“IN MY CITY EVERYTHING is temporary,” writes Francis Alÿs. And indeed, the ephemeral is the central aesthetic principle for this artist, who is perhaps best known for his “walks”—like The Collector, 1991–92, which entailed his pulling a magnetic toy on wheels through the streets of Mexico City, picking up bits of metal along the way; or Narcotourism, 1996, for which Alÿs traversed Copenhagen over the course of seven days under the influence of seven different drugs. Such works chart a literal and figurative path through an urban, social, or discursive space. One might say that Alÿs has invented an art of passing through.

The Belgian artist first encountered the city that inspired his peripatetic approach to art in 1987. Visiting the sprawling megalopolis as an architect, Alÿs soon repudiated that practice and turned to sculpture. Sculpture then gave way to painting, and painting, in turn,

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