The Modern Metropolis
Wellesley College welcomes Francis Alÿs’ “Cityscape” to the Davis Museum
Published: Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, September 12, 2012 19:09
Whimsical, geometric and modern are only some of the adjectives that spring to mind when admiring Francis Alÿs’ “Cityscape,” a three-paneled oil painting that explores a city from an aerial view. With a keen attention to society and social interaction, Alÿs’ “Cityscape” embodies the values of the Davis Museum and Cultural Center.
With a vision of creating a valuable, interdisciplinary liberal arts education for women, the Davis Museum and Cultural Center was founded in 1889. Now, more than one hundred years later, the Davis Museum is home to more than 10,000 works of art. You’ll find the Davis, as it is affectionately known around campus, right between the Lulu Chow Wang Campus Center and the Academic Quad. Filled with culture and artistic prowess, the Davis houses sculptures and Renaissance paintings as well as the work of contemporary artist Francis Alÿs.
Though born in Belgium, where he studied architecture, Alÿs relocated to Mexico City in the 1980s, where he explored urbanism, social practices and other media. Intrigued by the tensions between politics, poetry and other disciplines, Alÿs uses art to explore these compelling contrasts. Indeed, many of Alÿs’ works involve observing and capturing social interactions, many of which are conceived during long walks. Alÿs’ innovative style and experimentation with media and his power of observation have earned him recognition as one of the leading contemporary artists on the international art scene. His work has been displayed in galleries spanning the globe.
“Cityscape” (1993-1997), a 2010 acquisition, and part of Alÿs’ rotulista (someone commissioned to create billboard signs) series, invites the viewer into a progressive representation of a metropolis. The work consists of three paintings: Alÿs’ “original,” a small oil on wood panel that appears pale and sketched, and two creative interpretations in enamel on sheet metal painted by sign-artists Juan García and Emilio Rivera, respectively. Together, these three paintings form a triptych, a work of art divided into three pieces. This artistic style was wildly popular during the Baroque and Renaissance periods, encouraging the viewer to experience the work of art in a sequence of events, with a keen eye.
When admiring each panel, the viewer immediately notices the varied interpretations of Alÿs’ original. From the beginning, Alÿs encourages the viewer to experience the clash between the new, vibrant interpretations created by Rivera and García and Alÿs’ old and pale original.
At first glance, the viewer might be surprised to see that the work is from a bird’s-eye view, which makes it unlike Alÿs’ other works like “The Modern Procession” (2002) that engage the viewer on a more social level. In “Cityscape,” vibrant oranges, greens and pinks cover high-rise buildings, billboard signs and steel frames creating this unusual urban still-life.
Although varied in style and interpretation, “Cityscape” reinforces the importance of differing opinions and interpretations. “Cityscape” encourages artists and viewers alike to participate in the conversation and discuss the multifaceted issues that affect them constantly. Alÿs’ “original,” illustrated with pale greys and light paint strokes, depicts an aging city rich with history slowly morphing into a metropolis. Although filled with razor sharp lines and bursts of color, Rivera and García’s interpretations depict a city void of culture and memories. With “Cityscape,” Alÿs urges the viewer to discuss the modernization of cities that were once filled with life and are now waiting for their stories to begin. “Cityscape” is currently a part of an ongoing installation in the permanent collection galleries of the Davis.