Vietnamese-Danish artist Danh Vo (pronounced ‘Yan’) opened the Guggenheim museum’s skylight to allow direct sunlight to come in. The light from the oculus falls through the building and nurtures a selection of semi-tropical plants that are dispersed throughout the building and on the ground floor by the eye shaped pool. Some are placed in the spiral ramps in Mexican pottery commissioned by the artist; the images comment on atrocities that both sides enact in the conflicts of colonialism. Vo’s engagement in appropriating, commissioning, re-presenting and deconstructing objects comments through his selection and researches on the human condition. His father Phung Vo, a gifted calligrapher, realized the piece “Fabulous Muscles Take My Breath Away” by etching it on the large glass windows of the museum’s ground floor.
How to describe a feeling of disentanglement when finding sculptural objects and text based works presented so simply. This is historically and emotionally dense work when one dives beneath the surface, but to encounter the motor of his father’s Mercedes placed on the ground is sensational. It is an amazing object whose history is interwoven with the aura of human desire for material things, abstracted and reduced. The sensation of arte povera lightens the cerebral and material body of works when one stands next to a gathering of wooden branches with fragments of wooden figures intermeshed, or next to the crystal and gilt chandeliers that hung in the Hôtel Majestic in Paris where the Nazis made their headquarters during the occupation and where the Paris Peace Accords were signed that were intended to end the Vietnam War.
The Unibomber, Ted Kaczynski’s Smith Corona typewriter is placed on the floor by a wall on a ramp, the wall text describing in part its historical interest. The typewriter was acquired by the artist, because his friend and colleague Julie Ault was aware of and in dialog with Kaczynski. Artist-curator Julie Ault was one of the artists who participated in EYE to EYE Artist led Tours, a kind of relational or social sculpture and she collaborated with Vo by selecting five texts for a piece titled, “Death Sentence” which was written out by Phung Vo. It is installed in a vitrine that curves around the outer edge of a spiral ramp; a recording discusses this piece. The complexity and fascination of Vo’s oeuvre emerges when one recognizes the underlying historical genesis of pieces which also have great formal beauty… Not to be missed @ the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, February 9 through May 9, 2018
L. Brandon Krall is an Artist-Filmmaker-Curator-Writer