Francis Alÿs

Francis Alÿs Awarded the Rolf Schock Prize in Visual Arts

March 2020

Francis Alÿs has won the 2020 Rolf Schock Prize in Visual Arts in recognition of a body of work “that is as profound as it is extensive. Francis Alÿs’s congenial, metaphorising idiom affords deepened insights into chaotic conflicts while at the same time drawing attention to shortcomings in our daily representation of events,” reads a statement from the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts, which administers the prize; “With seriousness and acuity, Francs Alÿs addresses real, tragic situations and circumstances which in his poetic renditions become universal and find their way into our hearts. His extensive projects, such as moving mountains and building bridges between continents, always denote the individual human step or measure. In this way Francis Alÿs makes a space for us as participants rather than viewers when we are confronted by his works.”

Read the news in Artforum

Awarded every three years in four categories—Logic & Philosophy, Mathematics, Visual Arts, and Musical Arts—the Rolf Shock Prizes were established and endowed by a bequest of the philosopher and artist Rolf Schock (1933–1986), and are decided by the three Swedish academies in those disciplines. Fellow gallery artist Marlene Dumas was awarded the Visual Arts prize in 2011.

Born in 1959 in Antwerp, Belgium, Alÿs originally trained as an architect. He moved to Mexico City in 1986, where he continues to live and work, and it was the confrontation with issues of urbanization and social unrest in his new country of adoption that inspired his decision to become a visual artist. In his work, Alÿs consistently directs his distinct poetic and imaginative sensibility toward anthropological and geopolitical concerns centered around observations of, and engagements with, everyday life, which the artist himself has described as “a sort of discursive argument composed of episodes, metaphors, or parables.” 

Francis Alÿs will debut his new film Sandlines (2018) in the “New Frontiers" category at this year’s Sundance Film Festival in Utah. Filmed during multiple trips over the past few years, the work is part of a larger body of work focused on Iraq, the beginnings of which were first exhibited at the Iraqi Pavilion during the 2017 Venice Biennale. 

January 23–February 2, 2020
Park City, Utah

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On January 21, 2020, Francis Alÿswill receive the Art Icon Award. The award will be given at an evening event hosted by Whitechapel Gallery Director Iwona Blazwick, OBE, and Swarovski Executive Board member Nadja Swarovski. 

Launched in 2014, the award is supported by Swarovski, and celebrates the work of an artist who has made a profound contribution to a particular medium, influencing their own and subsequent generations of artists. 

Francis Alÿs in collaboration with Julien Devaux

Tornado, 2000-2010
June 20—September 9, 2018

Knots’n Dust traveled to Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, UK from Beirut Art Center, where it was on view from January 31–April 22, 2018. Exploring both early and recent works by Francis Alÿs, the exhibition included a series of photographs taken in Beirut during a sandstorm in 2015, as well as videos, paintings, and an animated film which is being exhibited for the first time.

The exhibition's title referred to zones of turbulence in connection with both Alÿs's work and the identity of the city of Beirut.

June 8–July 8, 2018

The multi-part installation The Silence of Ani (2015) by Francis Alÿs was included in Groundwork, an annual program organized by CAST (the Cornubian Arts & Science Trust), in Cornwall, England. Taking place across West Cornwall and curated in 2018 by Teresa Gleadowe, Groundwork presented new commissions and acclaimed works with an emphasis on sound, moving image, and performance.

First shown in the 14th Istanbul Biennale and now part of the Centre Pompidou collection, The Silence of Ani relates to a project Francis Alÿs undertook along the Armenian-Turkish border in 2015. The installation is composed of a monochrome video with a diptych, a painting, a drawing, and an archive consisting of seventy birdcalls, as well as ephemera including notes, studies, and photos. "Once upon a time Ani was one of the most important cities of the Middle Ages," Alÿs explains, "People called it ‘The City of the 1001 Churches’ and it competed in size and beauty with Constantinople and Jerusalem. But at the turn of the first millennium nomads coming from Central Asia invaded Ani. Sieges, sackings and more invasions followed . . . People started abandoning the city, until all life left and silence fell upon Ani. This all happened many years ago, what are we to do now? Is there something other than silence?"

Francis Alÿs in Iraq, dated 2016. Photo by Akam Shex Hadi.

