León Ferrari (1920 - 2013)


    León Ferrari is regarded as one of Latin America's most significant 20th century artists, and his work has been given particular recognition in relation to the conceptual art practice of the 1960s and 70s. Born in Buenos Aires, Ferrari was the son of an Italian architect, photographer and painter (Augusto C. Ferrari) who emigrated to Argentina in 1915 and devoted his life to building and painting churches.

    Ferrari did not receive formal artistic training, but studied engineering at the University of Buenos Aires (1938 - 1947). His first artworks were ceramics, made during a stay in Rome in 1954 and exhibited in Milan in 1955. In 1962 he began a series of written drawings, amongst which was El árbol embarazador (1964): the first of his works to be openly critical of Christianity. With Carta a un General (1963) Ferrari began to produce works that were politically active in intent but distinctly visual in composition, an approach that might be described as pictorial conceptualism. In 1965 he submitted the controversial sculpture La Civilización Occidental y Cristiana for exhibition at the Di Tella Institute. This work, depicting Christ crucified on a US bomber, was censored from the show. In 1976, at the start of the military regime known as La Junta, Ferrari and his family were forced into exile in Brazil. While living in São Paulo he worked on a series of acoustic metal sculpture, created architectural plans to be reproduced using heliography and began to experiment with media such as photocopy, mail art, and videotext. Ferrari's exploration of new media was linked to his involvement with a group of Brazilian artists, including Regina Silveira, Julio Plaza, Carmela Gross, Alex Flemming and Hudinilson.

    From 1984 Ferrari made periodic return visits to Buenos Aires, finally settling there in 1991. His versatile practice encompasses collages made with Christian iconography, oriental erotica and camouflage, installations made with living birds in cages, board games, bottles and manikins, photographs intervened with texts written in Braille, written paintings, deformed calligraphies and electronic art. His work has been shown in over fifty international solo exhibitions and a large number of group shows around the world, including Global Conceptualism: points of Origin 1950-1980 (Queens Museum of Arts, New York) and Heterotopias: Medio Siglo sin lugar 1918-1968 (Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid). His retrospective exhibition at Centro Cultural Recoleta in 2005 was closed following a complaint from Christian fundamentalist groups. The show was re-opened a week later by the judges on the grounds of freedom of expression. He passed away 25 July 2013.

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