The Words of Others: León Ferrari and Rhetoric in Times of War

Past event


As part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, an initiative of the Getty, REDCAT presents the exhibition and performance focused on the work of Argentine artist León Ferrari.

The Words of Others: León Ferrari and Rhetoric in Times of War is the most significant solo exhibition of work by Argentine artist León Ferrari (Buenos Aires, 1920 – 2013) in the U.S. and features the first full performance of his seminal 1967 publication Palabras Ajenas (The Words of Others). The exhibit, developed with the cooperation of the Fundación Augusto y León Ferrari; Arte y Acervo (FALFAA), focuses primarily on Ferrari’s influential practice from the 1960s to the 1980s, with a particular emphasis on Ferrari’s literary collages, most notably Palabras Ajenas, an important Vietnam era anti-war piece written in the form of a dramatic script. Ferrari created the work by cutting and assembling texts and quotations from various sources, including news agencies, history books, the Bible, and speeches by such political and religious figures as President Lyndon B. Johnson, Robert McNamara, Pope Paul VI and Adolph Hitler.

The September 16 durational performance in the theater at REDCAT is the first time the entire piece will be performed. Partial readings have been held at the Arts Lab in London (1968) and in Buenos Aires at the Larrañaga Theater (1972). A cast of 30 readers will create a “chorus” of contemporary voices to interpret the text, which represents an essential political piece of Ferrari’s body of work, and constitutes a tribute to him as an artist and a defender of culture, democracy, and civil rights. Ferrari’s literary collages share the experimental impulse of figures such as Julio Cortázar and Bertolt Brecht in literature and theater, as well as the political unrest of the counterculture movement of the 1960s.

The exhibition features several of Ferrari’s fundamental early works, including Carta a un general (Letter to a General) (1963), Dios (God) (1964) and El árbol embarazador (The impregnating tree) (1964), along with numerous later pieces, such as Juicio Final (Last Judgment) (1985), Relecturas de la Biblia (Re-readings of the Bible) (1984-1988), Congreso (Congress) (2002) and Hongo nuclear (negro), (Nuclear Fungus (Black)) (2007), which trace a history of war and political and religious aggression. In addition, an extensive repertoire of documents are included in the exhibition. This documentation reexamines historical interpretations of Ferrari’s artistic production, including entirely unknown and unpublished material about the two partial performances of The Words of Others in London and Buenos Aires.

Two new publications accompany the exhibition: a bilingual catalog of 300 pages and more than 120 images, published by JRP|Ringier, including new critical essays that analyze Ferrari’s relationship with theatrical experimentation, photojournalism, religious iconography, and figures of power and authority of the 1960s and 1970s. Authors include: Pedro Asquini, Agustín Díez Fischer, Ruth Estévez, Cora Gamarnik, Andrea Giunta, Miguel A. López, Jose Antonio Sánchez and an interview with Leopoldo Maler. After rigorous research and translation, REDCAT and X Artists’ Books have published the first complete English edition of The Words of Others.

Ferrari considered his literary collages to be a central element of his practice, yet many remained unpublished or had minimal circulation as limited editions or sketchbooks. The exhibit re-visits many of Ferrari’s literary collages, research and analysis of his personal letters, and the sources that inspired his visual and textual creations, revealing the influence of experimentation through writing in all of his practice.



REDCAT, Los Angeles: September 16–December 17, 2017

Pérez Art Museum Miami: February 16–August 12, 2018



September 16, 1-8 pm Performance: The Words of Others REDCAT TheaterThis durational performance is free and open to the public (people are welcome to enter and exit throughout).

Performance of Operativo: “Pacem in Terris,” a staging of León Ferrari’s Palabras Ajenas  (The words of others), Buenos Aires, 1972-73 Ricardo Paoletta archive. 

Readers: Edgar Arceneaux, Camila Ascencio, Rafael López Barrantes, Samantha Bartow, Nao Bustamante, José Luis Blondet, Ashlyn Delaire, Carlo Figlio, Jessica Fleischmann, Andrea Fraser, Charles Gaines, Alexandra Grant, Jen Hofer, Ashley Hunt, Rett Keeter, Daniel Lavery, Mireya Lucio, Michael Ned Holte, Roberto Martin, Fernando Mitre, Paige McGhee, Alyxaundrea Munson, Silke Otto-Knapp, Mac Rasmus, Christopher Rivas, Juan Rivera, Connie Samaras, Hannah Trujillo and Kristin Wetenkamp. Direction, dramaturgy and set design: José A. Sánchez, Juan Ernesto Díaz, and Ruth Estévez Translation: Jen Hofer with Tupac Cruz and Román Luján (Antena) Research and production: Carmen Amengual Assistant researchers: Andrea Santizo, Juliana Luján and Mia Lewis. Special thanks to the School of Theater at CalArts. Special thanks to Teatralidades Expandidas (Mineco: HAR2015-63984-P).


