Over the past 3 months and up until 9 May the glorious central spiral of the Guggenheim in New York was occupied by the artist Danh Vo (born in 1975 in Vietnam raised in Denmark).
He will be succeeded by Alberto Giacometti in June. Which just goes to show…
But in my opinion the exhibition was a missed opportunity with the museum.
The space wasn’t fulfilling in the sense of being full, the artworks were either too repetitive or too narrative with regards to a personal biography that was at times overly anecdotal.
However, in 2015 the artist put together an exceptional exhibition in Venice at the Pinault foundation with the help of the curator Caroline Bourgeois, comprising a mix of his own artworks and those that have helped shape his mental world.
Today Danh Vo is one of the stars of the globalized art world, whose work has be seen at the Whitney Biennial in New York and at a retrospective at Museo Jumex in Mexico City, along with a little gem of an exhibition which has just opened in Bordeaux at the CAPC museum.
It was on this occasion that I saw him again. In the central section of a beautiful old dockside warehouse from the nineteenth century he is presenting four installations, the most significant, unique and impressive of which is composed of a group of blocks of Carrara marble (each weighing up to 21 tonnes) which would resemble a minimal installation except for the photos of details from Michelangelo’s sculptures hung around it.
The installation also remind me of Paul Cézanne’s “playground” of sorts, the Bibemus quarries, where the Aix painter based his studio and where the angular shapes of the rocks attest to the place’s former purpose. No doubt it was here that a prefiguration of cubism was born. “See nature through the sphere, the cylinder and the cone”, Cézanne said.
But returning to Bordeaux, Danh Vo’s narrative is littered with fragmented, dislocated and superimposed sculptures.
And his stories are often autobiographical, alighting on a passing detail. This goes for all the hands that are often present in the photos he either appropriates or takes himself.
This also goes for the piece known as “Carnation Milk”, an American brand of milk that he drank throughout his childhood. He found an old wooden crate of this comforting beverage in which he placed a fragment of Roman sculpture cut to fit within the container. Carnation and incarnation… Childhood and Christianity… Another time he told me, “I went to church every Sunday until I was 18 years old. I think I’m traumatized by Catholicism. But when you’re Catholic you’re particularly sensitive to objects.”
Like the artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres, whom he hugely admires, he creates objects that are relics of a form of private worship inherited from the worship of Jesus.
Have a listen to Danh Vo’s answers. They are simultaneously modest, unexpected, shifting and mischievous.
By way of introduction, the curator Maria Ines Rodriguez whose contract at CAPC – alas – has been brought to an end by the Bordeaux city council, explains the genesis of the project.
Why is Felix Gonzalez-Torres so important to you?
What does it mean to take someone’s hand?
Your mother is a key figure in your work. Right?
Why is The Exorcist an important movie for you?
What do you think about repetition in art?
What did you want to do in the CAPC exhibition?
What do you think of artists’ relationship with narcissism?
What would you like people to remember about you?
Until 28 october. CAPC. Bordeaux. www.capc-bordeaux.fr/en/program/danh-vo