Danh Vo: Take My Breath Away

Danh Vo
Installation view: Danh Vo: Take My Breath Away Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, February 9–May 9, 2018. Photo: David Heald © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 2018

NEW YORK—From February 9 through May 9, 2018, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum presents the first comprehensive survey in the United States of work by Danish artist Danh Vo (b. 1975, Ba Ria, Vietnam). Danh Vo: Take My Breath Away offers an illuminating overview of Vo’s production from the past 15 years, including several new projects created on the occasion of the Guggenheim presentation. Filling the ramps of the Frank Lloyd Wright–designed rotunda and comprising more than one hundred objects, the exhibition interweaves installations, sculptures, photographs, and works on paper from various points in the artist’s career, amplifying thematic resonances among diverse cultural and political subjects.

Danh Vo: Take My Breath Away is organized by Katherine Brinson, Daskalopoulos Curator, Contemporary Art, with Susan Thompson, Associate Curator, and with additional support from Ylinka Barotto, Assistant Curator.

Vo’s installations dissect the power structures, cultural forces, and private desires that shape our experience of the world. His work addresses themes of religion, colonialism, capitalism, and artistic authorship, but refracts these sweeping subjects through intimate personal narratives—what the artist calls “the tiny diasporas of a person’s life.” Each project grows out of a period of intense research in which historical study, fortuitous encounters, and personal relationships are woven into psychologically potent tableaux. Subjected to Vo’s vivid processes of deconstruction and recombination, found objects, documents, and images become registers of latent histories and sociopolitical fissures.

Ranging the full spectrum of Vo’s oeuvre—from early conceptual works such as Vo Rosasco Rasmussen (2003), in which he married and divorced acquaintances in order to add their surnames to his own, to his recent sculptural hybrids of antique statuary—the exhibition will forgo a chronological presentation, instead assembling works from the past fifteen years by their formal and thematic resonances. Significant subjects include the legacy of colonialism and the fraught status of the refugee.

In particular, Vo has focused on European and U.S. influences in Southeast Asia and Latin America, examining the relationship between military interventions and more diffuse cultural incursions from forces such as evangelical Catholicism and consumer brands. Objects absorbed into the work are frequently charged by knowledge of their former ownership or their status as historical bystanders. Whether presenting the intimate possessions of his family members, a series of thank-you notes from Henry Kissinger, or the chandeliers that glittered above the signing of the 1973 Paris Peace Accords, which ended American involvement in the Vietnam War, Vo subtly excavates the internal tensions embedded in his material. Repeatedly, he has probed the myths and symbols that frame entrenched cultural ideals and aspirations, from the Grimms’ Cinderella to the Statue of Liberty and the Kennedys’ “Camelot.” A sustained focus of the work has been the image of the United States in its own collective imagination and in that of the world—a topic that is central to this exhibition.

For his Guggenheim presentation, Vo has made several subtle architectural interventions that aim to amplify the spirit of Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic building. The oculus covering has been removed to allow natural shifts in sunlight and shadow to filter though the ramps below. Specially selected flora revitalizes the museum’s outdoor gardens and also features in plantings distributed within the interior of the building in Talavera pottery commissioned by the artist.

DanhVo_She-Was-More-Like-a-beauty-queen-from-a-movie-scene-03
Danh Vo She was more like a beauty queen from a movie scene, 2009 Mixed media, 96.5 x 54.5 cm Collection Chantal Crousel Photo: Jean-Daniel Pellen, Paris © Danh Vo

Fabulous Muscles Take My Breath Away (2018) is a new, site-specific work for which Danh Vo’s father and frequent collaborator, Phung Vo, hand-etched windows on the rotunda floor with calligraphy of his own design that transcribes lyrics written by the band Xiu Xiu and the exhibition’s title.

A blog post describing the installation of the window calligraphy and details about the exhibition is available at guggenheim.org/blogs. Additional features, including video content on the exhibition and audio clips of the artist speaking about his work, are posted at guggenheim.org/danhvo.

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