“Challenges in the conservation of the work of León Ferrari” by Gabriela Baldomá and Marta S.Maier

This presentation on the work of the controversial Argentinean artist León Ferrari (1920-2013) was one of the very few research projects by Latin American conservators in this year’s Congress. The paper questioned, when dealing with contemporary art, whether it is more important to conserve the material aspects of the artwork or the ideology of the artist. In the case of Ferrari, this dilemma is especially present: he created a vast body of work, going from traditional techniques to avant-garde installations to protest social injustice, alluding to sex, violence, war and religion. Several case studies were presented, raising questions about concepts such as authorship, authenticity and legitimacy of art: tactile nudes with writings in Braille, mail art, polyurethane musicians, frogs in condoms, plastic toys and religious imagery. The case that caught the most attention was Jaula con aves (Cage with birds), an installation donated by Ferrari to the Museum Castagnino+Macro and selected within the project Inside Installations Latin America, coordinated by the Reina Sofía Museum. It is a complex installation with many versions over the years, all consisting of a cage with several birds inside, whose droppings fall onto a printed version of the Last Judgement, whether by Giotto, Bosch, Fran Angelico was not important. Any institution receiving the artwork on loan has to meet specific requirements: to buy birds and insure their well being and survival, meeting the demands of animal activists, and preserve the droppings without risking the visitors' health. Since Ferrari gave the Museum the rights to resulting “copies”, many questions arise: What to preserve? Which is the artwork, the cage with the birds or the reproduction with excrement? Who decides which copy of the paintings is put below the cage? Ferrari decided the most important part to conserve was a CD with 10 different Last Judgement versions. The Museum organizes the rest of the process, and biologists have stabilized the droppings and framed the images to sell the intervened copies, now part of several private collections. The conservators’ conclusion is that understanding the ideology involved in each art piece by Ferrari is the essential key for a respectful and responsible conservation.

Post by: Salomé García Art Conservation student at the University of Arts, Havana, Cuba.