Exhibition by the winner of the 2023 Joan Miró Prize opens in Barcelona
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Exhibition by the winner of the 2023 Joan Miró Prize opens in Barcelona
Installation view. © Fundació Joan Miró. Photo: Pep Herrero.

BARCELONA.- The Fundació Joan Miró presents the first solo exhibition in Spain by Vietnamese-American artist Tuan Andrew Nguyen (Saigon, 1976), winner of the eighth edition of the Joan Miró Prize. The show includes some of his most poignant recent video installations, as well as a selection of his sculptures made out of fragments of bombs and artillery shells from the Vietnam War.

Nguyen and his family emigrated to the United States as refugees after the end of the war and he uses his artistic practice to interweave his own personal story through the history of his country of birth. This exhibition explores the ways in which conflicts from the second half of the 20th century have impacted not only the people who lived through them but also their descendants.

The show gets under way with three sculptures inspired by the mobiles of American artist Alexander Calder, a close friend of Joan Miró who was also an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War. In stark contrast to Calder’s pieces, however, Nguyen’s mobiles are made out of fragments of bombs and artillery shells from the lengthy and devastating Vietnam War. In this context, Nguyen’s sculptures are more explosions than formal exercises in art. Moreover, they are also sound pieces, tuned to emit certain frequencies with healing properties. Imbued with deep symbolic meaning, they resonate with the Buddhist idea of the transformative power of compassion.

The next three works are video installations linked to the material and personal consequences of the Vietnam War. The first gives a voice to an old unexploded bomb that is about to be detonated fifty years after being dropped. Indeed, throughout Nguyen’s audiovisual projects, ostensibly inanimate objects often find a way to tell their own stories as key players in the unfolding endeavour of processing collective trauma. The second installation is a feature film about a mother and daughter struggling to make a living from the scrapyard business they inherited from the father. The daughter salvages metal from the remnants of bombs—the Vietnamese landscape is still studded with unexploded ordnance—to craft uncanny hanging sculptures. One day she accidentally stumbles into the realisation that she must surely be the reincarnation of Alexander Calder. A young Buddhist monk, inspired by the figure of Thich Nhat Hanh, teaches her about the healing properties of sound, which she then applies in her work to help her mother overcome her posttraumatic stress disorder.

The exhibition concludes with one of Nguyen’s projects linked to the stories of families of non-French soldiers sent by the French colonial administration to fight in Vietnam in what became known as the First Indochina War (1946–1954). In Because No One Living Will Listen, a Vietnamese woman writes a heartfelt letter to her father, a Moroccan soldier in the French army who died when she was a baby. She tells him about the path her life has taken and confesses how disoriented she feels at not fully belonging anywhere—a feeling shared by many other descendants of mixed couples who have to find ways of juggling hybrid cultural identities and integrating their ancestors’ legacy into their own lives.

Our Ghosts Live in the Future gives Spanish audiences the first opportunity to experience Tuan Andrew Nguyen’s work in person and gain an appreciation of his artistic vision and committed interest in exploring social and historical issues thrown up by the destabilising effects of colonial legacies. In addition, repeated references in his pieces offer up rereadings of the work of American artist and antiwar activist Alexander Calder, a close friend of Joan Miró and Josep Lluís Sert whose presence is keenly felt in the Fundació Joan Miró Collection. Nguyen’s practice resonates with the museum’s collection and with Joan Miró’s legacy as an artist with similarly strong ties to his native country.

The show not only offers a survey of Tuan Andrew Nguyen’s work but also provides a unique insight into his artistic vision and staunch commitment to social and historical concerns that run through the core of his artistic narrative. It includes a previously unseen piece fashioned out of reused war ordnance made at the artist’s studio in Ho Chi Minh City. Like the sculptures presented at the beginning of the show, this piece is inspired by one of Alexander Calder’s mobiles, in this case The Corcovado, a large-scale sculpture that forms part of the Fundació Joan Miró Collection. At both the start and end of the exhibition, Nguyen engages with key figures in Western modern art who helped shape the dominant artistic narrative of the 20th century.

“Art may stubbornly resist being parsed in purely practical terms, but that does not mean it can’t achieve a practical result. This exhibit, and Tuan Andrew Nguyen’s work more broadly, are sparking dialogue from the classrooms where he’s spoken to students to the galleries at Fundació Joan Miró and beyond. SNF is proud to support the Joan Miró Prize and to have played a role in starting these conversations. We congratulate the foundation and the artist on this wonderful exhibition,” said SNF Programs Co-Director Alexandros Kambouroglou.

Tuan Andrew Nguyen is an artist from Saigon, Vietnam who lives and works in Ho Chi Minh City. His works explore the power of memory and its potential to act as a form of political resistance. His practice is fuelled by research and a commitment to communities that have faced traumas caused by colonialism, war and displacement. Through his continuous attempts to engage with vanishing or vanquished historical memory, Nguyen explores the erasures that the colonial project has brought to bear on certain parts of the world. He works between various mediums but devotes much of his attention towards producing moving-image works and sculpture.

Nguyen received a BFA from the University of California, Irvine in 1999 and an MFA from the California Institute of the Arts in 2004. He has been the recipient of several awards in both film and visual arts, including grants from Art Matters and VIA Art Fund. Radiant Remembrance, the artist’s first U.S. solo museum exhibition, was on view at the New Museum in New York from June 29 - September 17, 2023. His work has been featured in several international exhibitions, including the Aichi Triennial, Whitney Biennial in New York, Biennale de Dakar, Sharjah Biennial and the Berlin Biennale. His work is included in the permanent collections of institutions including Carré d’Art, Nîmes, France; Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane; SFMoMA, San Francisco, CA; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA; Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY.

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