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Museum of Modern Art in New York Presents Francis Alys: A Story of Deception
Francis Als. (Belgian, born 1959), La Leon de Musique from Rehearsal I (Ensayo I). 2000. Oil and encaustic on canvas. 8 1/2 x 11" (21.6 x 27.9 cm) The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of The Speyer Family Foundation, Kathy and Richard S. Fuld, Jr., Marie-Jose and Henry R. Kravis, Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, Anna Marie and Robert F. Shapiro, The Julia Stoschek Foundation, Dsseldorf, and Committee on Media Funds. 2011 Francis Als.

NEW YORK, NY.- Francis Als: A Story of Deception, on view at The Museum of Modern Art and MoMA PS1, draws upon MoMA's unique and important collection of work by artist Francis Als (Belgian, b. 1959), who uses poetic and allegorical methods to explore the social realities of political concepts, including the cyclical nature of change in modernizing societies, the urban landscape, and patterns of economic progress. Als's personal, ambulatory explorations of cities form the basis for his practice, through which he compiles extensive documentation reflecting his process, producing complex and diverse bodies of work that include video, painting, performance, drawing, and photography.

Organized in collaboration with Als, the presentation at MoMA is conceptually grouped around three major recent acquisitions— Re-enactments (2001), When Faith Moves Mountains (2002), and Rehearsal I (Ensayo I) (1999-2001)—each on view for the first time at the Museum. Using the mechanics of rehearsal and re-enactment in urban environments, Als comments on the politics of public space with both solitary actions and large-scale collaborations, where the culmination of many small acts achieves mythic proportions. Francis Als: A Story of Deception is on view at The Museum of Modern Art and MoMA PS1 from May 8 to August 1, 2011.

Francis Als studied architecture in Tournai and Venice before moving to Mexico City in 1986, where he has lived since. While this displacement has provided him with a unique vantage point on the country, Als's awareness of his outsider status is reflected in several of his projects. Als's works frequently begin with an action performed or initiated by him that can be witnessed in real time but also discovered through its documentation after the event. Large-scale installations such as Re-enactments, When Faith Moves Mountains, and Rehearsal I (Ensayo I) contain each of these aspects: the conceptualization and planning of the piece and action, the action itself, the distillation of the action, the video documentation, and the related materials.

In 2001 in Mexico City, Als performed Re-enactments, for which he purchased a 9mm Beretta handgun and proceeded to wander around the city’s downtown with the loaded gun in hand. After 11 minutes of walking, Als was detained by the police and eventually released. With the co- operation of the Mexican authorities, Als re-enacted the very same scene one day later. Within MoMA’s galleries, a two-channel video of the original action and its re-enactment are projected side by side, while related drawings, maps, newspaper clippings, and photographs accompany the videos. The video presentation of the action alongside its re-enactment underscores the ambiguities between reality and fiction, while anticipating the way public safety came to dominate the social and political debate within Mexico during the first decade of the 21st century.

For When Faith Moves Mountains, 500 volunteers in Lima, Peru, were equipped with shovels and asked to displace a 550-yard-long sand dune, moving it four inches from its original location. This work—Als’s contribution to the 2002 Lima Biennale—stages a collective exercise in futility in which hundreds of people attempt to move a mountain. The work raises questions about the outcomes of social actions, highlighting how substantial efforts can be out of proportion with the gains achieved. MoMA’s installation includes videos of the action, drawings, maps, and storyboards.

For Rehearsal I (Ensayo I), Als staged a scene in which the driver of a Volkswagen Beetle repeatedly attempted in vain to scale a dusty slope on the outskirts of Tijuana. The driver listened to a tape recording of a musical rehearsal by a Mexican brass band and mimicked the recording, starting and stopping as the band did. The installation includes several videos, paintings, and drawings.

Additional bodies of work are also on view at MoMA, including Tornado (2000–10), which was acquired by the Museum in 2011. For Tornado, Als visited the highlands south of Mexico City throughout the past decade in a repeated effort to chase the whirling dust storms that occur annually in the region. With camera in hand, the artist attempted again and again to run directly into a tornado to penetrate the eye of the storm. Culled from footage recorded over a period of 10 years, the video symbolically combines the sublime with the unattainable and can be considered a metaphor for failed pursuits of utopian ideals, an unstable balance between order and chaos, and man’s repeated attempts to persist despite inevitable consequences. Challenging the powers of nature in a perplexing one-on-one confrontation, Als recognizes human persistence and emphasizes the necessity to pursue ideals however unattainable or seemingly absurd.

For Song for Lupita (1998), the artist has created an installation in which a film strip loops continuously through a reel that extends up to the ceiling, projecting an animated pencil drawing of a young female character pouring a liquid from one glass to another in an endless and poetic gesture. Paradox of Praxis I (Sometimes Doing Something Leads to Nothing) (1997), a five–minute video showing Als pushing a block of ice through the center of Mexico City until nothing but a small puddle of water remained, is an allusion to the hardship involved in the daily survival tactics of many people in the region. Le Temps du Sommeil (1996 -present) is an ongoing series composed of more than 100 small canvases of approximately 4.3 x 6” each, which Als continues to rework as a sort of evolving record of visual ideas that develop out of actions or precede them.

Francis Als: A Story of Deception was initiated in collaboration with Tate Modern, London, and WIELS Centre of Contemporary Art, Brussels. The Museum of Modern Art's exhibition is unique in its focus on MoMA’s extensive holdings of Als’s work, and takes advantage of the Museum’s two venues in Manhattan (MoMA) and Queens (MoMA PS1). The decision to utilize both venues was inspired in part by Als’s The Modern Procession, a work commissioned by MoMA in 2002 to mark the Museum's relocation to MoMA QNS, a temporary facility in Queens.

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