Photos: Francis Alÿs: Fabiola at LACMA.

Just like my tía’s house. (Photos by C-M.)

In a one-room gallery in the Ahmanson Building at LACMA, nestled between all of that historic European art (cherubim, anyone?), is an assemblage of bric-a-brac that has to be one of the most compelling installations I’ve seen in a long time. The 300 some odd portraits of Saint Fabiola (patron saint of abused women), assembled by Belgian-born contemporary artist Francis Alys, is one of those exhibitions that you expect to whiz through. But five minutes soon turns into 45, and you find yourself stuck, staring down every single last image, wondering who the heck came up with the brilliant-yet-demented idea of creating a mosaic portrait of a Roman saint using legumes. 

The paintings, mosaics and needlepoints that depict the serene, red-robed Fabiola are all reproductions of a lost 19th century portrait of the saint by Jean-Jacques Henner. Alys has spent more than a decade plucking them out of flea market obscurity on several continents and has assembled them into a vast salon-style exhibit that wryly mimics historical, academic shows — while letting unknown, vernacular artists have their say. All together, the portraits form the pre-Internet version of a meme, like LOL cats gone seriously Catholic. If you live in L.A., don’t even think of missing this.

The show is up through Jan. 4th.

Click on images to supersize. More after the jump.

A lot of the Fabiolas on display were done in this vein: Placid gaze with a pouty bottom lip and a super-straight nose.

But there were plenty of variations as well. The woman on the right seems to be all Bette Davis.

On the left: we have a Princess Leia-goes-4th century Roman kind of vibe.

Some of the pieces were distinctive for their settings…

...others for their use of materials. This one is an inlay piece made with wood.

Another is a needlepoint.

And, of course, the mosaic made of beans! Full of vitamins and minerals.

My favorite: Fabiola on black velvet.

Triple threat: Most of the depictions show Fabiola facing left. This was a rare piece that tried to capture the saint from various angles.

A gaggle of Fabiolas, including the black velvet rendition, on the right.

The wide view.


  1. Marshall

    I see, you’re beatin’ me to it. Great photos. Can’t wait to peek at this later today. That triple painting of Fabiola reminds me of the multi-angle portraits that sculptors use to produce busts in the absence of a live sitter.

  2. Pingback: » Saint Fabiola in Multiple
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  4. Fabiola

    I really like Fabiola on Black Velvet. It might even be my favorite of her portraits. It is currently April 2009, and I want to see this. Is it still available on display?