Francis Alÿs has won the 2018 EYE Art & Film Prize. Awarded annually since 2015 by the EYE Filmmuseum in Amsterdam with the Paddy and Joan Leigh Fermor Arts Fund, the prize recognizes an artist or filmmaker whose work unites art and film, and demonstrates quality of thought, imagination, and artistic excellence. The prize funds the making of new work.

The jury for the 2018 edition was chaired by EYE CEO Sandra den Hamer and included the French fashion designer Agnès B., Andrea Lissoni, senior curator of film and international art at Tate Modern in London, and the Thai film director Apichatpong Weerasethakul. The EYE Prize has previously been awarded to Wang Bing (2017), Ben Rivers (2016), and Hito Steyerl (2015).

Read more in Artforum.

Image: Francis Alÿs in Iraq, 2016. Photo by Akam Shex Hadi

A work by Francis Aÿls titled Untitled, Mosul (selfie), dated 2016.

May 13–November 26

Francis Alÿs presented new paintings and a video created in Mosul in the exhibition Archaic in the Iraqi National Pavilion in Venice.

In 2016, Alÿs travelled to northern Iraq on the invitation of the Ruya Foundation, an organization founded in 2012 with the aim of aiding and enriching culture in Iraq. Alÿs spent nine days on the frontline in Mosul with the Kurdish Army, or Peshmerga, an experience which continued his exploration of the role of the artist in situations of conflict. He wrote about the experience for Artforum:

"There is something peculiar about the times we live in, and with them, a different expectation of the artist's role. When the structure of a society collapses, when politicians and media have lost credit and terror invades daily life, society turns toward culture in pursuit of answers. The painter is expected to look at its reality without any filters…Yet, is the artist able to assume those roles from a moral, intellectual, and emotional point of view?"

Read more: a featued interview with the artist in Artsy about the Mosul project. A conversation with the Iraqi Pavilion curators Tamara Chalabi (co-foundation of the Ruya Foundation) and Paolo Colombo in ArtReview.

Image: Untitled, Mosul (selfie), 2016.


Francis Alÿs

Installation view of A Story of Negotiation at the Art

Gallery of Ontario, Toronto (2016 - 2017)

Francis Alÿs

Installation view of A Story of Negotiation at the Art

Gallery of Ontario, Toronto (2016 - 2017)

Francis Alÿs

Installation view of Don’t Cross the Bridge Before You

Get to the River (2008) in A Story of Negotiation at

Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires

(MALBA) - Fundación Costantini (2015 - 2016)

Francis Alÿs

Installation view of A Story of Negotiation at Museo de

Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (MALBA) -

Fundación Costantini (2015 - 2016)

Francis Alÿs

Installation view of A Story of Negotiation at Museo de

Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (MALBA) -

Fundación Costantini (2015 - 2016)

Francis Alÿs

Installation view of A Story of Negotiation at Museo de

Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (MALBA) -

Fundación Costantini (2015 - 2016)

A Story of Negotiation presented significant projects from the last two decades by Francis Alÿs, and travelled from the Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo in Mexico City to the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (MALBA), the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Havana, and the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.

The exhibition centered around three large-scale video works which reflect Alÿs's distinct sensibility towards anthropological and geopolitical concerns. Don’t Cross the Bridge Before You Get to the River (2008) documents an event in which local children stood in the sea at either shore of the Strait of Gibraltar holding boats made from shoes; the aim was to create the illusion of a bridge on the horizon. In Tornado (2000-2010), Alÿs chases dust-devils in the Mexican outback. REEL-UNREEL (2011) depicts a street game played by children in Kabul who follow a reel of film as it unravels through the old part of town.

"As ambitious as it is charming, this grand exhibition of Alÿs's oeuvre allows the audience to witness a brilliant conjugation of the sociopolitical language that is applied throughout his career." — Aesthetica Magazine

Art Icon Award

January 2020

On January 21, 2020, Francis Alÿs will receive the Art Icon Award. The award will be given at an evening event hosted by Whitechapel Gallery Director Iwona Blazwick, OBE, and Swarovski Executive Board member Nadja Swarovski.

Launched in 2014, the award is supported by Swarovski, and celebrates the work of an artist who has made a profound contribution to a particular medium, influencing their own and subsequent generations of artists.

Image: Francis Alÿs. Photo by Jiang Wenyi
A detail from a painting by Francis Alÿs, titled Le Temps du sommeil dated 1996 to ongoing.

