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    Escritura deformada 1, 1964

Ink on paper, 8 1/2 x 12 3/16 in. in Leon Ferrari: Politiscripts
    courtesy of The Drawiing Center
    "Escritura deformada 1," 1964 Ink on paper, 8 1/2 x 12 3/16 in.

    Mapping politics

    Argentinean artist Leon Ferrari's calligraphic 'Politiscripts' on view at the Drawing Room respond to his repressive environment of the early '60's.


    LeŚn Ferrari began working some 30-plus years before US artist Mark Lombardi and continues to work now. But viewers of Ferrari's 'Politiscripts' may be tempted to compare the two. Lombardi's landmark 2003 retrospective was across the street from the Drawing Room in the Drawing Center's large main gallery. Both artists draw lyrical webs of text on paper, laden with densely presented information and commentary on the political administrations governing their respective nations. Methodologically, however, Lombardi and Ferrari are very different artists. Lombardi's drawings are composed of hundreds of names, corporations, and political offices all connected by arrows and seemingly presented as fact; Ferrari's are sheathed in poetic subjectivity. Lombardi's rage felt contained, Ferrari's feels naked.

    Exhibition: Politiscripts.
    Drawings by: Leon Ferrari.
    September 9 - October 23, 2004
    Opening reception: September 14, 2004, 6-8 p.m.

    Gallery: Drawing Center
    35 Wooster St
    New York NY
    Hours: Tuesday ÷ Friday, 10 AM ÷ 6 PM, and Saturday 11 AM ÷ 6 PM
    Phone: (212) 219-2166

    Like American progenitors Huebler, Baldessari, and Smithson, Ferrari works in the realm of classic Conceptualism in his constant deconstruction, and sometimes disintegration, of the systems and functions of language. Ferrari mines it with elegance and palpable anger. The drawings in 'Politiscripts' are mostly from the early '60's, when a military dictatorship was beginning to assert its strength in Argentina. Ferrari's work is almost totally composed of both appropriated and original text drawn with a nervous, caffeinated hand; sometimes it resembles a brand of paranoid, psychotic calligraphy, sometimes it simply appears to be dense clusters of circular doodles.

    The 1962 drawing "Primera Musica" seems to depict six evenly-spaced bars of music, but the notation dissipates into controlled yet violent scribbling, a soundtrack of frustration. Several drawings look like seismograph readings, or maybe the results of lie detector tests. Another drawing arranges a barrage of text (all Spanish) around a centrally placed cut-out of a newspaper article about Americans' tactics of brushing their teeth when they have no toothpaste. But this air of silliness is uncommon for the show. Ferrari seems to be creating a subjective language of his own in these drawings from the early '60's, and this was almost certainly influenced by government crackdowns on freedom of expression. By presenting letters of generals, poetry, and articles copied directly from media sources as a type of illegible graffiti, he both evades persecution and shrouds his work in an ominous vagueness that keys its success.

    In the film "Fahrenheit 9/11" the filmmaker, Michael Moore, becomes astounded on learning that the vast majority of senators don't bother to read bills — their passage or defeat is borne more out of party lines or mere hearsay — the amount of information, the heap of language in these bills is overwhelming enough to make them resistant to scrutiny. Ferrari's drawings from the early 60s perform a similar function: a type of reverse formal fascism in the face of a repressive government. Consumed by the arbitrary cruelties not only of his government but also of the perceived cruelties of Christianity, Ferrari's work reflects a self-imposed set of formal strictures, rooted in morality and cloaked in camouflage.

    SEPTEMBER 23, 2004

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