Last week, the Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid opened a vast exhibition dedicated to León Ferrari, who is considered one of Argentina’s greatest artists. With a cache of pieces donated to the museum by the late artist’s foundation, the exhibition attests to the many ways that Ferrari spoke out against power structures in his home country during his lifetime—often by using Christian imagery toward subversive means. It was a cause for celebration for many. Then a lawsuit was filed.
This past Wednesday, the Asociación Española de Abogados Cristianos, a Spanish advocacy group composed of lawyers that defend “values inspired by Christianity,” according to its website, filed a suit against the Reina Sofía’s director, Manuel Borja-Villel. The Spanish news organization EFE reported that the association submitted its complaint in a Madrid court.
In its lawsuit, the association claims that the exhibition was mounted “to insult Jesus” and that it “mocks the gospel.” Abogados Cristianos is calling for the removal of Borja-Villel from his post at the museum and for the exhibition to be shuttered.
In a petition on its website, Abogados Cristianos—which has previously called for the removal of objects focused on feminist and queer causes from cultural and political spaces—writes, “This is another serious attack on our religious beliefs and symbols.” That petition has garnered more than 20,000 signatures.
A representative for the Reina Sofía declined to comment.
Titled “The Kind Cruelty: León Ferrari, 100 Years,” the show is expected to run until April 12, after which it will travel to the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, and the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Included in it are sculptures by Ferrari that feature Christian imagery. In one sculpture titled La civilización occidental y cristiana (The Western Christian Civilization), from 1965, Christ’s dead body is affixed to a U.S. fighter bomber. Another work features a Christ sculpture atop a grill.
Scholars have understood Ferrari’s use of Christian iconography with respect to his own biography and the sociopolitical climate of his moment. Ferrari’s father was a painter for the Catholic Church, and throughout his life, the artist was interested in “just cruelty,” the various forms of punishment that occur throughout Scripture. A sign alerting viewers to the potentially sensitive content of these works appears as part of the show, Borja-Villel told the Spanish outlet ABC last week.
“Ferrari believed that this brutal side of Christianity was the root cause of numerous acts of military aggression throughout modern history,” wrote art historian Daniel Milnes on the website for “Postwar,” a 2016–17 Haus der Kunst exhibition exploring the international art scene during the postwar era.
Ferrari, who died in 2013 at age 92, is regarded as one of Latin America’s most important artists of the 20th century. He won the Venice Biennale’s Golden Lion award in 2007.