León Ferrari - Latin America New York Tuesday, November 15, 2011 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist
    Private Collection

  • Catalogue Essay

    “Ferrari’s creativity thus does not lie in the design of the original figures, but resides instead in subverting the order and function of the architectural symbol by turning the scene created into nonsense. He gives personality to these identikit symbols by elaborating contained visual narratives, and each plan is composed in such a way that its appearance will alter as the viewer takes a closer or more distant view upon it.”

    M.C. Bernal, León Ferrari: The Architecture of Madness, Essex: University Gallery, University of Essex, 2002. Exhibition catalogue

    Léon Ferrari has long been regarded as one Latin America's most significant and influential 20th century artists. He is recognised as a foundational figure in the development of conceptualist practices and, having been awarded the Golden Lion at the 2007 Venice Biennale, he continues to receive accolades for his work. The son of an Italian architect and painter, Ferrari studied engineering before producing his first artworks while living in Rome (1953-55). A long-standing concern with the boundaries of language and representation emerged through a series of wire sculptures and drawings produced in Buenos Aires between 1962 and 1964. From the mid-1960s until his period of enforced exile in São Paulo (1976-1984), Ferrari’s work reflected his engagement in collective resistance to political repression and was to incorporate collaborative actions, including Tucumán Arde (Tucumán Burns, 1968). His individual works at this time conveyed a darkly irreverent humour and a concern with the tension between restraint and expression that characterises language - amongst other modes of communication. Both of these aspects have continued to form part of the vocabulary of his work.

    This sculpture relates to a significant moment, in the artist’s life, in the development of his work, and also in Ferrari’s critical reception within a different context following his departure from Argentina in 1976. Soon after arriving in São Paulo from Buenos Aires, the artist began to create structures from steel wire, sculpted using silver solder and a gas torch. This was a return to the language of his earliest sculptural pieces, created in Argentina between 1961 and 1964 and including the large-scale piece made from steel plates and twisted wires Torre de Babel (Tower of Babel, 1963), which now forms part of the Tate Modern collection. The sculptures produced in São Paulo were more linear in form than his earlier wire constructions, and thus the relationship between these works and Ferrari’s drawings become more apparent. A set of recent steel wire sculptures was exhibited at the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo in February 1978 as part of his first major solo exhibition in that city. The critic and curator Aracy Amaral (Director of the museum at this time) described these works as maquettes of imaginary buildings, “suspended nuclei in contained spaces, the infinite imprisoned”. The wire sculptures were exhibited alongside a recent series of prints, made with metal, steel and acrylic plates, and a set of 33 drawings. Using a language that hovered between gestural line and written word, these drawings continued Ferrari’s long-held investigation of the limits of linguistic expression. In this, there is a clear interplay between the poetic and philosophical concerns of Ferrari’s drawings, and those of his wire constructions. These sculptures substitute the gesture of drawing with that of soldering together lines of metal. Like his written drawings and paintings they strive to convey memories and emotions as intangible sensations that exceed the limitations of words. Although abstract in appearance, they are underpinned by expressive, humanistic concerns. This aspect is emphasised by the titles of certain works in this series, including the work Lembranças de Meu Pai (Memories of my Father, 1977), which forms part of the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art, São Paulo.

    As drawings in space, these wire sculptures allow light and shadow to penetrate and dissolve the substance of their structure. However they also mark out a contained, cage-like area formed by a projection into space of the rectangular shape of a sheet of paper. As the artist has noted, the page is transformed into a prism, one “whose faces and edges are the anonymous frame, repeated, impersonal, transparent, an envelope within which a line simply has to find its place.” In this way, Ferrari’s wire sculptures have been interpreted not only as an investigation of the limits of language, but also as a metaphor for entrapment and liberation.

    Ferrari’s return to wire sculpture also took place after a prolonged period of time (1964-1976) during which his artistic actions were marked by a sense of political urgency. This period was characterised by a commitment to collective struggle against political repression. In São Paulo, Ferrari’s prior engagement in collaborative practice helped him to become a key figure within the artistic scene of that city; there, he formed dialogues with a generation of artists including Julio Plaza, Regina Silveira, Paulo Bruscky and Genilson Soares, and attracted the attention of key critics, including Amaral and Walter Zanini. Within an open-minded and experimental artistic milieu, Ferrari began to extend his work across different media - including microfiche, videotext, artist book, and Xerox - and produced his celebrated series of heliographs or architectural blueprints. The wire sculptures also developed into a series of kinetic works, with upright rods that stirred in the wind or could be manipulated by hand. Later, he was to record the sounds made by the motion of these sculptures, which were incorporated into a collaborative musical compositions. This led to the production of a series of works conceived as both sculptures and musical instruments. For the 1979 show Art Lúdica [Playful Art] at the Museum of Modern Art São Paulo (MAM-SP), he created a four-metre tall sculpture formed of 100 rods of different diameters, which he named Berimbau after the traditional Brazilian single-string instrument. Ferrari’s work was to achieve significant impact in Brazil, and in 1980 a retrospective of his work since 1964 was mounted at MAM-SP, an exhibition that again combined his works on paper with steel wire sculptures.

  • Artist Biography

    León Ferrari

    Argentinian • 1920 - 2013

    León Ferrari was a defining figure in Argentine conceptual art. He was awarded the Golden Lion at the 2007 Venice Biennale, among other prestigious awards. During his youth, Ferrari began creating artworks while studying Engineering in Rome. Returning to Buenos Aires, he began to create art that dealt with heavy subjects such as inequality, power and discrimination, championing a sense of urgency to understand the destructive and poetic potential of these societal issues.

    One particularly controversial work, La Civilización Occidental y Cristiana (Western Christian Civilization), was exhibited in 1965 and promptly censured by the Catholic Church, as the sculpture features a store-bought Jesus figure crucified to a U.S. fighter jet. However, Ferrari is probably best known for his "written drawings" that feature compositions of abstracted handwriting created in various mediums, conveying emotion and visual poetry.

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59 x 27 1/2 x 27 1/2 in. (150 x 70 x 70 cm).
Signed and dated “León Ferrari 1978” on a steel plate, lower edge.

$750,000 - 950,000 

Latin America

14 & 15 November 2011
New York