Expecting to encounter sculpture in an exhibition titled Francis Alÿs: The Moment Where Sculpture Happens, is expecting to be disappointed. When hearing the word sculpture, it is safe to assume that most of us immediately become concern with the technical and aesthetic qualities that are traditionally associated with sculpture. We question whether the sculpture is additive or subtractive, or whether it forms part of a building or it’s a relief panel. In the Francis Alÿs exhibition at the Davis Museum, a viewer’s notion of what sculpture is or should be, is challenged by both the artist and curator.
Born in 1959 in Antwerp, Belgium and having studied architecture and urbanism in Europe before settling in Mexico City’s historic quarters, Francis Alÿs’ work deal with the surrounding physical and social tensions of this dense Latin American city. There are no sculptures to be found in this exhibition at the Davis Museum or in the artist’s body of work, instead a viewer finds works consisting of performances and their video documentation, works; that capture the “moment” where the beginnings of sculpture are articulated.
In the video Paradox of Praxis 1 (Sometimes Doing Something Leads to Nothing), 1997 documents over eight hours edited to five minutes of Alÿs pushing an enormous block of ice around Mexico City, leaving only a small puddle at the end of the day. Paradox of Praxis 1 creates a three dimensional, sculpture like experience by documenting the action of pushing a block of ice. Throughout the performance, Alÿs casts shadows in his path and “pushes sculpture to transparent limits, finally consummated in the imagination.”
Francis Alÿs: The Moment Where Sculpture Happens features videos, slide projections, drawings and the recently acquired The Sign Painters Series Cityscape, a triptych depicting an urban scene stripped away from any recognizable landmarks. The exhibition primarily takes place in one small gallery with videos and slides projected on three walls. In addition to these, 15 drawings on vellum and 2 color transparencies of the historic quarters are displayed on a light table.
The exhibition at the Davis Museum marks the artist’s first solo exhibition in the New England region and anticipates a major career retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City this May. Francis Alÿs: The Moment Where Sculpture Happens is on view at the Davis Museum at Wellesley College until June 5th, 2011.
 Lorna Scott Fox, “Where Sculpture Happens” in Francis Alys: A Story of Deception (London, Tate Modern) 196.