Francis Alÿs, Children's Games (2022). Installation view at Copenhagen Contemporary. Photo: David Stjernholm

Francis Alÿs

Children’s Games 1999–2022


– 10.04.23

Enter a magical world of children’s games from around the globe in the Children’s Games exhibition which showcases a treasure of poetic and political video works. For the first time in Scandinavia you have the opportunity to experience a major solo exhibition, created by the world-renowned artist Francis Alÿs (b.1959, Antwerp), which explores the universality of play, focusing on its importance and relevance in a day and age when, in Western culture, it has lost both.

Children playing musical chairs, skipping, laughing, flying kites, skipping stones, practising, building sandcastles and rolling in the snow appear on the more than 30 suspended screens in footage from every corner of the world: Mexico, Afghanistan, DR Congo, France, Hong Kong, Belgium, China – and now for the first time, featuring two new works created especially for the exhibition at CC, Denmark as well. 


Francis Alÿs – a depiction of the public space seen through the creativity of children


With humanism and insight into local conditions, Francis Alÿs portrays the public domain as perceived through the creativity of children. Play transforms ordinary elements such as stones, coins, plastic bottles, car tyres and fragments of bone into magical universes that transcend national borders and cultural divides.

In Children’s Games the classic children’s games, so familiar with their simple rules and routines, become a window onto cultures everywhere and point to the universal need to play. Every known culture in the world has a word for play. Repetition, curiosity, excitement and joy are recurrent features in the various games – through which children explore and get to know their physical and social environment.

The exhibition points out that play is a fundamental human trait and that it has enjoyed evolutionary priority throughout the history of mankind – despite the sometimes banal expressions of play and the notion that play is ‘just for fun’. Francis Alÿs upends this view by placing children’s play at the centre of Children’s Games.

In fact, recent research has gone so far as to point to the crucial importance of play, not just among children, but as an essential social determinant of development throughout life – from the workplace to personal relationships. Play holds the potential for social exploration, learning and joy, and is a crucial factor in the display of curiosity, empathy and in the acquisition of new knowledge, all of which, historically, are among humanity’s most engaging traits.

As a tribute to play as a universal expression of life, Children’s Games addresses a very topical public debate in which psychologists and specialists express joint concern about the increasing psychological distress of children and young people as play increasingly withdraws into a digital universes.

The exhibition may be experienced and enjoyed by everyone, regardless of age! 

Shadow of kids playing in the sun in Francis Alÿ's picture
Francis Alÿs, Children’s Game #14, Piedra, papel o tijera. Mexico City 2013 – 2’51”
In collaboration with Julien Devaux and Félix Blume


Anthropological practice by Francis Alÿs


Children’s Games is a window into Alÿs’s interest in everyday life and cultural rituals, which he records in photos, videos, drawings and paintings. A trained architect, Alÿs is concerned with the city and its social, cultural and political spaces. Often, he investigates a social topic or a geographical area by physically moving through it as an objective observer, giving his practice an almost anthropological quality. His walks are small performative actions guided by a conceptual premise, a rule or game, and have a clear start and end point.

Alÿs is best known for his many “walking performances”, where he walks through a given area, often wielding a specific prop. An early performance piece, The Collector (1991), shows the artist walking around Mexico City, pulling a homemade magnetic toy dog on wheels. During the day’s walk, the dog attracts various magnetic objects that have been tossed in the streets. The documentation of the performance provides a look at a hectic city, where no one pays much attention to the artist’s project. A similar project is seen in Paradox of Praxis 1 (Sometimes Making Something Leads to Nothing) (1997). Here, Alÿs replaces the magnetic dog with a large block of ice that he pushes around the city until it melts away. As the title poetically and critically implies, in a Latin American context there can be a chasm between the effort you exert and the material result you achieve.

Another walking performance and a very direct political action, The Green Line (2004) was carried out in the streets of Jerusalem. Alÿs used green paint dripping from a hole in a paint bucket to demarcate the border that was originally mandated and mapped during the armistice between Jordan and Israel in 1948. The border existed up to the Six-Day War in 1967, when Israel occupied Palestinian-inhabited areas east of it. Poignantly indicating the artist’s range, the video of the performance opens with the words, Sometimes doing something poetic can become political and sometimes doing something political can become poetic.

Since Alÿs often spends time in areas of political conflict, many of his works indirectly become subtle records, applying a poetic visual language to current political themes.


Children’s Games 1999–2022 is supported by:

Knud Højgaards Fond
Bestles Fond
Lemvigh–Müller Fonden

About Francis Alÿs

The Belgian artist Francis Alÿs (b. 1959) works in the interdisciplinary field of art, architecture and social practice. Employing a wide range of media, from performance to video and painting, he addresses geopolitical themes with great poetry. A trained architect, Alÿs in 1986 moved to Mexico City, where he began his career as an artist. He is known for anthropological, aesthetically meticulous videos observing everyday situations around the world. His video works are often accompanied by drawings, paintings and notes made on his many travels.

Alÿs was chosen to represent Belgium at the 2022 Venice Biennale, where he showed a selection of recent works from the Children’s Games series. For his exhibition at CC, Alÿs has made two new videos of children playing, respectively, the human knot and pass the orange.

Get to know our other current exhibitions from a.o James Turrell and Doug Wheeler


Chrildren playing on the beach captured by Francis Alÿs
Francis Alÿs, Children’s Game #6, Sandcastles. Knokke-Le-Zoute, Belgium 2009 – 6’04”
In collaboration with Julien Devaux, Cristian Manzutto, and Félix Blume

Francis Alÿs picture of a kid playing in the streets
Francis Alÿs, Children’s Game #23, Step on a Crack. Hong Kong 2020 – 4’57’’
In collaboration with Rafael Ortega, Julien Devaux, and Félix Blume

Children playing musical chairs on the beach by Francis Alÿs
Francis Alÿs, Children’s Game #12, Musical Chairs. Oaxaca, Mexico 2012 – 5’05”
In collaboration with Elena Pardo and Félix Blume

Francis Alÿs, Children’s Game #9, Saltamontes. Salto Acha, Venezuela 20116’10”
In collaboration with Benjamin Mast, Julien Devaux, and Félix Blume