Exhibition view:
"Fabiolas", Schaulager at Haus zum Kirschgarten, Basel, Switzerland, 2011

At first glance, all the paintings that belong to Francis Alÿs’s collection look remarkably alike, for they are all portraits of the same subject, Saint Fabiola: depicted in accordance with her canonical iconography, the demure young woman is shown in her profile, facing left, wearing a crimson veil. Everyone of the almost four hundred examples was created by hand. In fact, most of these works were made by amateurs – as the considerable breadth in their technical skills attests.

The shards of a resilient, but nonetheless threatened, cultural practice Alÿs’s fleamarket finds exemplify resistance to the substantial losses spawned by a rapidly changing world; hence, a trace of melancholy permeates viewers’ initial impressions of wonder. Alÿs’s Fabiola collection focuses on the objects – on their roles and identities, both individual and collective – as cultural artifacts: in short, it represents an ethnographic scrutiny. As the artist-collector has asked himself repeatedly over the past fifteen years: “Why that image in particular? What gives it that power to resist... first, mechanical reproduction and, now, digital reproduction? Is the ritual/act of painting a requisite for conferring on the image its aura? What is it that made it become an icon, an object beyond any consideration of taste? How has it served as a reminder of the existence of a completely parallel and separate art scene from, say, ‚ours’, one with its own references and obsessions?“.

Text taken from Lynn Cooke “Fabiola on Tour”, 2011, and “Francis Alÿs: Instigator/Investigator“, 2008.

The increasing collection was first shown in 1994 with little more than 20 paintings at Curare in Mexico City. In 2011 the collection was shown at the Hispanic Society of America by Dia Art Foundation, New York, and curated by Lynne Cooke, which already showed over 400 pieces. The works were shown in an almost historicizing context, like that reserved for old master paintings. To date, the collection has been and will be on tour to different types of institution, such as the National Portrait Gallery in London, the Abadia de Santo Domingo de Silos in northern Spain or the Schaulager in Basel, Switzerland, but also to the Museo Amparo in Puebla, Mexico, Fundacao Joaquim Nabuca, Recife, Brazil or Pinacoteca in Sao Paolo, Brazil.

Photos: Tom Bisig

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