León Ferrari’s Relecturas de la Biblia

Auteur / Author: 
Todd PORTERFIELD (Département d’histoire de l’art et études cinématographiques, Université de Montréal, Canada)
Lundi 22 Août 2011 - 15:15


When I interviewed the Argentine artist León Ferrari (born 1920) three years ago in Buenos Aires, I asked with a sense of marvel about his succession of artistic positions taken against misogyny, torture, sexism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism. I wondered if he had a guiding principle that gave rise to his interventions or whether his interventions arose only episodically and in response to external circumstances. Impatiently he listened to my apparently long-winded question, and once I had finished, he quickly exclaimed, “No, no, it’s all in the Bible”.

Indeed, it is Ferrari’s recycling and reworking of biblical text and imagery that has brought him his greatest renown and his greatest notoriety. It was certainly what incited the right-wing skinheads who vandalized his 2004-2005 exhibition at the cultural center of the Recoleta, led to its closure by the Argentine judiciary, and then mobilized the mothers of the disappeared, successfully, in his favor. While his readings are often ironic, they go deep and they go back to the early moments of his career, to one of the early works of Latin American conceptual art, his 1964, “Noah’s Ark or the Impregnating Tree”. They are also found both in his nearly abstract “written paintings” and in his collages of reappropriated Biblical imagery.

Working outward from his 1980s series Relecturas de la biblia, this paper will analyze three representative themes in Ferrari’s œuvre: the Flood, the Tower of Babel, and the Annunciation, via an examination of his interplay with sources — including the bible, European Renaissance art history (e.g. Brueghel, Bosch, Michelangelo) and Argentine literature (e.g. Borges) — as well as via his media strategies and the impact of those restagings.