To approach a man of Felipe Ehrenberg’s calibre is no small thing. The last of the modernists and the first of the conceptualists, a philosopher who through forms and colours sought to provoke pleasure, and sometimes indignation.
Ehrenberg started his artistic training at a very early age under the mentorship of Mathias Goeritz and José Chavez Morado. Fleeing from dangerous times in Mexico, Felipe arrived penniless in London with his two young children and their mother, Martha Hellion. Behind them, an involvement in a massive anti-government movement brutally quelled by a massacre, and the ensuing witch-hunt launched by the government prior to the Olympics of ’68. Allowed to remain in England for “attenuating circumstances”, he proceeded to merge into the art scene spawned by the ’60s. Together with Martha, David Mayor, and Chris Welch, he founded the now legendary Beau Geste Press, which was dedicated to presenting visual poetry, conceptual and neo-Dada art, and the work of many artists closely related to the Fluxus movement. Ehrenberg was one of the most important exponents of Fluxus’ principles in Europe. Ehrenberg returned to México in 1974 and made a significant impact as a member of the country’s los grupos movement. Los grupos artists created socio-political work that addressed oppressive political regimes by combining activism and anti-art. Indeed, his interest in the socio-cultural aspects of art and the involvement of the community led him to be present as a public figure in the 80’s. Although an unsuccessful candidate for the municipal elections in 1982, Ehrenberg was actively involved in the reconstruction and protection of the Tepito neighbourhood against the real estate speculation after the 1985 earthquake.
In 2001, he accepted to be a cultural attaché in Brazil under then-chancellor Jorge Castañeda. A post of which he was discharged when he appeared naked in Beto Brant’s film Delicate Crime. In 2014, he moves again to Mexico, this time permanently. Ehrenberg had received the Perpetua Prize and Guggenheim and Fulbright fellowships among others. Defined a neologist by his friend the writer Fernando del Paso, Ehrenberg adopted this title to describe himself: “the man who studied new things”.
Ehrenberg helped to redefine and claim a social role for art with his career through the adoption of innovative and experimental modes, both conceptually and technically. His commitment to resistance and to questioning any imposed concept is present in all his oeuvre.
All his works evoke an attitude of a constant critical examination of society, which crosses Ehrenberg not only through analysis, but also physically, using urban space as a political gathering place. He was one of the first artists to approach the topic of violence in Mexico. Indeed, one of the most repetitive topics in his production was Death, especially the mixing and adaptation of Mexican indigenous traditions with Christianity.
For Ehrenberg, there could be no division between art and politics, and his goal was to unite his viewers under this line of thought. “Art is only an excuse”, said the visionary artist in his compelling homonymous work… “an excuse to live life, to explore it, to question it, to enjoy it.”
He was faithful to himself and to his work, and his work was and will be faithful to him.
Felipe Ehrenberg passed away on the 15 of May from a heart attack in Morelos, Mexico.
Ehrenberg was not only an artist, he was also a traveller, a neologist, an intellectual, a politician, a writer, an actor, a teacher, a tireless traveller, and above all a friend.
Beau Geste Press CAPC, Bordeaux, France frieze.com/beau-geste-press