at the Guggenheim through May 9, 2018
Danish artist Danh Vo (b. 1975, Bà Rịa, Vietnam) dissects the public forces and private desires that define individual experience. His work addresses sweeping cultural and political themes, but refracts them through intimate personal narratives—what the artist calls “the tiny diasporas of a person’s life.” Seen together in this survey exhibition, the sculptures, photographs, and works on paper that he has created over the past fifteen years circle a central paradox: that the self is plural and inherently fluid, yet decisively shaped by larger power structures.
Emerging from personal relationships and fortuitous encounters, Vo’s projects take their final form as objects and images that have accrued shifting layers of meaning in the world, whether through their former ownership, their proximity to specific events, or their currency as universal icons. A son’s last letter home from a distant land, a father’s cherished wristwatch, a marriage certificate, and a glittering chandelier become charged conduits of history and identity. Vo sometimes presents these items untouched, allowing their internal contradictions to quietly unravel through a simple act of recontextualization. Others are dismembered or combined with new partners in a vivid compression of themes and eras. Within this approach, the artist’s family history—which arcs from wartime Vietnam through displacement and immigration to Europe—is used as a readymade material like any other, intertwining with the many lives and deaths spanning centuries and continents that are evoked over the course of the exhibition.
Vo’s work is animated by the act of possession, not just of material belongings and geographic territory, but of the body, faith, and the imagination. An excavation of the residue of colonial occupation and other global power shifts can be traced throughout his oeuvre, accompanied by a meditation on the notion of freedom in different guises. These subjects are at the heart of the artist’s recurrent focus on the self-image of the United States, a country whose recent past is enmeshed with that of his birthplace. Vo probes the myths and symbols that frame the nation’s identity with characteristic duality, amplifying both its brightest ideals and bleakest corruptions. At the same time, his work questions the very idea that culture can be contained by national boundaries, revealing instead an entity in constant flux, subject to transformative processes of migration and exchange.
This exhibition is organized by Katherine Brinson, Daskalopoulos Curator, Contemporary Art, with Susan Thompson, Associate Curator, and with additional support from Ylinka Barotto, Assistant Curator.
Funding for Danh Vo: Take My Breath Away is provided by Art Mentor Foundation Lucerne.
Additional support is provided by the Juliet Lea Hillman Simonds Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Obel Family Foundation, the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Foundation, Beckett-Fonden, and the Danish Arts Foundation.