The first comprehensive survey in the United States of work by Danish artist Danh Vo will fill the ramps of the Guggenheim’s rotunda, offering an illuminating overview of Vo’s production from the past 15 years, including a number of new projects created on the occasion of the exhibition.
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 (2003–05), in which he married and divorced acquaintances in order to add their surnames to his own, to his recent sculptural hybrids of classical and Christian statuary—the exhibition will interweave installations, photographs, and works on paper from various points in the artist’s career to amplify their 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 that ended the Vietnam War, Vo subtly excavates the internal contradictions and veiled tensions embedded in his material. Repeatedly, he has probed the myths 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 will be central to this exhibition.
(Photo: Danh Vo, She was more like a beauty queen from a movie scene, 2009, Brass bugle, felt cap with velvet, bayonet sheath, field radio with wood and leather case, sashes, wooden drumsticks, fife, leather sword belt with gold and silver details, and 13-star American flag, 96.5 x 54.5 x 13.5 cm. Collection of Chantal Crousel. Photo: Jean-Daniel Pellen, Paris)