), and gave shape to stainless-steel “planets” that evoke the possibility of another world altogether. “It would be so wonderful to make a kind of mappa mundi, a globe of some imaginary planet, ‘the planet where I don’t live,’ a totally drawn sphere,” Ferrari wrote in an early notebook. “It could be made of solid iron, welded and painted.”[6] Planeta elegantly distills the utopian premise of Ferrari’s imagined planet, its open volume of scribbled wires a cosmic tabula rasa, the beginnings of a new world. Flexible and kinetic, luminous and yet no more legible than his written drawings, Planeta meditates on the relationship between transparency and accountability and the reciprocal responsibilities that underpin civil society. “It is precisely because Ferrari lives on this earth, watching those who appear fascinated with other worlds, those whose passion for other orders can begin to hypnotise them,” concludes sociologist Vikki Bell, “that he has employed his art as ethics, as a practice of freedom, to critique the modes of thinking and of being that are enfolded into quotidian life.”[7]
Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park

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