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Danh Võ ‘Untitled’
Massimo De Carlo, Milan
Words by Riccardo Conti
A new, untitled solo show by the Vietnamese-Danish artist Danh Võ was recently inaugurated at Massimo De Carlo Gallery in Milan, set against Piero Portaluppi’s rigorous 1930s architecture. Built in 1987, the Casa Corbellini-Wassermann was originally home to the renowned Italian architect, and now serves as the space for the contemporary art gallery.
To prepare for the upcoming exhibition, minimalist posters appeared around Milan with only the artist’s name, place, and date communicated. No press or exhibition advertisement was released by the artist, a radical choice that falls in line with the subtlety of the exhibition. Born in 1975 in Vũng Tàu, Vietnam, Võ is known for his research stemming from autobiographical elements, questioning the relationship between individuals, family, and the concept of citizenship. Here, within this territory, the complexity of human history is explored.
Danh Võ’s work expresses a heterogeneous formulation of materiality, gesture, and formal relationship between objects recovered and reorganised, as seen in his previous exhibitions. He achieves this by compiling and placing his works with those of other artists side by side. In this particular exhibition, however, only his own works can be found. Very often his artistic interventions are not predictable until the day of the opening.
“I generally combine different elements looking for tension and opposition through a continuous test and keen observation, there’s not a sketch nor a real plan beforehand…Unpredictability is an important variable in my practice because my creative process is a sort of flow which includes an amalgam of stories, references and symbols and found objects.”
Such is the case with Võ’s solo show in Milan. The path of the artist is a mystery to the viewer until the completion of their visit. Therefore, the artist recommends an appropriate amount of time in order to completely discover and comprehend his works. The flow of the exhibition is not necessarily straightforward, rather it expands like a tree into the halls of the gallery. The exhibition itself becomes a meditative space, recalling the spirit of a Zen garden, designed to facilitate the reaching of transcendence.
If this interpretation is correct, the choice to eliminate signage and titles around the exhibition space proves even more significant, especially as visitors are not forced to follow instructions. Võ explains, “I tend to embrace the concept of instability and disturbance so the choice of not framing the exhibition in a title and not including a descriptive text is a way to offer the visitor the possibility to wander and observe the spaces of the gallery making his own assumptions and thoughts. The spectator is forced to contemplate radical incompleteness and, along with that, wonder how that came to be and ask what the future holds.”
The nameless show, made specifically for the gallery space, includes sculptures, objets trouvés, photogravure, and photography. Much of the exhibition echoes themes of detachment, abandonment, and fragmentation intertwined with a sense of strangeness. Everything is rendered with minimal means and great simplicity, appearing almost brutal in nature. The conception of a Zen garden, both vegetable and mineral, reveals a philosophical approach to gaze and reality.
“I dedicated a series of works to the flowers, in an effort to go back to a new form of simplicity, I decided to dedicate my energies to the beauty of flowers, growing a new garden around my studio at Güldenhof, my studio just outside Berlin, and challenging myself to get to know their names and being able to recognize them. Each flower is captured in a picture and labeled with its Latin name by the beautiful handwriting of my father in an encyclopedic perspective. For me nurturing the garden encompasses freedom and unpredictability and therefore becomes a practical and symbolic liberation in the creative process, overcoming all the traditional boundaries of the definition of art.”
The titles found within Danh Võ’s exhibition often generate a paradoxical impression in their absence of actual relationship with the work on display. Rather, they are chosen for their value as mental images, presented as ‘Untitled’ to leave any interpretation open and indefinite. Surrounded by remnants of the once stately building, with its refined marbles, fireplaces, and wooden shelving, the viewer walks through the rooms and encounters almost abstract sculptures. They appear to our eyes as debris and wrecks recovered along the shore of time, reorganised by the artist in relation to the environment and semiotics of the Casa Corbellini-Wassermann.
“I created the works directly in the spaces of the gallery after collecting a combination of materials: antique stones, marble leftovers, and basic construction plywood all balanced without glue or nails. In fact, these sculptures are meant to be functional (a bench, a plinth, a pavement) and they were born out of the inspiration from the grandeur of the gallery building by opposition in a very humble manner. I am interested in investigating the passing of time so having the chance to dialogue with such a unique architectural heritage is inspiring and encouraging to experiment.”
Danh Võ’s observation of the smallest, natural, animate, and inanimate phenomena suggests a philosophical approach that evokes the inquisitive thoughts of a child. In its simplicity, the exhibition recalls the words of Johann Wolfgang Goethe:
“I try to observe what I always have under my eyes: the garden of my house, my street. And everything surprises me.”
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