The Sculptures of “Heretic, Blasphemer” León Ferrari: Know Before You Bid

James Ardis
Published on

Akiba Antiques brings to auction two Ferrari steel sculptures on May 19th

Artist León Ferrari made many powerful enemies due to his critiques on the Vietnam War, the government of his native Argentina, and the Catholic Church. “I really like your artistic anti-[Lyndon] Johnson pop projects,” wrote Spanish poet Rafael Alberti to Ferrari after the latter produced a series of anti-Vietnam-War works. “Let me know when they lock you up on Martín García Island so I can start an international campaign for your freedom.”

After the military took over the Argentine government in 1976, León Ferrari was forced to flee the country. The new military government soon took Ferrari’s son, who is believed dead. While a political refugee in Brazil, Ferrari transitioned away from overtly political art and towards experimental steel sculptures. This phase was reminiscent of similar experiments he made in the 1960s and was influenced by his engineering coursework at the University of Buenos Aires.

León Ferrari Untitled Sculpture. Photo by Akiba Antiques.
León Ferrari Untitled Sculpture. Photo by Akiba Antiques.

Coming to auction next week as part of the Eclectic Collection of Estates Worldwide event, presented by Akiba Antiques, are two steel sculptures by León Ferrari from this period. In the first piece, two interconnected boxes hold steel rods organized in order of increasing and then decreasing height, producing a bell-curve-like effect. Akiba notes the work is in great condition.

Despite political turmoil and the tragedy befalling his family, Ferrari did what he could to begin his artistic career anew in São Paulo, Brazil. He enjoyed a large workshop in the city. Local artists also introduced him to new techniques, such as postcard art. But much of his time was still spent creating intricate sculptures out of steel and iron rods.

León Ferrari Untitled Sculpture. Photo by Akiba Antiques.
León Ferrari Untitled Sculpture. Photo by Akiba Antiques.

The second such piece available in the upcoming Akiba Antiques event was produced in 1984. Like the first sculpture, the steel rods wax and wane in size. In this piece, though, the rods are hung in three separate rows, creating a different pattern depending on which angle the viewer approaches them from.

Ferrari made it back to Argentina in 1991 and, for decades afterward, returned to producing politically-motivated artwork. Displayed in the Latin American Art Museum of Buenos Aires and pictured below is one example, Ferrari’s 2006 piece Hongo Nuclear. The installation serves as a reminder of atomic weapons and their disastrous consequences.

León Ferrari’s Hongo Nuclear. Photo by Nicole Martinez for Hyperallergic.
León Ferrari’s Hongo Nuclear. Photo by Nicole Martinez for Hyperallergic.

Other works targeted organized religion, including a 2004 exhibition in Buenos Aires. The event sparked the ire of Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, who is better known today as Pope Francis. The Archbishop called the pieces blasphemous, including a sculpture of Jesus crucified on a U.S. fighter jet. León Ferrari often embraced these terms. The New York Times obituary for Ferrari reminds readers that he saw himself as a founder and leader of “heretics, apostates, blasphemous, atheists, pagans, agnostics and infidels.”

Those interested in the two steel sculptures by Ferrari featured in the Akiba Antiques Eclectic Collection of Estates Worldwide event can register to bid on Bidsquare. The live event begins on May 19th, at 3:00 PM CDT.