Pedro Friedeberg: Art and the Mystic Schism
Pedro Friedeberg, Caged Saint

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.


hand chair, 1961

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.

Pedro Friedeberg. Architecture D'Aujourd'Hui 102 Jun 1962: 103

Pedro Friede­berg. Archi­tec­ture D’Aujourd’Hui 102 Jun 1962: 103

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.

Hell is other people

Hell is oth­er peo­ple

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.