Francis Alÿs - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Tuesday, March 7, 2017 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    David Zwirner, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    In 1993, Belgian performative artist Francis Alÿs initiated an engagement with painting, identifying it as the Sign-Painters Project. The present triptych Cityscapes, 1993, forms part of this innovative approach to painting which developed throughout the subsequent five years. Constructing a complex structure of artistic production, Alÿs would initially illustrate figurative still images based on previous or future artistic interventions in Mexico City, the artist then hired local sign painters to create enlarged copies of his designs.

    Sign painters, or rotulistas, are commercial artists employed to hand paint on building façades or billboards for advertisement purposes. Working with Juan Garcia and Emilio Rivera, the result of this collaboration is well-illustrated in the present triptych. Alÿs requested his collaborators to create an enlarged copy but additionally encouraged an element of artistic freedom. As Cuauhtémoc Medina explains, ‘he saw the rotulistas working in the manner of an ancient scuola, sharing a common iconography and a set of social codes, as well as a ‘play of translations’ that transmitted ‘an idea from one person to another' (exh. cat. Francis Alÿs: A Story of Deception, Tate Modern, London & traveling, 2010, p. 59). Maintaining the thematic thread of a cityscape, it is clear that the three components of the present work differ greatly in design and execution.

    Whilst known for his performative interventions, Alÿs has justified his recourse to painting stating that the medium is ‘the shortest way – or the only way – to translate certain scenarios or situations that cannot be said, that cannot be filmed or performed. It is about entering a situation that could not exist elsewhere, only on the paper or canvas. They are images, and I want for them to live as such’ (Francis Alÿs in conversation with Russell Ferguson, ‘Interview’, Francis Alÿs, London, 2007, p. 26).

  • Artist Biography

    Francis Alÿs

    Belgian / Mexican • 1959

    Born in Belgium, Francis Alÿs traveled to Mexico in 1986 as part of a French program to assist in the aftermath of the tragic 1985 earthquake, and has lived there ever since. Throughout his career, the artist has analyzed facets of everyday urban life using a variety of media including video, drawing, installation and public action. Sign Painting Project (1993-'97) is a prime example of the artist's interest in the sprawling urbanization of Mexico City. In this early series, Alÿs drew inspiration from professional Mexican sign painters (rotúlistas) who painted large billboard advertisements throughout the city. In response to these large colorful compositions, Alÿs employed a similar style in creating small-scale paintings of familiar objects and places.  Alÿs asked various rotúlistas to copy and enlarge his paintings, displaying his work and that of the rotúlista side-by-side. This series, like many of Alÿs' other works, illustrates the artist's concerns with such themes as collaboration, banality and originality.

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Cityscapes - (con sabana), (Triptych: Francis - Juan Garcia - Emilio Rivera)

signed and dated 'Francis Alÿs 93' on the reverse of "Francis"
oil on canvas and enamel on metal sheet, triptych
Francis 12.5 x 16 cm (4 7/8 x 6 1/4 in.)
Juan Garcia 84 x 112 cm (33 1/8 x 44 1/8 in.)
Emilio Rivera 72.5 x 92 cm (28 1/2 x 36 1/4 in.)

Executed in 1993.

£120,000 - 180,000 

Sold for £149,000

Contact Specialist
Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 8 March 2017 5pm GMT