Francis Alÿs - Fabiola

Newsweek counted Belgian artist Francis Alÿs into their top 10 contemporary artists list. Quite surprising, knowing that the list includes names such as Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons and Jeff Wall. So how did Belgian-born but Mexico based artist deserve that spot? Departing from everyday situations, Alÿs adds an unexpected poetic touch to his works of art. Works who are mostly socially engaged, but at the same time have a light-footed humoristic absurdity which may remind U of the Belgian surrealists. The I Love Belgium selected a less well known artwork called Fabiola (yes, just like our former Queen) to showcase Alÿs approach.

Imagine 300 heads with barely an inch between them, portraying 1 subject: Catholic saint Fabiola. Facing right, head in profile, hooded in a red veil against a dark background. Its obvious that she's a cult figure! Beyond that, what strikes over and again is the paradoxical sense that no matter how alike these images are, each one is different. All based on 19th-century French artist Jean-Jacques Henner celebrated portrait. But how came his portrait to dominate all future images of the saint for the original disappeared long ago...

Alÿs has spent over 15 years gathering hundreds of images by a whole range of creators, questioning art and its power. Turning the act of collecting into a prism for looking. Where did this image come from, why was it made and by what sort of mind? Each picture inflects questions about the next. Fabiola looks more or less western, Mexican, eastern European. Each artist makes her again to him or herself. But above all this immense assembly of images conveys the universal power of the portrait.

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