Francis Alÿs’s work was the subject of two presentations in Shanghai. On view from November 9 through February 24, 2019, at Rockbund Art Museum (RAM), the solo exhibition La dépense ("consumption") was his first large-scale presentation in mainland China. Curated by Yuko Hasegawa, chief curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo and professor of curatorial and art theory at the city’s Tama Art University, and Larys Frogier, director at RAM, the show is framed in terms of resisting the onset of digital experience with manual action. Among the works on view were the video pieces Tornado (2000–2010) and A Story of Deception (2003–2006), the installations Silencio (2003–2010) and Exodus, 2014–2018, and small-scale paintings from the ongoing series Le Temps du sommeil, begun in 1996.

On view through March 10, 2019, Alÿs presented three video works and a maquette in the 12th Shanghai Biennale. The biennial was titled Proregress: Art in an Age of Historical Ambivalence and was organized by Cuauhtémoc Medina, who has been a long-time collaborator and curator of Alÿs’s work on projects including the major solo exhibition A Story of Negotiation, which traveled to museums in North and South America from 2015 to 2017.

Alÿs, who travels widely and has produced work in many countries, has described his practice as "a sort of discursive argument composed of episodes, metaphors, or parables." Exploring anthropological and geopolitical contexts in different places, he uses media including public actions, installations, video, paintings, and drawings. Alÿs first made work in China in the late 1990s, examples of which were included in La dépense; this was the artist’s second official participation in the Shanghai Biennale after presenting his work in its 9th edition in 2012.

Reflecting on the itinerant nature of his activities in the book accompanying A Story of Deception, a critically acclaimed survey of his work shown at Tate Modern in London, Wiels in Brussels, and The Museum of Modern Art and MoMA PS1 in New York from 2010 to 2011, Alÿs has said: "My own reaction to the place [where I arrive to make a project] is itself subjective: it is a bit of a dance in between my own concerns or obsessions that I carry with me over there and their meeting with that place, that clash that will eventually lead to a concrete reaction, a piece, or nothing. And it is never just about the place. . . . It is more because my own concerns at the time happen to coincide with the concerns of a certain place at a certain moment of its history." Arriving in Shanghai in 1997, the artist’s observations took the form of poetic fragments as he noticed "the crude reality of a mutating Shanghai. Pure present."

In a 2011 interview, Alÿs describes coming to culture "empirically," an approach that intersects with the context outlined by this year’s Shanghai Biennale curator. Medina’s observation that the "structural production" which proliferates in the contemporary moment "involves a distancing from the processes that connect with our immediate experience, making it almost impossible to have empirical access to anything" suggests a fertile environment for Alÿs’s work, which in both of these exhibitions was the result of—and appeals to—direct experience. "Alÿs’s performances query the relationships between people and their geographical and sociopolitical environments, implicitly creating a flow of life through acts such as drawing, walking, moving objects, and building bridges," Hasegawa writes in a text accompanying La dépense; "Here you will find direct encounters and physical involvement of the sort gradually being threatened by and forgotten by our digitized world, and suggestions that make us aware of, or recognize anew, manual work."

Image: Francis Alÿs, Le Temps du sommeil, 1996–ongoing (detail)

An installation of the exhibition The Logbook of Gibraltar by Francis Alÿs at the Art Sonje Center in Seoul, Korea, dated 2018

August 31–November 4, 2018

The Logbook of Gibraltar at Art Sonje Center in Seoul was Francis Alÿs’s first solo exhibition in Korea. Among other works, the show included Don’t Cross the Bridge Before you get to the River (2006-2008), an important example of the artist’s engagement with anthropological and geopolitical contexts using poetic means. Presented as a multi-media installation encompassing painting, drawing, sculpture, and video, the project documents how, as Alÿs explains, "A line of kids each carrying a boat made out of a shoe leaves Europe in the direction of Morocco, while a second line of kids with shoe-boats leaves Africa in the direction of Spain. The two lines will meet on the horizon." This public action organized by the artist, which took place on August 12, 2008, represented not an actual attempt to bridge the Strait of Gibraltar, but instead an imaginative one in which shoes become mythical vessels, and children are giants.

Image: Installation view, The Logbook of Gibraltar, Art Sonje Center, Seoul, 2018



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