MADRID.- León Ferrari and Mira Schendel are among the most significant Latin American artists of the twentieth century. Active in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s in the neighboring countries of Argentina and Brazil, they worked independently of each other, producing an oeuvre that privileges language visually and as subject matter.
Ferrari was born in Argentina in 1920. He has worked in a wide range of art forms and mediums, from sculpture, painting, drawing, and assemblage to film, collage, mail art, poetry, and sound. While living temporarily in Italy in the 1950s, he made ceramic sculptures stylistically connected to the European abstraction of the time. On returning to Argentina, he produced sculptural works of metal wires and rods before beginning a series of works on paper and, ultimately, installations, developing a practice in which organic, gestural forms appear both as abstractions and as explorations of the codes of writing. Deeply concerned with the ethical role of the artist, Ferrari later fused his avant-garde formal interests with a more political, confrontational kind of art. He is still fully active in Argentinas contemporary-art scene and lives in Buenos Aires.
Born in Zurich in 1919, Schendel moved with her family to Italy while still an infant. In 1936 she enrolled at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan to study philosophy, but three years later, facing the threat of anti-Semitic persecution, she fled into exile. When World War II ended she left Europe for Brazil and began to make art, creating ceramics and then paintings. Beginning in the 1960s she produced a volume of works on paper involving self-invented techniques, manifesting her interest in transparency and the gestures of writing. In the late 1960s she made abstract, knotted sculptures of Japanese paper and other complex works that feature accumulations of signs between transparent acrylic sheets. Schendel was highly sensitive to the ethics of artmaking and she approached art as the most radical possible expression of the human condition. She continued to experiment with forms and materials until her death in São Paulo in 1988.
Schendel and Ferrari emerged during a time marked by the use of linguistic modelssemiotics, post-structuralism, philosophies of languageto understand the world, a period when many intellectuals made language a paradigm for thought and for the world itself. Unlike Conceptual artists, their contemporaries in North America and Europe, Ferrari and Schendel use language not merely as a vehicle for expressing concepts or ideas but as an almost physical medium to shape and mold. Addressing language and art in their most concrete forms, they introduced the challenges of life into art as its content. Tangled Alphabets: León Ferrari and Mira Schendel is the first major exhibition of their work in the United States.
The exhibition is organized by Luis Pérez-Oramas, The Estrellita Brodsky Curator of Latin American Art, with the assistance of Geaninne Gutiérrez-Guimarães, Curatorial Assistant, The Museum of Modern Art.