Conversation: Marc Cooper and Suzi Weissman,

Media and Democracy: From the Vietnam War to the Consolidation of “Alternative Facts” in the Digital Era.

December 5, 2017, 7 pm, Free REDCAT Theater 

This exhibition is curated by Ruth Estévez, Curator and Director of the Gallery at REDCATMiguel A. López, Director of TEORTica in Costa Rica, and Agustín Díez Fischer, Director Fundación Espigas in Buenos Aires. Advisor: Andrea Giunta.

The exhibition is part of the Getty-led Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, a far reaching and ambitious exploration of Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles.

Major support for this exhibition is provided through grants from the Getty Foundation.

Special thanks to Fundación Augusto y León Ferrari Arte y Acervo (FALFAA), for their support and for providing access to León Ferrari’s archives over the years.

Special thanks to Silvia and Hugo Sigman Collection, Buenos Aires, Sicardi Gallery, Houston,María Cristina and Pablo Henning collection, Houston, Dr. Carlos Bacino collection, Houston and Allison and David Ayers collection, Houston.

about the artist

León Ferrari (Buenos Aires, 1920–2013) began his art career during the early 1950s, with works in plaster, ceramics, wood, and stainless steel wire. This process of experimentation continued into the following decade, expanding to include “written drawings” and abstract writing.

In 1963 references to the political situation began to appear in his work, as is the case in his series Cartas a un general (Letters to a general). He participated in the activities of the Instituto Torcuato Di Tella, an art center that was a focal point for Argentinean avant-garde artists during the 1960s in Buenos Aires; his piece La civilización occidental y cristiana (Western and Christian civilization) was removed from that institution’s prize show in 1965 because of its religious content. From that year onward, Ferrari focused solely on pieces with political content, which he showed in exhibitions such as Homenaje al Viet-Nam (Homage to Vietnam) in l966, Homenaje a Latinoamérica (Homage to Latin America) in 1967, Tucumán arde (Tucumán is burning) in 1968, Malvenido Rockefeller (Unwelcome Rockefeller) in 1969, and Contrasalón (Counter-salon) and Salón independiente (Independent salon), both in 1972. In 1967 he published his literary collage Palabras ajenas (The words of others) with Falbo. Leopoldo Maler produced the work for the stage in London the following year, with the title Listen, Here, Now, and it was staged again in late 1972 in Buenos Aires by Pedro Asquini, with the title Operativo: Pacem in Terris” (Operation: “Pacem in Terris”). During the late 1960s Ferrari also began “Paulo VI y el Vietnam” (Paul VI and Vietnam), an unfinished book analyzing ties between the pope and the war in the Indochinese Peninsula. Ferrari would publish two more literary collages: La basílica (Basilica) in 1985 and Exégesis (Exegesis) in 1993. Following the coup d’tat in Argentina in 1976, Ferrari began to gather news items about repression under the military dictatorship, which would form material for the collage Nosotros no sabíamos (We did not know). That year he was forced into exile in São Paulo, where he resumed work on his metal sculptures and started experimenting with mail art, blueprints, videotexts, photocopies, and Letraset. In 1983 he revisited the theme of religion, producing hundreds of collages that combine Catholic iconography with erotic imagery from the Kama Sutra and contemporary photography. These pieces make up his series Relecturas de la Biblia (Rereadings of the Bible), which would continue over the years that followed. Ferrari returned to Buenos Aires definitively in the early 1990s. In 1995 he illustrated an edition of the book Nunca más (Never again), by the Comisión Nacional sobre la Desaparición de Personas, published by the newspapers Página 12 and Eudeba. In 2004 a retrospective of his work, curated by Andrea Giunta, was exhibited at the Centro Cultural Recoleta in Buenos Aires, provoking a strong negative reaction on the part of the Catholic Church. Works were destroyed, and the show was shut down, although it later reopened thanks to rulings from the Department of Justice.

In 2005 Ferrari published his collected political writings in Prosa política (Political prose). Two years later he was awarded the León de Oro at the Venice Biennale, and in 2012 he received the Diamond Konex Award in visual arts. In the early 2000s he participated in several exhibitions, such as León Ferrari: Obras, 1976–2008 at the Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil, Mexico City, in 2008; Tangled Alphabets at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 2009, together with the work of the Brazilian artist Mira Schendel; and Principio Potosí ¿Cómo podemos cantar el canto del Señor en tierra ajena?, an exhibition organized in 2010 by the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Spain. He died in Buenos Aires in 2013. The Fundación Augusto y León Ferrari—created by the artist and his family in 2008—continues the legacy of León and Augusto Ferrari and cares for their works.