Leon Ferrari (Argentinian B. 1920)

El amenazado (from the Maniquíes Series, 1994-1997)

Leon Ferrari (Argentinian B. 1920)
El amenazado (from the Maniquíes Series, 1994-1997)
signed and dated 'Leon Ferrari 94' (on right leg reverse) and also titled 'El amenazado' (on left leg reverse)
writing with expansive acrylic ink on Polystyrene mannequin
31½ x 22½ x 16½ in. (80 x 57 x 42 cm.)
Executed in 1994.
Acquired from the artist by Banco Velox, Buenos Aires.
Saragacha Casa de Remates, Buenos Aires, November 2004, lot 132 (illustrated).
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Sale room notice
Please note this work is also signed inside the figure's right leg.

Lot Essay

This work is sold with a photo-certificate of authenticity signed by the artist and dated 7 February 2006.

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. From the Escrituras deformadas of the 1960s to the Cristos y maniquíes series to which the present work belongs, Ferrari has continually explored the myriad ways in which language can provocatively suggest, convey, and withhold meaning. Andrea Giunta has traced the "possible beginnings of new forms of communication based on sensuality and eroticism" to Ferrari's Códigos (1979), in which the artist proposed a seductive new vocabulary of images through which to interpret the Kama Sutra.(1) The subjectivity of eros is freshly repositioned in the artist's Mannequin series, in which the conflation of body and text probes both the cultural politics of gender and the nature of human desire.

"I clothe women's bodies with words, with texts that are caresses at times, and at times, not," Ferrari has explained of the Mannequins, which he first exhibited in September 1994.(2) The series consists of conventional shop-window mannequins--anonymous black, white and transparent torsos--to which the artist variously attached wire cages, glitter and sequins, canonical images (e.g., the Madonna and Child), and poetry transcribed in his idiomatic scrawl. These inscriptions appeal to loves of many colors, from the Biblical, in tortured verses from the Book of Deuteronomy and the Song of Songs, to the Surrealist mysticism of André Breton's famous paean to the female body, "Unión Libre." In the present work, the plaintive feeling of Jorge Luis Borges's "El Amenazado" ("The Threatened One"), writ tenderly across the mannequin, becomes in Ferrari's interpretation an act of possession, a claim to the physical body. "It is love," Borges ruminates in words that prominently cover the torso of Ferrari's mannequin, "Being with you, or not with you, is the measure of my time." Ferrari intends the inflections in his handwriting--the scale of the words and their emphasis--to indicate the modulations of the spoken word; and here the prominent lettering at the mannequin's collarbone ("Es el amor") and across her waist ("Estar contigo o no estar contigo es la medida de mi tiempo") suggests the artist's verbal caress.

The representation of women has been a recurrent theme in Ferrari's work, and their privileged position in his oeuvre certainly draws on the artist's amatory fascinations. Yet while the mannequins exalt the curves and folds of the female body and personify the locus of male desire, they are also the site of the artist's critique of gender politics and of the institutions, from the Catholic church to the Argentine government, that have discredited female sexuality and choice. A piranha swimming inside a transparent acrylic mannequin (Inquisition, 1997), for example, becomes Ferrari's rebuke to the intolerance of the Argentine church on issues ranging from the struggle against AIDS to the legalization of abortion. In this way, the Mannequin series broaches the political engagement fundamental to Ferrari's practice, channeling the demand for individual freedoms through the body of a woman, simultaneously violated and venerated. Ferrari is well-versed in Christian iconography, and in his career he has paid particular homage to the figure of Eve, "whose disobedience," in his words, "led her to discover the orgasm that we have inherited."(3) The rebel who defied God in her search for knowledge and discovered the pleasures of the flesh is perhaps a fitting godmother to Ferrari's mannequins, who mutely testify to the fruits of good and evil.

Abby McEwen.

1) A. Giunta, "Disturbing Beauty," in León Ferrari: Retrospectiva, Obras 1954-2006, São Paulo: Cosac Naify, 2006, 376.
2) L. Ferrari, quoted in León Ferrari: Retrospectiva, Obras 1954-2006, 415.
3) Ferrari, quoted in Giunta, 377.

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