“I’m really not a big fan of this idea of creating things,” says Vietnamese-born conceptual artist Danh Vo. “I think most great stuff already exists out there, so it’s really a matter of training your mind and eye to observe and trust in the luck of finding it.”
Vo’s work, a mashup of personal history, artistic interventions by his relatives, artifacts sourced from remote locales and readymade objects—explores notions of family, identity, and imperialism. For the past couple years he’s commissioned Chinese artisans to forge copper replicas of the Statue of Liberty’s parts, displaying curls of her hair at the Art Institute of Chicago and her fingers alongside the typewriter the Unabomber used to type his Manifesto, at Germany’s Kunsthalle Fridericianum.
The focus of his latest show, opening March 20 at New York’s Marian Goodman Gallery, are the personal effects of the late U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, the architect of the Vietnam War. Looking to open up a dialogue about shared and private histories, Vo, whose family fled south Vietnam in a homemade boat when he was 4, will display or modify 14 items acquired at auction— including the pen used to the sign the Gulf of Tonkin memo and a 1944 photograph by Ansel Adams. “It’s all schizophrenic what you choose,” says Vo, who as the winner of the 2012 Hugo Boss award also has a show opening March 15 at New York’s Guggenheim Museum. Long a collector of the artist Martin Wong’s paintings, Vo intends to fill the museum’s Level 5 Annex with an immersive installation comprised of “thousands of components” from the late artist’s “amazing collection of weird stuff,” he says, referring to the hoarder-esque loads of esoterica — tourist souvenirs, hamburger lamps, Kufic and Sanskrit writings, graffiti — acquired from the stuffed-to-the-gills San Francisco home of Wong’s mother, Florence Wong Fie. As for the show’s title, Wong, who died of AIDS in 1999 after years as a cult figure in the downtown New York and San Francisco scenes, apparently used the shorthand (IMUUR2) on his business cards. As to why so much of Wong’s stuff is included in this show, Vo, a master of brevity, explains, “Certain beautiful experiences should be shared.”
Photos: Adams: From Robert McNamara Estate Auction, Sotheby’s. Wong: Heinz Peter Knes.