Francis Alÿs
2023 Wolfgang Hahn Prize

November 18, 2023 – April 7, 2024

On 17 Novem­ber 2023, Fran­cis Alÿs (b. 1959 in An­tw­erp) will be award­ed the 29th Wolf­gang Hahn Prize of the Ge­sellschaft für Mod­erne Kunst.

As is cus­to­mary, the prize en­tails the ac­qui­si­tion of a work for the col­lec­tion of the Mu­se­um Lud­wig. Fran­cis Alÿs’s un­ti­tled two-part work is part of the so-called Sign Paint­ing Pro­ject (1993–1997). Over a pe­ri­od of four years, Alÿs cre­at­ed a se­ries of paint­ings de­pict­ing the same fig­ure of a man in a suit in the style of the enam­el ad­ver­tis­ing signs (Span­ish: ro­tu­los) of the sign pain­ters in Mex­i­co Ci­ty. The ro­tulis­tas were a defin­ing part of ur­ban life in Mex­i­co at the time the se­ries was cre­at­ed. The works re­flect Alÿs’s dis­com­fort with sup­pos­ed­ly art-im­ma­nent val­ues, such as the con­cept of orig­i­nal­i­ty and the val­ue chains as­so­ci­at­ed with this.

Be­gin­n­ing in 1993, he paint­ed the male fig­ure in vari­ous po­si­tions with dif­fer­ent ob­jects on small-for­mat can­vas­es and com­mis­sioned the sign pain­ters Juan Gar­cía, Emilio Rivera, and En­rique Huer­ta to copy, en­large and in­ter­pret his im­ages on enam­el pan­els. From th­ese, he in turn some­times pro­duced pain­ter­ly vari­a­tions, liken­ing the pro­cess to the chil­dren’s game of Chi­nese Whis­pers.

The work will be shown in a small pre­sen­ta­tion at the Mu­se­um Lud­wig from 18 Novem­ber 2023 to 7 April 2024, to­gether with the in­tro­duc­to­ry artist’s video Set The­o­ry (1997, Mex­i­co-Ci­ty, 13:01 min.) on the Sign Pain­ter Pro­ject and with loans from the same se­ries from a pri­vate col­lec­tor and mem­ber of the Ge­sellschaft für Mod­erne Kunst.

This year’s guest ju­ror of the Wolf­gang Hahn Prize and di­rec­tor of the Städtische Ga­lerie im Len­bach­haus and Kun­st­bau München, Mat­thias Müh­ling, ex­plains the unique­ness of the artis­tic po­si­tion and the artist’s spe­cial abil­i­ty to ob­serve our so­ci­e­ty with great sen­si­tiv­i­ty: ‘From the study of so­cial prac­tice, a body of work has emerged that de­vel­ops its very own po­et­ry of the po­lit­i­cal and is borne by an en­gage­ment with public space and the idea of com­mu­ni­ty.’

‘Na­t­u­ral­ly, I feel very ho­n­oured; and in th­ese po­laris­ing times, the award of such a prize is sig­ni­f­i­cant and in­vi­g­o­rat­ing, be­cause it gives me the feel­ing that my own con­cerns and those of the public co­in­cide, and that a dia­logue is pos­si­ble’, said Fran­cis Alÿs on re­ceiv­ing the news of his nom­i­na­tion.

‘We con­sid­er our­selves very for­tu­nate to have nom­i­nat­ed Fran­cis Alÿs from among the many world-class pro­pos­als sub­mitt­ed by our mem­bers. In a time of up­hea­val and un­cer­tain­ty, his so­cial­ly crit­i­cal art can pro­vide us with im­puls­es that con­vey par­tic­u­lar val­ues for our co­ex­is­tence. In an al­most light-heart­ed way, his work ex­plores the pos­si­bil­i­ties of cap­tur­ing seem­ing­ly ev­ery­day scenes and ac­tions in chal­leng­ing cir­cum­s­tances. For his pho­to­graph­ic and video works, paint­ings and draw­ings, Alÿs ven­tures in­to re­gions of smoulder­ing con­flict, such as Afghanis­tan, Iraq, the Strait of Gi­bral­tar, Jerusalem, and his adopt­ed home­town of Mex­i­co Ci­ty’, says Mayen Beck­mann, Chair­wo­m­an of the Ge­sellschaft für Mod­erne Kunst.

