Skip to Content

Art Gallery of Ontario

Keyword Site Search

Art Matters Blog

“Let’s look at these issues from a human decency point of view”

March 27th, 2017

Francis Alÿs in collaboration with Rafael Ortega, Julien Devaux, Felix Blume, Ivan Boccara, Abbas Benhim, Fundación Montenmedio Arte and the kids of Tangier and Tarifa. Don’t Cross the Bridge Before You Get to the River, 2008. Strait of Gibraltar. 2-channel video projection. 7:44 mins, colour, sound. Courtesy of the artist © 2016 Francis Alÿs. Photo: Roberto Rubalcava.

Born in Belgium, based in Mexico City, and drawing inspiration from his travels all around the world, Francis Alÿs is a truly international artist. Level 5 of the AGO’s Vivian & David Campbell Centre for Contemporary Art has become a concentrated hub of art and activism with his work, and it’s not to be missed.

Alÿs is known primarily for his large-scale pieces of performance art—like pushing a giant block of ice around the streets of Mexico City. Francis Alÿs: A Story of Negotiation highlights three of these performances caught on film Tornado (2000–10), Don’t Cross the Bridge Before You Get to the River (2008), and REEL-UNREEL (2011), and complements them with over 100 smaller paintings, sculptures, and collages (even a painting he sawed in half himself). And if you’ve been, you know that this has created a powerful energy, which you can hear the moment you get off the elevator or exit the staircase on Level 5.

Alÿs is fascinated by how children create their own worlds and process complicated ideas through play. In the exhibition, he uses familiar childhood games to make sense of the world’s larger social issues, including migration patterns, contemporary warfare, and shifting borders — all of which are more relevant now than ever.

We asked Stephan Jost, the AGO’s Michael and Sonja Koerner Director and CEO, what makes this exhibition so special. Here’s what he had to say:

“We can talk about the Francis Alÿs exhibition in terms of ideologies in politics, but really I think he’s aiming for something that’s much, much more important, which is, ‘What is our human response to violence, tragedy, immigration and refugees?’ I think that when we look at, say, mass refugees as a political problem, we sometimes distance our human response. I love this show because it asks us to think about these issues from a human decency point of view. The poetry of the show is what’s going to give it its long-term importance.”

If you haven’t been yet, hurry! Francis Alÿs: A Story of Negotiation—curated by Cuauhtémoc Medina, of Mexico City’s Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo, with Kitty Scott, the AGO’s Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, and coordinated by Bellatrix Hubert, Director of the David Zwirner Gallery, New York—closes this coming Sunday, April 2.

Here are some images that grabbed visitors so far throughout the exhibition.

DAY 20/387 – saw the #AlysAGO exhibit @agotoronto and was moved by its poignancy

A post shared by Richard ( on

Francis Alÿs: A Story of Negotiation is included in general admission. AGO Members see it for free!

Are you an AGOinsider yet? If not, sign up to have stories like these delivered straight to your inbox every week.

Francis Alÿs: A Story of Negotiation Supporters

Tags: ,

Comments are closed.