Thursday, March 29, 2018

Danh Vo at the Guggenheim

Vietnamese-born Danish conceptual artist Danh Vo’s expansive and personal retrospective Take My Breath Away quietly commands all seven floors of the Guggenheim’s rotunda. His work incorporates a variety of mediums, from found object sculptures, to handwritten letters and decorative wallpaper. Vo's sculptures in particular have are inherently cold and unembellished; the works are barely altered from the time of their acquisition, and are physically placed far apart in the gallery space. To me, Vo faced the challenge of making the viewer feel emotionally invested to his seemingly disconnected objects that hold no meaning without explanation.
Vo explores the individual’s relationship with historical events, and the means by which identity is formed through objects belonging to others. In displaying chairs of past American presidents and chandeliers found in the Paris ballroom where the treaty was signed to end the Vietnam War, Vo holds the United States partly responsible in shaping the fate of his family. However, his most successful pieces draw from his family’s personal history, rather than the broad histories of nations. A particularly moving sculpture is simply the engine of a Mercedes-Benz belonging to his father, a car he had always wanted. The convoluted, blackened piece of machinery materializes his father's struggle of attaining an idealized Western consumer dream.
While Vo ambitiously attempts to capture the intersection of public and personal histories, his work is grounded in a constant search for identity, both in himself and his family.

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