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Danh Vo opens site-specific project for the Palacio de Cristal in Madrid
Installation view.

MADRID.- Danh Vo’s (B Ria, Vietnam, 1975) artwork subverts and plays with classic late 20th-century appropriation as well as opportunistic strategies of Western art in its approach to and presentation of other cultures. His installations, sculptures, photographs and works on paper, particularly his early work, often calls on his origins and experiences, interspersing them with cultural, social, and historical references. His practice subscribes to Picasso’s famous phrase, “I do not seek, I find”, in that he is attuned to objects, documents, artworks, references and other material spanning many millennia, which he encounters through travel and the activation of a network of various characters from antique dealers to scholars to everyday, interesting individuals.

In an empirical yet not deductive approach, the artist establishes connections between objects and ideas that open up new possibilities of seeing, collecting, presenting and implying new meanings that upset the predominant historical discourse. Language and sexuality operate as elements of transition between desire, aesthetic emotion, and critical interpretation, while Eros, religion, history and politics reciprocally confront and subvert each other in his pieces.

Danh Vo utilises 21st-century exhibition typologies to contrast and therefore highlight the unique architecture in the Palacio de Cristal, as if to treat the structure as one large display cabinet encapsulating the nostalgia of a nineteenth-century palaeontology and archaeology museum. This museological presentation produces ruptures in meaning, cultural breaks with the dominant models that condition the viewer’s circumstances and therefore open up space for interpretation. Danh Vo adopts the role of the curator, both in his manner of displaying and associating objects, images and texts, and in his way of presenting preexisting collections, as he did, for instance, with the collection of Julie Ault (Tell It To My Heart, 2013-14) and, more recently, upon invitation to the Pinault Foundation at the Punta della Dogana (Venice, 2015).

In this present, site-specific project for the Palacio de Cristal in Retiro Park, Danh Vo borrows his title, Banish the faceless / Reward your grace, from a line in Nico’s Afraid (1970), a song which has also been recorded by Antony and the Johnsons. Vo presents a set of apparently unrelated objects, some acquired for this occasion by the artist. They include a large number of mammoth fossils, an ivory Christ of the 17th-century, a Roman marble assembled with a wooden, French Gothic Madonna and child, and a cardboard packaging painted with gold leaf. Accompanying these objects is a letter written by a French missionary the day before his execution in the 19th-century, transcribed by the artist’s father, Phung Vo, who writes out the letters as forms, as he cannot read French. Phung Vo has so far written hundreds of copies of this letter, which have been shown and collected at art institutions around the world.

With this new installation, Danh Vo explores the idea of the museum and its function in the contemporary world, challenging the status quo of art on such burning issues as migration and cultural identity. Benjamin Buchloh recently wrote in Artforumon Danh Vo’s work in the 56th Venice Biennale: “Literally intersecting fragments of these objects and images in acts of apparent vandalistic destruction, these allegorical fusions simultaneously mourn their fallen objects’ lost promises of Eros and agape, long vanished from the contemporary world at large.”

The artist is currently representing Denmark at the biennale, and co-curated Slip of the Tongue, the exhibition in the Pinault Foundation, mentioned above. His work attracted considerable international attention with his solo exhibitions at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam (2008), the Kunsthalle Basel (2009), the Art Institute of Chicago (2012) and the Muse d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (2013), as well as his participations in such biennales as Berlin (2010 and 2014), Gwangju (2010) and Singapore (2008). Danh Vo received the Hugo Boss Prize from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in 2012 and the Arken Art Prize from Denmark in 2015.

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