Fabiola | Francis Alÿs

Fabiola or the silent multiplication


From November 13th to March 9th, 2014


My first encounter with Fabiola occurred in Brussels on September 1992. I was wandering around flea markets looking for ‘hand painted’ copies of ‘masterworks’. The low market value of copies would allow me to possess a collection of ‘originals’ of famous paintings. I expected to have some day my walls covered with unique versions of the Giocondas, The Last Supper, or whatever I could find.


Surprisingly, in the same market, a few shops away, there were two identical portraits depicting a feminine profile that, although vaguely familiar, was not identifiable to me. Street vendors were calling her Fabiola.


Six months later I had acquired a dozen replicas of the veiled woman from Jean-Jaques Henner, whereas my masterpiece collection was still down to a couple of Angelus and a very laborious version of Les Demoiselles D’Avignon. Eventually, I ended swapping my Picasso for yet another Fabiola.


The omnipresence of this obscure painting was somewhat enigmatic. I was wondering why, out of all available models, the amateur was insisting in copying a painting by a secret master of the 19th century. The seductive simplicity and its consequent ease of reproduction weren’t enough to explain its potential of multiplication. I perceived a mutual ignorance: whereas professional painters plagiarized Marcel Duchamp, Sunday painters paraphrased Jean-Jaques Henner. Fabiola indicated a different criterion of what a masterwork could be.


Francis Alÿs

Mexico City, September 1994.