Critics’ Picks

View of “Fabiola,” 2007.

View of “Fabiola,” 2007.


Francis Alÿs

Dia Bridgehampton
Corwith Ave
September 20, 2007–April 6, 2008

Francis Alÿs’s Fabiola inaugurates a three-year collaboration between the Dia Art Foundation and the Hispanic Society of America. If you haven’t already been, the museum’s collection and somewhat startling Beaux Arts architecture are themselves treats. An outsize relief of Don Quixote points the viewer toward the entrance of the Northern Galleries, whose mahogany-lined walls carry Alÿs’s fleet of red-veiled saints. Created by amateur painters and (assumedly) religious enthusiasts, the collection of nearly three hundred works presents a seductive kaleidoscopic counterpoint to its surroundings. The vast majority of the images are based on a lost prototype by nineteenth-century French academic painter Jean-Jacques Henner, and their superficial homogeneity has the effect of locating the viewer within a room-size crystal: Portrait reflects portrait; aberration flashes into sight and disappears almost instantaneously. The aberrations are as much a rule as the regularity of the images, and the gleam of momentary eccentricity is due as much to the viewer’s navigation of the rooms as anything he or she may find already there. A “List of Works,” commissioned from the museum staff by the artist, repeats this effect in a different register, meticulously citing the dimensions, date, media, and condition of each work; similarly, the staff’s pristine diagrams of the installations allow the viewer to parse the huge array.

The exhibition resonates with Alÿs’s long-standing interest in authorship as a mode of exchange and a process of communication, revealing the wondrous, viral quality of the icon, charting its modifications as it migrates from individual to individual, country to country, and motivation to motivation. The show likewise engages the deeply personal and yet shared investment in each instance of reproduction: Taken whole, Alÿs’s collection speaks to something beyond the religious devotion or popular esprit usually associated with iconicity. The image comes into focus as object, concept, and process, and the interrelation complicates each of these manifestations. These threads tangle so provocatively that it’s all the more difficult to let the image of the wallflower-turned-celebu-saint go.