Danh Vō: “there is nothing wrong with fail,” The ruin as one of the fine arts

In 1861, the French missionary Theophane Vénard wrote to his father a farewell letter, after being captured and sentenced to be beheaded following the prescription of christianity by the emperor Tu Duc, Vietnam, faced with the French colonialism. “All that torment me honor me, a good number loves me,” he said. The martyrdom of Vénard was to become holy, and your letter is part of an exhibition that the artist Danh Vō (Bà Ria, Vietnam, 1975) exhibits in Mexico City, which is in part a journey into the past of their country of origin and of his personal history, to understand its identity. “It is time to look back and understand what defines you,” he said Saturday during the inauguration of the exhibition in the prestigious gallery kurimazutto of the mexican capital.

The exhibition —which will be open to the public until 14 December— consists of the mounted installations within the gallery which are rooms built with a series of paintings on sheets of mirror, works of Peter Trolley, guardian of Vō at the Danish Academy of Fine Arts. The paintings have been created on phrases from the movie The Exorcist —in which Vō is a fervent follower since I was a child— written upside down, as a game of mirrors that can be understood as a wink to the viewer.

Vō used in their work to collaborate with other artists, as evidenced by this creation, but also the photos of your nephew that form part of the exhibition, the work of Heinz Peter Knes, partner of the artist. Images —erotic, delicate, with cadence— displayed parts of the body that leave to see a young man very thin, almost like an angel from the renaissance paintings, but as posing for a session of fashion. Are a sample of the intimate relationship of the artist to his nephew and his family. In fact, the letter of Vénard that hangs on one of the paintings-mirrors, has been created by his father, a man who does not speak French but with a calligraphy precious and to whom Vō commissioned the work.

Origins, family, love are intertwined in this exhibition that also explores the consequences of colonialism, intolerance and acts of the past which, in the words of the author are a match with what it has meant to their lives and their own contradictions. And is that the first few years of the artist’s childhood were not easy. In 1975 Saigon fell to the hands of the Vietcom and the communist guerrillas from North Vietnam has imposed a new era just as intolerant of Tu Duc. The family of Vō it comes from South Vietnam and forced the misery in the paradise island of Phú Quốc. Confined with thousands of people, with an uncertain future, the father of Vō build a rustic barge that launches into the sea with all the family, with the dream of getting to the united States. It was a freighter Danish who saved them from drowning, dehydration or starvation, and that marked the life and work of the artist. “I think that all the artists use their personal story. An artist whose proposal is referred to minimalism or conceptual art is also autobiography. Personal history. When a creator used other type of references, then it becomes more visible and people think that this is personal history. It is a wrong perception,” explained Vō in 2015 in an interview with THE COUNTRY.

The tragic story of Vietnam is so present in the creation of the artist, of 44 years, the exhibition presented in Mexico City includes works created with wood of walnut trees of a farm of the family of Robert McNamara, secretary of Defense of the united States during the bloody war vietnamese that left millions dead. The wood was destined for the manufacture of rifles, but in their exposure Vō has been used to create furniture, which could be interpreted as a poetic measure of historic revenge. Or an adjustment of accounts with a very personal story that immerses the viewer into this personal journey of a man who has been listed as one of the best artists of our time.


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