León Ferrari, a conceptual artist and rights activist who clashed with Pope Francis when he led Argentina’s church and relished provoking dictators, bishops and other authorities, died July 25 in Buenos Aires. He was 92.
His death was reported in Argentine media outlets, but the cause and place were not disclosed.
Mr. Ferrari produced a vast array of artwork during a prolific career. His most memorable piece may be “Western Civilization and Christianity,” a figure of Jesus crucified on the wings of a U.S. jet fighter, which he made during the Vietnam War. Later collages mixed images of Adolf Hitler and Argentina’s military junta with sacred icons of the Catholic church.
Mr. Ferrari was denounced as a blasphemer by Buenos Aires Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio — now Pope Francis — for displaying statues of the Virgin Mary in a blender, little saints in baby bottles and Jesus figures in a toaster in a 2004 exhibition. Mr. Ferrari said his aim was to criticize how he believed religion is force-fed to the masses.
The exhibit closed after several violent attacks. Mr. Ferrari responded with a letter criticizing the church for the “crimes it committed in Argentina and elsewhere.” The artist was among a large group of Argentine intellectuals who opposed Bergoglio’s election as pope, calling it “a horror.”
Mr. Ferrari’s works drew worldwide attention in recent years, and when he died, he was working on a Guggenheim fellowship to finish a study of sex and violence in Christian art. He also won the Golden Lion award at the Venice Biennale in 2007, and New York’s Museum of Modern Art mounted a retrospective of his work in 2009.
Mr. Ferrari was eulogized in Argentine media and by leading figures Friday for the way he mixed politics and poetry, ethics and aesthetics, and managed to show good humor even as he pointed out injustice and brutality.
Born in Buenos Aires on Sept. 3, 1920, Mr. Ferrari earned an engineering degree but dedicated himself to art. He illustrated books and signs for human rights campaigns.
In 1975, Mr. Ferrari was part of the Forum for Human Rights and the Movement against Repression and Torture. Forced into exile in Brazil the next year, he couldn’t save his son Ariel, who disappeared in 1977, one of the thousands of Argentines kidnapped and killed by the military state.
When Mr. Ferrari returned to his homeland in 1991, he renewed his focus on injustice, with a particular focus on how the powerful invoke divine support.
Survivors include his wife, Alicia Barros Castro, and two sons.
Mr. Ferrari reflected on his relationship with the public when he visited his exhibitions “Heliographs” and “Never Again” in 2007.
“I had a period not so long ago when I wanted to be understood by everyone,” he said, according to his Web site. “Then I realized that the rational side, this kind of everyday craziness in which everything appears normal, was impossible.”
— Associated Press