Writings 2009 Spring - Summer

Writings - Five contemporary artists explore language, meaning and inscription

Featuring the work of Gustavo Bonevardi, Juan Calzadilla, León Ferrari, Luis Roldán and Elias Crespin

The visual impact of writing assumed particular significance in 20th century art.  Two South American artists, Rafael Barradas and Torres-García, incorporated letters and numbers into their drawings early in the century.  Barradas wrote entire sentences and onomatopoetic words in order to introduce sound into visual art, i.e. “klaac klaac” for the sound of a trolley.  Torres-García inserted symbols and words in his Barcelona and New York cityscapes and later on, written in an alphabet of his own invention into compartments within the structures of his constructive works.

One of the first exhibitions devoted to exploring different approaches to the use of writing, as well as the ambivalence created by the tension between the descriptive function of writing and the abstract form it takes in Modern art, was Schrift und Bild (“Art and Writing”), organized in 1963 by the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.  Torres-García and León Ferrari were the only South American artists included in the exhibition.

Drawn writing is the preferred mode of expression, innovation, and subversion for León Ferrari (Argentina 1920), one of Argentina’s most distinguished conceptual artists.  Before he began to draw, Ferrari made ceramic pieces, as well as sculptures out of metal wire.  His obsession with the act of writing began in 1962, with Dibujos escritos. “I draw silent words written by hand, which say things with lines that are reminiscent of voices,” Ferrari explains, “and I write drawings that recite memories words cannot describe.

Ferrari went through prolonged periods in which he stopped drawing in order to devote himself completely to political protest.  In 1965, he created La Civilización Occidental y Cristiana, a 6-foot sculpture that has the Christ figure being crucified on a U.S. fighter plane; its title comes from Ferrari’s reaction to the argument that the Vietnam War was intended “to defend Western Christian civilization.”  Even today it is one of his most controversial and emblematic images.

Ferrari was aware of the dual nature of his work: “I have made and make two types of works.  Some have no ethical intent—paintings, abstract drawings, steel sculptures, etc., in others, I use aesthetics to question the ethics of Western culture.”

The drawings exhibited here were executed after Ferrari went into exile in Brazil in 1976, where he resumed the drawing and sculpting that was interrupted in 1965.

Los condenados de Santo Tomásis a calligraphic work that denounces certain religious precepts.  Ferrari believes that violence in the West originates in biblical texts and perpetuates itself with threats of punishment and hell.  This piece was executed after his controversial 2004 retrospective exhibition in Buenos Aires, which turned into an ideological battlefield.  The local archbishop got a court order to close the exhibition down; after demonstrations for freedom of expression were held and city officials stepped in, it reopened, attracting a record number of visitors and international interest. 

Currently, León Ferrari’s work is on exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, with Mira Schendel in Tangled Alphabets through June 15, 2009.

Gustavo Bonevardi’s Falling is a 13-by-5-foot work comprised of 18 individual drawings that like panes of a large window show a continuous image interrupted only by the spaces between each one. 

Viewed through the window panes are 8½-by-11-inch rectangles, some seen partially, some overlapping, askew - like sheets of paper floating or falling.  These drawings are drawings of paper - they are pages made from letters.

The only marks on these drawings are letters, clear handwritten letters, but no words. The letters could be about to land on a page and form words.  Or maybe have just flown off the pages, whatever words they might have once spelled, and meaning those might have once had, forgotten.  Or both, or neither, in any case there is no text to be read, no meaning, just the elements for it - letters, paper, space, time.

Juan Calzadilla (Venezuela, 1931) is an essayist, poet, and art critic, as well as a draftsman.  His works in this exhibition illustrate certain characteristic modalities of his graphic works, such as bodies; rhythms of abstract forms, either placed in bands that divide the picture plane or covering it totally in an all-over effect; and brushstrokes of arabesques juxtaposed with indecipherable handwriting. 

Calzadilla explains that he conceives of a drawing as visual writing made up of legible images in which, visually speaking, the signifier and the signified are the same.  One characteristic drawing consists of female nudes in different positions sketched with a rapid, fluid line that can be read as writing or as body language.  The well known curator, Mari Carmen Ramírez called them siluetas sígnicas [“signifying silhouettes”].

Still, Calzadilla admits that his work as a visual artist and poet has a certain dualism. “Because,” he explains, “calligraphy is a visual language and poetry is a verbal language. What both have in common is the process from which they originate, that is, through an automatic movement that—as I see it, and as Breton did too—harks back to the unconscious: there on that bridge where the mind ceases to have control over what is going to happen. The fact that the form or the poem materializes during the very process of thinking it up and that the result cannot be premeditated is exactly what brings both languages together, melting and fusing their processes for a few short moments. Word and image become one, which results in the mixture of a visual fiction of calligraphy and also a verbal fiction of what is visual.”

Luis Fernando Roldán (Colombia, 1955) works with materials discarded as useless and gives them new life.  Among his torn/reconstituted works Segmentada II from 2006 is perhaps most rooted in the formal aspect of writing resembling as it does a page of text.  The work is part of his Sueños (Dreams) series and uses a bed sheet, that nearly universal accessory of comfort and sleep. 

Rubbed with graphite the nature of the sheet is altered as it becomes a large drawing – then intervening further, Roldán rips the sheet concentrically creating a long continuous strip.  Folding and tearing the strip into segments, twisting it into regular rhythms, the strip is rolled up onto a skein. 

When unfurled, Roldán creates a composition of 60 lines of the small linked rectangular pieces of the torn cloth.  The result regains the original rectangular shape & size of the sheet, but the rectangle also becomes ‘a sheet’ of paper, and the black lines writing.

