By Matías Helbig, Corresponsal en Europa | February 18, 2021

On the 4th floor of the Sabatini Building of the Museo Reina Sofía (Madrid, Spain), a collaborative project managed by the FALFAA (Augusto & León Ferrari Arte and Collection Foundation) and the Museo Reina Sofía presents La Bondadosa Crueldad-León Ferrari, 100 años (The Kind Cruelty - Leon Ferrari, 100 Years). As part of León Ferrar’s (Buenos Aires, 1920-2013) birth centenary, the exhibition aims to highlight in Europe the artwork of one of the most important figures on the international scene from the 1960s until his death.

The ambitious project, which also includes the Van Abbemuseum (Eidenhiven, Netherlands) and the Musée National d'Art Moderne Centre Pompidou (Paris, France), will also be shown at these two institutions.

La Bondadosa Crueldad, Museo Reina Sofía. Ph: Joaquín Cortés y Román Lores

La Bondadosa Crueldad - León Ferrari, 100 años, named after the illustrated collection of poems that Ferrari dedicated to his son, is conceived in a global manner. Each of the curatorial axes that structure the exhibition are in constant dialogue throughout it and have at their core the original formation of an artistic language that the artist knew how to design, renew and execute in each of his projects. It is from this perspective that more than three hundred oeuvres and archives from the Argentinean artist career are displayed in seven rooms.

However, in order not to be exhaustive, there are two aspects that we can examine in depth without losing sight of the overall value of the exhibition. These are: the political-legal reading of religious texts (mainly the Bible) and the appropriation of the mass media and official documents as possible compositional elements of art.

These two vectors are perfectly placed at the disposal of visitors in the room that opens the exhibition. On display are two of the artworks that caused the greatest repercussions throughout León Ferrari's career: La justicia/ Autocensura (Justice/ Self-censorship) and Juicio Fina (Last Judgement), both produced in the 1990s (in the case of the former, it is an art installation that León Ferrari produced in response to his original work La Justicia). The whole room is framed, very precisely by the curatorship of the exhibition, under a letter sent to the Vatican by the CIHABAPAI (Club of Ungodly Heretics Apostate Blasphemers Atheist Pagans Agnostics and Infidels), founded by León Ferrari, in response to a news item referring to the revision of the Last Judgement by John Paul II (Pope at the time). The letter concluded: "We therefore ask you to review the Pentateuch and to process the annulment of the Last Judgement and of immortality". It is from this position that Leon Ferrari began to develop a series of artworks that attribute to the Original Sin and the Last Judgement the violence that ruled West during modern history. But we will return to this later.

What is noteworthy, in the first instance, is the translation of the two most significant moments of the Judeo-Christian tradition into a framework of juridical discussion. This first step is manifested in the letter in which the CIHABAPAI requests, as if it were a bill, to amend the Scriptures. The second step is now entirely up to Ferrari (and is recontextualised within a second scenario of political controversy): La Justicia/ Autocensura is an installation consisting of a scale covered with excrement under a cage occupied by an embalmed hen; on the wall a set of scanned documents reproduces the controversy that the original work provoked in 1992 at the Museo Sívori (Buenos Aires, Argentina). The reason for the controversy, contrary to what one might expect, was not the trivialisation or offence of certain religious symbols but the fact that the hen which then occupied the cage was alive (from her the excrement which now covers the scale). León Ferrari was denounced by the Argentine Society for the Protection of Animals (SAPA) and the artwork was removed from the exhibition. In response, the artist redesigned the intstallation, this time with an embalmed hen, and included a series of documents: his brief correspondence with the SAPA, in which he highlighted the contradictions in the legal framework that supported the denunciations made by visitors to the exhibition, and the notes that some indignant viewers left on the first exhibition.



We should now return to the biblical theme and its consequences for historical development according to Ferrari. The third room of La Bondadosa Crueldad-León Ferrari, 100 años presents a series of numerous collages —Relecturas Bíblicas (Biblical Re-readings)— which Ferrari developed throughout his life. The artist appropriates Christian iconography and introduces them into erotic images of the Orient, on the one hand, and photographs of Nazism, the atomic bomb, the Vietnam War and many other war conflicts, on the other. The dialogue that the images establish with each other contrasts the Eastern imaginary —full of erotic illustrations— with Judeo-Christian modesty and guilt, and reveals the hostile character of the Western tradition read in a political key. 

Ultimately, and leaving aside these two axes that encompass a large part of Ferrari's work, the exhibition that will remain at the Museo Reina Sofía until April explores the artist's creative processes, the importance of his relationship with his architect father, the effects of his exile to Brazil after the National Reorganisation Process —the military dictatorship that took over the Argentine government between 1976 and 1983—, his correspondence with the poet Rafael Alberti and the relevance of his relationship with literature in general. The entire work is undermined by poetic references that range from Jorge Luis Borges, especially in the series La espera (The Wait), exhibited in the second room of the museum, to indirect stylistic references that recall the dirty pen of an Osvaldo Lamborghini, as in the case of La justica excrementada (Excreted Justice). It also makes a journey through the so-called "ecological art", where the word is the material of the piece of art, and the "written visual art", compositions in which the written word mimics the line; all of them, strategies to disarm the environment and throw at the public the cruelty that underlies the mediated reality. All of them, strategies that reveal the kind cruelty. 



Exhibition: La Bondadosa Crueldad – León Ferrari, 100 años

Curators: Fernanda Carvajal, Javier Olmo, Andrea Wain and FALFAA team.

When: 15/ 12/ 2020 - 12/ 04/ 2021

Where: Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía