Francis Alÿs: The Fabiola Project consists of more than 450 reproductions of a lost 1885 painting of 4th-century Roman Saint Fabiola by French artist Jean-Jacques Henner. The project was initiated by Belgian artist Francis Alÿs in the early 1990s, shortly after he moved to Mexico City, his current home. Fascinated by the artisanal culture of the city and short on funds, he decided to build an art collection for himself by combing the city’s flea markets and antique and junk shops. He expected to find copies of masterpieces by painters like Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, and Jean-François Millet. Instead, he found and bought versions of Henner’s Fabiola, depicted in left-facing profile wearing a red headscarf. Gradually, Alÿs’s casual collecting project gathered steam as he and his friends discovered new images of the saint during their travels around the world.
Today, The Fabiola Project consists primarily of paintings, but also includes bas-relief wood carvings and images in needlepoint, painted ceramics, jewelry, and in one case a mosaic made of rice and beans. On view in the Menil’s Byzantine Fresco Chapel, where slower and deeper reflection is encouraged, the exhibition is curated by Toby Kamps, curator of Modern and Contemporary Art.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website
Whether you go or not, Francis Alÿs: Fabiola: An Investigation, examines the artist’s exploration of collecting practices, but the publication also offers an unusual window into aesthetic, sociological, and anthropological values of the past century.
In addition to cataloguing each of the Fabiola works, the book includes Saint Jerome’s eulogy for Fabiola (the primary source for Fabiola’s biography), followed by an interpretive text on evolving hagiographies and saints’ vitae, an analysis of the role of iconographic imagery in the practice of Catholicism, and art historical essays that focus on Alÿs’s practice.