Francis Alÿs

A close look at the Mexico City-based artist's lyrical expansions of art into life.

Survey by Cuauhtémoc Medina, Interview by Russell Ferguson, Focus by Jean Fisher, Artist's Choice by Augusto Monterroso, Writings by Francis Alÿs


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?A leaking can of paint in hand, the artist strolls out of the gallery and drifts aimlessly through the city, leaving a trail of colour as he goes. So what kind of artwork is The Leak (1995)? In one sense it's a painting, but a painting too large for any museum. It’s also a performance, though one without an audience. Perhaps most of all, it's an invitation to take the artist’s line for a walk, to explore the same path through the city, to breathe the same air and take in the same sights – and in so doing, to eliminate once and for all the division separating art from life.

With humour, sensitivity and an acutely personal connection to his subject matter, Francis Alÿs examines the patterns of various urban sites before weaving his own fables into their tangled social fabric. From that point onward, the fables take on a life of their own. A scene as such as a Volkswagen Beetle struggling up a hill in Tijuana (Rehearsal I, 1999-2001) or a man pushing a block of ice in Mexico City (Paradox of Praxis 1, 1997) can carry a message that resonates far beyond the work’s simple parameters. As the subtitle of his walking piece The Green Line (2004) puts it, ‘Sometimes doing something poetic can become political, and sometimes doing something political can become poetic.’

Originally from Belgium but based for the last twenty years in Mexico City, Francis Alÿs is a truly international artist. He has realized works in such diverse locations as Copenhagen, Lima and Jerusalem, and his work has also been exhibited at the world’s top museums – including Tate Modern in London, Castello de Rivoli in Turin and the Museum of Modern Art in New York – and featured in the most significant international biennials – including São Paulo (1998, 2005), Istanbul (1999, 2001) and Venice (1999, 2001, 2007).

In the Interview, Russell Ferguson asks how the artist’s identity as a cultural outsider has helped determine the remarkable path of his art over the years. Cuauhtémoc Medina’s Survey identifies the threads that run through the artist’s oeuvre while also sketching a political and social picture of Mexico City, the inspiration and setting for so many of his artworks. In the Focus, Jean Fisher examines the political heart of Alÿs’s massive collaborative Land art project When Faith Moves Mountains (2002). In the Artist’s Choice, Augusto Monterroso’s short tales capture the artist’s enduring fascination with the role animals and fables play in human society, while Alÿs’s own writings uncover the poetry in everyday phrases and seemingly spontaneous arrangements of urban life.


Format: Paperback
Size: 290 x 250 mm (11 3/8 x 9 7/8 in)
Pages: 160 pp
Illustrations: 0 illustrations
ISBN: 9780714843216

?Interview: Russell Ferguson is Chairman of the Department of Art at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Adjunct Curator at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, where he has organized the exhibitions ‘Wolfgang Tillmans’ (2006), ‘The Undiscovered Country’ (2004) and ‘Christian Marclay’ (2003).

Survey: Cuauhtémoc Medina is a writer and curator based in Mexico City. He is researcher at the Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas at the National University of Mexico, Mexico City, and is Associate Curator, Latin American Art Collections, at Tate Modern, London. He has written on such artists as Santiago Sierra, Brian Jungen and Teresa Margolles, as well as on a number of historical subjects, including the Fluxus movement. He has also written extensively on the work of Francis Alÿs and has collaborated on several of the artist’s most significant projects, including When Faith Moves Mountains (2002).

Focus: Jean Fisher has been the editor of the journal Third Text, the anthologies Global Visions: A New Internationalism in the Visual Arts (1994), Reverberations: Tactics of Resistance, Forms of Agency in Trans/cultural Practices (2000) and Over Here: International Perspectives on Art and Culture (2005, with Gerardo Mosquera). She was also the author of a book of essays, Vampire in the Text (2003), on contemporary art and culture. She currently teaches at Middlesex University and the Royal College of Art, London.

On the Contemporary Artists Series

"The boldest, best executed, and most far-reaching publishing project devoted to contemporary art. These books will revolutionize the way contemporary art is presented and written about."—Artforum

"The combination of intelligent analysis, personal insight, useful facts and plentiful pictures is a superb format invaluable for specialists but also interesting for casual readers, it makes these books a must for the library of anyone who cares about contemporary art."—Time Out

"A unique series of informative monographs on individual artists."—The Sunday Times

"Gives the reader the impression of a personal encounter with the artists. Apart from the writing which is lucid and illuminating, it is undoubtedly the wealth of lavish illustrations which makes looking at these books a satisfying entertainment."—The Art Book

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