With both humor and gravity Roldán posits many metaphors with a bed sheet, and it was a great pleasure having him install it in the gallery. 

Elias Crespin’s sculptures have been seen in Argentina at ArteBA where his Triada received the art fair’s best exhibition award; in Venezuela at the Valencia Salon de Artes Visuales Arturo Michelena where he was awarded the Armando Reverón Prize; at Artbots in Dublin, winner of the Artists Choice Award; in London at the Kinetica Museum; at ArtBasel in Miami Beach; and The Armory Show & Pinta Fair in New York. 

Crespin’s sculptures have been acquired by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Cisneros Fontenal Collection in Miami; El Museo del Barrio in New York; the Museo Nacional Bellas Artes and the MALBA Collection in Buenos Aires; and by private collections in the United States, Europe and South America.

Although all his pieces incorporate the same principles of motion and mathematics and comprise suspended components that are computer driven, each kinetic matrix sculpture has its own individuality and character.

Crespin acknowledges that the technical challenges he loves to deal with are only a means to achieve the visual experience for the viewer.  The idea is to create unique sculptures in motion that produce endless combinations of forms.

Gustavo Bonevardi

b. 1960, New York City – lives in New York City

Trained as an architect with a degree from Princeton University, Gustavo Bonevardi’s artistic practice ranges from the meticulous to the monumental. Working on a small scale, Bonevardi is known for his “letter drawings:” graphite images in which a multitude of minute, yet precise letters of the alphabet tumble, spill, and stretch their way across the paper’s surface, creating undulating patterns or precise forms which, when viewed from a distance, conceal their components.

Bonevardi draws on his architectural background when working on his large-scale urban projects. These include the memorial, Tribute in Light (conceived in 2001 and illuminated each year in New York City commemorating September 11th), and 10,000 Flower Maze (2011). This later work, a temporary project commissioned for Shenzhen's Citizen Plaza in China, was inspired by the European maze garden commissioned by Emperor Qialong in 1756. The work consisted of thousands of orange traffic safety cones arranged in patterns across the public space.

In 2015, the artist's recent body of work was shown in a solo exhibition, Fictions, at Cecilia de Torres, Ltd. His large-scale drawing, Falling (2007-2009), was included in the first group exhibition ever to be held at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in New York City, Rendering the Unthinkable: Artists Respond to 9/11.

Please click for CV and China Project Installation Photos

Elias Crespin

b. 1965, Caracas, Venezuela – lives in Paris, France since 2008

The child of mathematicians, Elias Crespin frequently visited the studio of his grandmother, the artist Gego (Gertrud Goldschmidt), and her partner, the artist and designer Gerd Leufert. During this time, the young Crespin was encouraged to experiment with different materials. His technical inclinations led him to study Computer Science at Venezuela's Universidad Central in Caracas, where he delved into the fields of mathematics and topographical formulas. After working for various software companies, he decided to dedicate his skills to art making. 

Crespin constantly applies new technological methods towards his artistic production, bridging the gap between technology and art. His installations consist of arrangements of hand-made elements in various geometric forms, which are suspended in midair by nearly invisible nylon threads. Through computer programs of custom software-controlled motors designed by the artist himself, his pieces constantly shift and mutate, producing highly nuanced choreographic effects, which make them appear to dance in the air as they adopt and morph into new forms and patterns. Crespin’s work questions the concepts of form, space, movement, and time, and is often associated with the study of color, light, shadow, and the experimentation of different materials and textures.

Since 2004, the artist’s pieces have been exhibited in many international institutions and venues such as the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH); Maison de l’Amérique Latine, Paris; Grand Palais, Paris; Galerie Denise René, Paris; Espace Culturel Louis Vuitton, Paris; Boghossian Foundation, Brussels; Das Kleine Museum, Weissenstadt, Germany; Museum Haus Konstruktiv, Zürich; Galería de Arte Nacional, Caracas; and Fundación Sala Mendoza, Caracas, amongst others.

Crespin's artworks are included in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH); Ella Fontanals-Cisneros Collection (CIFO), Miami; El Museo del Barrio, New York; Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (MALBA); Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Buenos Aires; Das Kleine Museum, Weissenstadt, Germany, as well as numerous other prestigious private collections.

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León Ferrari

b. 1920, Buenos Aires, Argentina – d. 2013, Buenos Aires

Recognized for his unique oeuvre which blends art with politics, drawing with sculpture, and concept with form, León Ferrari is today regarded as one of the most important Latin American artists of the second half of the twentieth century. 

Although he began his career in Argentina pursuing parallel interests in art and engineering (an influence which can be observed in the structural emphasis of much of his work), Ferrari first started exhibiting ceramic sculptures in the 1950s. From this point of origin, his artistic experiments expanded over the decades to include film, drawings, found objects, and hanging sculptures in materials ranging from wire to bones.

Despite the diversity of his artwork, a fascination for language - as a means of communication, as a visual form, and as a metaphor - has permeated Ferrari's career. This is perhaps best observed in his written drawings, which take their departure from written script. 

A world-renowned artist, Ferrari's work is included in major museum collections including the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), NY; the Casa de las Americas, Havana; Daros Latin America, Zurich; and the Centre Pompidou, Paris. The artist received the prestigious Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement Award at the Venice Biennale in 2007. In 2009, New York's Museum of Modern Art showed León Ferrari's and Mira Schendel's work in its dual retrospective exhibition, Tangled Alphabets.

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