Critics’ Picks

León Ferrari, untitled, 1987, collage, 8 x 8".

New York

León Ferrari

Galeria Nara Roesler | New York
22 East 69th Street 3R
April 11 - June 16

In the mid 1960s, the legendary Argentinian artist León Ferrari caused a scandal when he took a life-size statue of Jesus and nailed it to a model of an American fighter jet. It was Ferrari’s way of protesting the Vietnam War. The piece, La Civilización Occidental y Cristiana (Western Christian Civilization), 1965, was made for a specific exhibition but whisked away before anyone could see it. It was included in a major retrospective of Ferrari’s work in 2004, but a local Catholic official denounced it as blasphemous and had the whole thing closed down. At the time, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was the conservative archbishop of Buenos Aires. He is now, of course, the liberal pope of Rome (aka Francis). He and Ferrari, who passed away five years ago, had a long, tangled history. In particular, the artist had written Bergoglio several letters demanding the abolition of hell, which for him, as a concept, was the main source of injustice in the world.

All of this is useful background to the intimate and uproarious experience of circling through these twenty collages and braille works on paper. Ferrari was singularly obsessed with sex, violence, war, dictatorship, intellectual resistance, and the tyranny of religion. Here, those subjects are refracted through the very fine tension between erotic pleasure and religious prurience. In one untitled collage from 1986, Ferrari has turned a crowd of haloed male figures into an audience for a peep show. In another, from 1987, a figure from Michelangelo’s Last Judgment, 1533–41, is crudely squashed onto an image of Japanese shunga. Through wild appropriation and lively juxtaposition, entire traditions of Western painting are made to appear absurdly grim and mean. Alongside vivid examples of the braille works, connoting gesture and touch, the show adds a sensuous dimension to Ferrari’s legacy.