Francis Alÿs - Latin America New York Tuesday, November 15, 2011 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist
    Private Collection

  • Catalogue Essay

    Originally from Belgium, Francis Alÿs adopted Mexico as his home in 1992 after receiving his formal training in Europe. As Alÿs was trained primarily as an architect, his visual art incorporates the realms of structural exploration and the city as a social phenomenon. As a result, his works are highly poetic, drawing their subjects from history and literature (as in his renowned on-going project concerning Saint Fabiola), as well as visions of life in a dream (as in his 1996 series, Les Temps du sommeil). The present lot, Untitled, 1992, though it stands apart in the oeuvre of Francis Alÿs, nonetheless conveys all of his artistic confluences. Here, we see Alÿs’ close relationship to his adopted home, featuring a pastoral Mexican scene on an intimate and unique medium: a found handkerchief.

    Alÿs’ painted scene possesses all the intricacies of a Romantic landscape, rendered with a delicate and precise hand. Whilst we perceive a morning sky spotted with dawn’s clouds in Alÿs ’ background, his foreground has all the serenity of a small Mexican farm: as rolling hills retreat into a hazy horizon, dotted with light touches of greens and browns, the central figure is a single tree, lonely in its isolation. Within the area of the tree’s shadow, a horse grazes peacefully, recalling the visions of a land undisturbed by industry and vacant of disruptive modernity. Viewed in its entirety, the present lot is not unlike an Impressionist picture of fields at daybreak; mixed whites and greens float into each other, giving a quiet view of life on the Mexican plains.

    However, an examination of the present lot would be incomplete without scrutiny of its medium, and, of course, the beautiful geography of Alÿs’ found handkerchief. Representative of the culture in which he lives and makes his art, the handkerchief seems to radiate heat itself, reminiscent of the agricultural scene that it depicts. On the surface of his picture, the cloth resists saturation of the pigment, giving the edges of Alÿs’ picture a dream-like quality. On the reverse of the painting, we see the full life of the folded handkerchief; it exhibits the common pattern of a bandana, its deep crimson ground offset by ornate patterns of yellow imagery. We see the natural flora and fauna of the Mexican wild interacting with regal images, folded over each other like delicate layers of ancient fabric.

    The present lot makes for a fascinating study in Alÿs’ oeuvre. Here, we see a crossroads of the Mexican pastoral, the cast off cloth of a citizen, and a captivating exploration of space. Dating from 1992, early in the artist’s career, we already see his blossoming ideals and artistic projects coming into beautiful form, hinting at a career full of socially and spatially conscious aesthetics. In the end, all his criss-crossing ideologies are stretched into a place where temporal existence is suspended.

    “From an historical perspective, time is perceived differently and lived differently and I would even say the need to control time is different. So I have used timing as a tool, delaying time or creating an ellipsis into time to render my perception of time in Mexico or in certain parts of Latin America.” –Francis Alÿs, 2007 (from an interview with Siobhan Davies)

  • 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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Oil on found cloth laid on panel.
8 1/2 x 12 in. (21.6 x 30.5 cm).
Inscribed and dated "TLAYACAPAN, MAYO 92" lower right.

$60,000 - 80,000 

Sold for $100,900

Latin America

14 & 15 November 2011
New York