Francis Alÿs - Latin America New York Thursday, November 21, 2013 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Lisson Gallery, London
    Private Collection, New York
    David Zwirner, New York

  • Exhibited

    London, Lisson Gallery, Francis Alÿs, 14 December 1999- 29 January 2000
    Wolfsburg, Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Francis Alÿs: Walking Distance from the Studio, 4 September- 28 November 2004, then travelled to Nantes, Musée des Beaux-Arts; Barcelona, Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona; Mexico City, Museo de San Ildefonso
    New York, Hispanic Society of America, Francis Alÿs: Zócalo, 3 June 2008 (screening)
    Dinard, Palais du Arts et du Festival, Big Brother: Artists and Tyrants, 11 June- 11 September 2011

  • Literature

    C. Lampert, Francis Alÿs: The Prophet and the Fly, exh. cat., Madrid: Turner, 2003, pp. 34-35 (illustrated)
    A. Lütgens and A. Westermann, Francis Alÿs: Walking Distance from the Studio, exh. cat., Ostfildern and Wolfsburg: Hatje Cantz and Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, 2004, pp. 78-80 (illustrated)
    R. Harbison, et al., Francis Alÿs: Seven Walks, London: Artangel, 2005, p. 51 (illustrated)
    C. Medina and C. Diserens, Walking Distance From The Studio, Mexico City: Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso, 2006, pp. 78-81 (illustrated)
    C. Medina, R. Ferguson and J. Fisher, Francis Alÿs, London: Phaidon Press, 2007, pp. 98-101 (illustrated)
    F. Bousteau, et al., Qu'est-ce que l'art vidéo aujourd'hui?, Boulogne: Beaux Arts éditions, 2008, p. 56 (illustrated)
    K. Biesenbach and M. Godfrey, eds., Francis Alÿs: A Story of Deception, exh. cat., Tate Modern, London, 2010, pp. 100-101 (illustrated)
    Big Brother: Artists and Tyrants, exh. cat., Palais du Arts et du Festival, Dinard, 2011, pp. 84, 134 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    I try to trigger a question or doubt about whether change might be possible, but it’s up to the audience to decide if things need to change and in which direction. I’m just opening up a space for these questions to arise.
    Francis Alÿs, 2011

    A trained architect, Francis Alÿs travelled to Mexico to volunteer with the rebuilding efforts after the earthquake of 1985. Soon thereafter he relocated permanently to Mexico City and decided to become an artist. He was conflicted with architecture’s authoritarian effects on its environments, believing that it often imposed a foreign spatial and visual order in people’s lives. He has therefore employed much of his artistic practice to interrogate the problems and experiences of urban spaces, exploring the manifold ways in which human actions are influenced by their surroundings.

    The present lot, Zócalo, May 22, 1999, critically analyzes the beguiling history of one of the most important public spaces in Mexico City. The Zócalo, formally known as Plaza de la Constitución, is the predominant town square in the city, flanked by a multitude of government buildings and the national cathedral. The Zócalo is tied to an eventful history of government oppression and public outcry, and it has been host to countless movements of protest and dissent. Alÿs refers to it as a “negative space of the city, a miracle of resistance against the saturation of the urban texture of the metropolis. There have been so many attempts at filling this hole, this enormous current of air within the dense colonial grid, which so easily transforms itself into an inevitable and essential platform of public expression.”

    Throughout the duration of the twelve-hour video, Alÿs documents hundreds of people walking about the square, sometimes finding solace in the shade of the flagpole at the center of the plaza. The video’s vantage point characterizes the Zócalo as an insular, removed place, almost peaceful. There are no fountains, benches, trees or other elements that one might expect to find in a central town plaza. Yet, around the historic center which borders the Zócalo, there exists a bounty of market stalls and elements characteristic of a bustling city. One is reminded of Michel Foucault’s concept of heterotopia, or a palimpsest of histories and meanings.

    At first glance, one might think that Alÿs renders the Zócalo as something akin to an oasis, a brief respite from chaos in the midst of a hectic urban landscape. Yet the emptiness of the space attracts expression and activity. The square has been host to some of the most turbulent popular protests in modern Mexican history, and Alÿs’ unobtrusive observation subtly pays homage to the square’s symbolic role in movements of social justice.

    Indeed, the Zócalo has a long-standing, predominant place within the artist’s body of work. One of Alÿs’ most important renditions of the Zócalo can be found in Cuentos Patrióticos (Patriotic Tales), 1997, a seminal video work in which he guides a flock of sheep around the base of the flagpole at the center of the plaza. The work references an event that occurred in 1968, in which civil servants mocked the oppressive government by bleating like sheep when they were forced to converge in the Zócalo in support of the political administration. In Cuentos Patrióticos, the sheep follow the artist obediently and they keep their formation even as new sheep are added to the moving circle. By literalizing the past’s methods of dissent, Alÿs’ recognizes the protesters’ plight and reinforces it through additional levels of satire and physical engagement. He creates a satiric outlook vis a vis the notions of blind following and herd mentality, further consolidating the socio-political thesis of his oeuvre.

    Public spaces are a vital part of city culture, and they are instrumental in the development of a collective identity. The creation of place through the movement of the body and spatial orientation can be understood via notions of embodied space. Public spaces are essential to cities for socio-political and economic reasons. In Alÿs work, public space becomes animated, there is a movement in space as a sense of place is created. “I’d say the majority of contexts with which I interact are very charged politically. I don’t see why I’d need to insist on this ingredient of the work. Rather, what I try to do is introduce some poetic distance into those particular situations so we can see them from the outside, from a new angle.” (“Francis Alÿs”, Carla Faesler, BOMB, no. 116, Summer 2011)

  • 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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Zócalo, May 22, 1999

single screen video projection with sound
video duration: 12 hours
This work is number 1 from an edition of 4 plus 2 artist’s proofs. This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by the artist.

$100,000 - 150,000 

Sold for $100,000

Contact Specialist
Laura González
Head of Latin America Sale
+ 1 212 940 1216

Latin America

New York 21 November 2013 4pm