On the third floor of LACMA's Ahmanson building is Francis Alÿs' installation of his collection of Saint Fabiola paintings. Saint Fabiola was a wealthy Roman matron who converted to Christianity in the fourth century AD and (among other things) established Rome's first hospital for the poor. She is not one of Christiandom's most notable saints; like most folk in early church history, scant historical records leave no details of what she atually looked like. Some fifteen hundred years later Jean-Jacques Henner painted a confabulated portrait of her, which caitalized on Nicholas Cardinal Wiseman's racy bestseller, Fabiola, or the Church of the Catacombs, a confabulation itself. The original painting was lost, but reproductions of the work propigated her profile like a meme.Francis Alÿs' Fabiola at LACMA: Detail of Installation
Due to an abusive first marriage and her work with the sick, Fabiola became the patron saint of both nurses and abused women. These small paintings where probably purchased or made for personal veneration, most likely by nurses or abused women seeking inner peace or strength. When Belgian artist Alÿs moved to Mexico some thirty years ago, he started collecting these canvases at flea markets. On display are close to three hundred of these canvases.Francis Alÿs' Fabiola at LACMA: Video of Installation
One of the ablilities of art is to help us see new things in the stuff that is always in front of our eyes. Through repetition we begin to see the variations in the artists' skills and abilities, features that change with the era, and variation in the wear and tear, from well preserved to fished out of the trash heap.
Associations can be made between Alÿs and Michael Asher, who had his own turn in LACMA's European painting and decorative art galleries. There is also a bit of David Wilson, whose encyclopedic museum (of Jurassic Technology) displays his own idiosycratic mashup of high, low, and faux.Francis Alÿs' Fabiola at LACMA: Context of Installation
On display through March 29, 2009.