Yil­maz Dziewior, Di­rec­tor of the Mu­se­um Lud­wig: ‘Fran­cis Alÿs works across me­dia boun­daries. In his works, his unique artis­tic po­si­tion is man­i­fest­ed in the way he ob­serves our so­ci­e­ty. Alÿs’s in­vesti­ga­tions and ac­tions, es­pe­cial­ly when he him­self ap­pears as a pro­ta­g­on­ist in his works, in­clude themes such as mi­gra­tion, the draw­ing of bor­ders, and the conse­quences of glob­al­i­sa­tion, and are the source of his en­tire artis­tic oeu­vre. De­spite nu­mer­ous ex­hi­bi­tions, his work in Ger­many is main­ly rep­re­sent­ed in pri­vate col­lec­tions. The fact that the col­lec­tion of the Mu­se­um Lud­wig will re­ceive an im­por­tant work by the artist through the ac­qui­si­tion for the Wolf­gang Hahn Prize 2023 is a great en­rich­ment for our mu­se­um.’

About Fran­cis Alÿs

Fran­cis Alÿs (b. 1959 in An­tw­erp) lives and works in Mex­i­co. Trained as an ar­chi­tect and ur­ban­ist, he moved to Mex­i­co in 1986 to work with lo­cal NGOs. He has been ac­tive in the vi­su­al arts since 1990. Fran­cis Alÿs rep­re­sent­ed Bel­gi­um at the 59th Venice Bien­nale in 2022. Ex­hi­bi­tions (se­lec­tion): WIELS Brus­sels, 2023; Musée can­to­n­al des Beaux-Arts Lau­sanne, 2021–22; Tai Kwun – Cen­tre for Her­i­tage & Arts, Hong Kong; Rock­bund Art Mu­se­um (RAM), Shang­hai, 2018; Ikon Gallery, Bir­m­ing­ham, 2018; Art Gallery of On­tario, Toron­to, 2017; DOC­U­MEN­TA (13), Kas­sel, Kab­ul; Mu­se­um of Con­tem­po­rary Art, Tokyo, 2013; The Mu­se­um of Mod­ern Art, New York, 2011; Tate Mod­ern, Lon­don, 2010; The Is­rael Mu­se­um, Jerusalem, 2005; Museo Na­cio­n­al de Arte Rei­na Sofía, Ma­drid, 2003; Museo de Arte Mod­er­no, Mex­i­co Ci­ty, 1997. He re­ceived the Blue Orange Prize in 2004, the Vin­cent Award in 2008, the BA­CA Lau­re­ate Prize in 2010, the EYE Art & Film Prize in 2018, and the Whitechapel Gallery Art Icon Award and the Rolf Schock Prize in Vi­su­al Arts in 2020.

About the Wolf­gang Hahn Prize

The Wolf­gang Hahn Prize is award­ed an­nu­al­ly by the Ge­sellschaft für Mod­erne Kunst am Mu­se­um Lud­wig, and is be­ing pre­sent­ed in 2023 for the twen­ty-ninth time. The award is pri­mar­i­ly in­tend­ed to rec­og­nize con­tem­po­rary artists who have al­ready made a name for them­selves in the art world through their in­ter­na­tio­n­al­ly rec­og­nized oeu­vre, but who are not as well known in Ger­many as they de­serve to be. The prize mon­ey of a max­i­mum of 100,000 eu­ros comes from con­tri­bu­tions by the mem­bers and is used to ac­quire a work or se­ries of works by the artist for the col­lec­tion of the Mu­se­um Lud­wig. The prize in­cludes an pre­sen­ta­tion or­ganized by the Mu­se­um Lud­wig with an ac­quired work by the prize win­n­er as well as an ac­com­pany­ing publi­ca­tion.

The name of the award hon­ors the me­m­o­ry of the pas­sio­nate Cologne col­lec­tor and paint­ing re­s­tor­er Wolf­gang Hahn (1924–1987), who was in­volved in vari­ous ways with the art of the Eu­ro­pean and Amer­i­can avant-garde in Cologne. The Ge­sellschaft für Mod­erne Kunst is in­debt­ed to his ex­em­plary work as a col­lec­tor, a found­ing mem­ber of the Ge­sellschaft für Mod­erne Kunst, and the head of the res­to­ra­tion work­shops at the Wall­raf Richartz Mu­se­um and the Mu­se­um Lud­wig.


The pre­vi­ous re­cipi­ents can be found here