A man pushes a massive block of ice through the streets of Mexico City until it melts to nothing. Five hundred volunteers walk over a sand dune in Lima, digging with spades in an attempt to shift the dune a few centimetres as they go. Filming his efforts to enter the center of a tornado or carrying a leaking can of paint along the Israeli-Palestinian border: these are some of the seminal works of Francis Alÿs. The artist himself has described his practice as "a sort of discursive argument composed of episodes, metaphors, or parables“.

Trained as an architect and urbanist, Francis Alÿs (*1959, Belgium) moved to Mexico in 1986 to work with local NGO’s. In 1990 he entered the field of visual arts. His practice embraces multiple media, from painting and drawing to video and photography.


Although his studio is based in Mexico City, he has done over the last 20 years numerous projects in collaboration with local communities around the world, from South America to North Africa and Middle East. For example, in Peru he produced an event where 500 volunteers moved a sand dune just a few centimeters (When Faith Moves Mountains, Lima, 2002).


Since 2016 he has been engaged in a series of new projects in Iraq, such as Hopscotch (2016), produced in collaboration with the Yazidi Refugee Camp of Sharya, Duhok, Iraq, or Color Matching (2016), filmed while being embedded with Kurdish forces during the siege of Mosul. In 2020 he premiered the feature film Sandlines produced in collaboration with Julien Devaux and the children of a small mountain village of the Nineveh province in festivals such as Sundance, the International Film Festival Rotterdam, FID Marseille, and many others.


With humour, sensitivity and an acutely personal connection to his subject matter, Francis Alÿs examines the patterns of urban sites before weaving his own fables. He explores subjects such as modernism in Latin America and border zones in areas of politic conflicts, asking about the relevance of poetic acts. Alÿs’s work starts with a simple action, either by him or others, which is then documented in a range of media. From that point onward, the fables take on a life of their own. His works often seem to be documents or traces of an artistic practice. Alÿs has used video and film, but also other media such as postcards. Painting and drawing remain central to his work. Alÿs consistently comes back to once-developed themes, treating his previous works like a repository for future pieces. In its repetition and transmission he continues a larger story, trying to materialise a missing episode. What makes Alÿs’s practice so compelling is that he manages to address the political through poetic acts.

Major solo exhibitions include (selection):  The Belgian Pavilion, Venice Biennale (2022), Fragmentos, Bogota (2020), Tai Kwun, Hong Kong (2020), Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai (2018); Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto (2017); Art Museum, Arizona (2017); Museo Tamayo, Mexico City (2015); Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (2015); Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo (2013); Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art (2013); The Museum of Modern Art, New York (2011); Tate Modern, London (2010) and Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao (2003).


His work has been included in major international group exhibitions such as: Shanghai Biennial (2018); Iraqi Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale (2017); dOCUMENTA(13), Kassel (2012) and is found in public collections worldwide, including the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, Japan; Art Institute of Chicago; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam and Tate Modern, London. In 2021, he will have a solo exhibition at Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Lausanne.


He was awarded the Whitechapel Gallery Art Icon (2020); EYE Art & Film Prize, EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam (2018); BACA-laureate Prize (2010); Vincent Award (2008) and the Blue Orange Prize (2004).

Selected works
Selected exhibitions

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