Magazine article Artforum International

Leon Ferrari

Magazine article Artforum International

Leon Ferrari

Article excerpt

HAUNCH OF VENISON

Despite the signal 2009 exhibition "Tangled Alphabets: Leon Ferrari and Mira Schendel," at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the work of the Argentine artist Leon Ferrari is, in all likelihood, unfamiliar to much of the North American public; in fact, that show's catalogue forms the basic English reference to Ferrari's striking output, which is still in vital production though Ferrari is, at this reviewing, a veteran prodigy at ninety years of age.

When he was young, to judge from the MOMA catalogue, Ferrari was an enchanting idealist--also an accomplished ceramist and draughtsman, but not a painter's painter and never to be one. Social activism was his strong suit, a Conceptualist populism stoked by the Vietnam adventure--evidenced by the figures of Christ crucified on the bellies of US fighter jets, say. But his fury was particularly ignited by the Argentine "Dirty War" of 1976. In resisting the depredations of a soul-withering military junta, Ferrari's own son was murdered, and Ferrari and family were forced into Brazilian exile. (Years before the scarring time of los desaparecidos, another family tragedy--the deafness of his young daughter, caused by a treatment for tuberculous meningitis in 1952--sparked the central role of the word in Ferrari's art. To a non-Spanish reader, this elaborate, text-based body of work functions primarily as lyrical calligraphic abstraction--sheet music for hummingbirds, as it were.)

Ferrari is also outraged by the insidious intersection of a chauvinist Catholic Church with an authoritarian state apparatus nourished by mid-twentieth-century, Peronista roots. State repression on one hand and, on the other, the denial of libido central to Church teaching: These are the great themes of Ferrari's art. Shrewdly understated, granting the power of the subjects at hand, his work addresses the sentimentalcation of Marian virginity, say, or the abhorrence of the humanly physical, Inquisitorial purification and mortifying acts of faith, and the relentless hell guaranteed by Church truths traduced. …

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