Danh Vo, Danish Pavilion and Punta della Dogana
The Vietnamese artist represents his adopted home town at the Biennale.
Danh Vo, 39, is a master of startling juxtaposition, a poet of the brutal and the delicate. Consider a recent sculpture that binds the legs of a Roman statue to a worm-eaten wood fragment from a 17th-century Madonna and Child. Or the poignant letter written by a missionary facing execution to his father, painstakingly copied by Vo’s own father, a calligrapher, for each of his exhibitions. Time and again, the Vietnamese conceptualist’s art has taken a gleeful plunge into a heart of darkness, its chambers haunted by political, sexual, and religious histories that are in some ways not far from his own. After fleeing South Vietnam in a handmade boat when Vo was 4, his family was intercepted by a Danish ship. Vo grew up in Copenhagen, and this year he is representing his adopted homeland at the biennale. Expect a seat-of-the-pants exhibition inspired, Vo says, by Titian’s 1576 Pietà, the Venetian’s last—and most somber—painting. Vo is also the first artist invited to design a group exhibition for the François Pinault Foundation’s Punta della Dogana, whose title, “Slip of the Tongue,” comes from a work in the show by Nairy Baghramian—one of 43 artists included. All of them, says Vo, have influenced his own thinking. “It’s about taking risks,” he says. “And if it fails, that’s part of it.”