A screengrab from Francis Alÿs’s 2002 video, When Faith Moves Mountains (now on view at MoMA). In which volunteers shoveled pieces of a Peruvian dune. The line across the dune is the advancing row of shovelers. Naturally, this brought to mind…
…the 1987 Cheech Marin flick Born in East L.A. — in which all the Mexicanos storm the border to a Neil Diamond soundtrack. ¡Orale!
Richard Serra, Hand Catching Lead, 1968. Around the time Serra created this video, he had compiled this verb list, which he went about illustrating through his art. The whole exercise was about material and the body meeting in one simplified action or process. Questions of identity, motive, or emotion are completely separated from this work. It’s simply a hand and a verb.
I recently organized a show of new media works, and realized that my series of short photo essays exploring the human figure in contemporary art was missing a new media presence. With this in mind, I focused my attention towards those dark rooms designated for video art in museums in Beacon, Indianapolis and New York City. Here’s what I found:
Francis Alÿs, Tornado. Part of Alÿs’s solo show at MoMA, A Story of Deception (which is up through August 1). I was taken by photographs of this video so I was excited to finally see the work in person. The video includes footage of Alÿs viewing the tornado from a safe distance, as well as intense shots by him as he runs right into the heart of the storm. Watching the artist’s tiny figure facing down these huge desert dust-devils might seem pointless and painful. But there’s something poetic about it, too — the lonely figure of a man chasing down something profoundly beautiful, powerful and dangerous.
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.