Pedro Friedeberg: Art and the Mystic Schism
We are human and true for the sake of amusement, impulsive, vibrant to crucify boredom.
Tristan Tzara, Dada Manifesto
There is a great schism in contemporary art and it is between the artist and the non-artist, that is those who live poetically and those who cannot. Novelty has given way to banality in the art world and for this Pedro Friedeberg has proclaimed the death of art claiming that “Since Surrealism, there has been nothing new.” Following Nietzche’s proclamation of the death of God the death of art carries with it the death of human spirit. Art has lost its sacrality. This is a dangerous proposition, but it may not be unwarranted. However, if it is true what André Breton had said, that “Mexico is the most Surrealist country in the world,” then maybe it is here in Mexico that Art stands a chance of survival, but what will be the offspring warrior child of surrealism sent to save art? If in fact it is dead, we might just see its resurrection upon Mexico’s sacred altars, on the walls of her cities, or upon the canvases of an emerging underclass of dandies, weirdos and new artists rejecting the sensational commercialism of contemporary art. Amongst her artistic clamoring, Friedeberg sits on his hand shaped throne an emblematic provocateur of artistic discontent, he is a lighthouse guiding us toward the shores of infinite possibility. Friedeberg is a Mexican mystic bridging the schism of an –ism inundated world, fighting against conformism and banality a warrior and champion of artistic mastery and absolute freedom.
The art world need not exemplify or idolize Pedro Friedeberg; in fact, he has nothing to say to young artists. In a 2014 interview with Andy Butler for designboom on the question of whether her had something to say to young artists he stated in mystically wise fashion “[no] real artists, they won’t follow anyone’s advice, especially mine. you can’t learn how to become an artist – it’s your fate.” Even so, his life already says so much to us and there is plenty to learn from it and his practice.
Pedro Friedeberg was born January 11, 1936 in Florence Italy to German-Jewish parents who were to escape to Mexico City with their three year old son from Mussolini’s Italy. Friedeberg claims to have grown up in a very German household, which was strict and torturous. He would soon practice in the arts, and later in life he would study to become an architect; however, his work was seen as too outlandish for Mexican architecture schools at the time and seemed to have flunked out. He was an early provocateur pronouncing his discontent for the boring architecture of others. He would move on to study and work with Mathias Goeritz, a German compatriot and artist who appreciated Friedeberg’s work and style. During his time in architecture school Friedeberg would dream up impossible architectures. These fantastic conceptions which pushed the limits of architecture would come to play a role in his artwork throughout his life and continues to today. Soon he would become enmeshed in the Dadaist and Surrealist circles of Mexico. These would help to formulate his philosophy of art and influence him immensely. It can now be said, in fact, that Pedro Friedeberg is the last living surrealist.
His work is prolific and as he claims “profoundly profound,” it is mandalaesque, fractational, and imbued with a contradictory sense of intentionality and whimsical aimlessness. To wed one’s eyes with his art is to inherit a dowry rich with mysticism born from its sacred geometries. Each piece is a meditation that meticulously crafted with an incredible talent. There is an entrenched sense of irony and contradiction in his work in that the fantastic becomes concrete and real defying the hyperreality of each piece. We become invested in the magic of his work and feel secure in our belief that each dream of his is truly possible. In a way each work brings us closer to reality and they urge us to forfeit the banality of the non-poetic life.
Repetition plays a prominent role in Friedeberg’s work, but it serves the purpose of creating a sort of musicality to his oeuvre. Unlike the repetition seen in much of Warholian factory pop-art there is a soul present. The essence is the disruption of banality through a sort of rhythm. Like a mandala the pieces feel as if they could be chanted. The mystic religiosity of his paintings and sculptures displaces us in their timelessness; they are at once entrenched in the semantics and symbology of the past and at the same time project utopic visions of the future. At the same time some pieces appear to be l’arte pour l’arte. Aesthetic challenges are presented and represented throughout his work and often times one feels as if they are working through a beautiful puzzle or slugging through trying to solve a crime.
If it isn’t through his art that we can get a glimpse of art before or during its death, it is through Friedeberg’s practice and life. He is a proponent of both skill and authenticity in the arts. Authentic works by authentic artists. He can see two types of eccentric artists according to 2010 interview with Rubén Pardiñas of which he says there is the genuine or authentic eccentric and the one affected by a disingenuous artificiality. It seems that for Friedeberg art isn’t just about the end product but it is also about the way the artist lives. A creation is likely to be more authentic, wonderful and pleasing if the creator lives in honour of her practice. If anything Friedeberg is authentic in his acceptance of his complicated and contradictory eccentricities, his philosophy (or anti-philosophy) and in his passion which drives him to create.
What can be learned from Pedro Friedeberg is to unabashedly accept one’s self as a fated artist, to abandon conformity, to say “no” often, and to produce what one wants to produce for one’s self when one wants to produce it. If art is to be saved or resurrected I am sure it will be in Mexico, and it will likely have to do with the one who claimed it dead in the first place. Friedeberg’s legacy is rich, and perhaps the greatest gift he has ever given art is the provocation for artists to become artists again and to live the poetic life. The mystical realism that his work and life posits ought to be enough to close the schism between the artist and the death of art. It is the authentic artist who can and will save art, we have no time for the disingenuous artist who watches while art asphyxiates on itself, or, worse, lends a helping hand. This is not an advent, as Friedeberg’s practice espouses, art must be seized and brought back to life, there is no waiting around for it.