León Ferrari’s Heliografias

León Ferrari, Planta (1980), 37 x 37 inches, diazotype. Collection Fundación Augusto y León Ferrari Arte y Acervo. Courtesy the estate of León Ferrari and Sicardi Gallery.

León Ferrari, Planta (1980), 37 x 37 inches, diazotype. Collection Fundación Augusto y León Ferrari Arte y Acervo. Courtesy the estate of León Ferrari and Sicardi Gallery.

The Argentine artist Roberto Jacoby described his first encounter with the Heliografias of León Ferrari (1920–2013) as follows:

… they arrived by post, it was mail art—it was essential for me to understand them. That uneasiness would prove, at least subjectively, that they were works of art. They clearly dealt with an unbuildable impossible architecture. No matter how much Ferrari gave them the look of blueprints, their size, at one meter and twenty centimeters wide by three meters long, covered completely by floor plans of thousands of bedrooms, dinning rooms, offices, bathrooms, kitchens and hallways inhabited by thousands of little people … it was all about a vast jail. It was a transposed vision of Foucault’s theory of power.1

Planta (Plan, 1980) is one of the 27 diazotype Heliografias (a variant of blueprint)2 Ferrari created in exile in Brazil during the Argentine “Dirty War.” Neatly folded, it can be held between two hands. Unfolded, this particular Heliografia occupies more than nine square feet (37 x 37 inches), requiring either a table or wall to view in its entirety.

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  1. Roberto Jacoby, “Las herejías de León Ferrari,” Ideas, letras, artes en la crisis (January 1987): 71–72. []
  2. Ferrari’s Heliografias are often referred to as blueprints (heliografia in Spanish translates to blueprint in English). According to paper conservators at the Museum of Modern Art, however, the Heliografias are diazotypes. Diazo prints had replaced blueprints in most architectural and engineering offices by the 1950s as an inexpensive method of reproducing large format drawings. Like blueprints they use a contact printing process in which a drawing made on a translucent substrate is placed over chemically coated paper (containing diazonium salt and a coupler compound) and exposed to a UV source. Ammonia gas is used as a developer after exposure. See “Architectural Drawing Reproduction,” Preservation Self-Assessment Program (PSAP), accessed 14 May 2015, https://psap.library.illinois.edu/format-id-guide/archdrawingrepro. []