From November 5th, 2018 to January 13, 2019, Estancia FEMSA and Casa Luis Barragán present a solo exhibition by the renowned Danish artist Danh Vo (Bà Rịa, Vietnam, 1975). The pieces and interventions in the exhibition—created specifically for this space—employ a series of silent, understated gestures to explore the life and architecture of the objects and people who have inhabited Casa Luis Barragán.
In the first part of the exhibition, Danh Vo reveals the invisible systems at work behind the scenes to ensure the smooth functioning of the house, as well as the conservation protocols performed by its staff. The artist proposes subtle changes to these maintenance routines, such as removing carpets to expose the traces left by the light over the years; quickly restoring certain spaces and pieces of furniture; and outfitting areas closed to the public. He also moves objects or exacerbates decorative elements, like floral arrangements made by employees, partly basing himself in specific vintage pictures of the house, such as Elizabeth Timberland’s 1952 photographs found in Esther McCoy’s archive. Thus, the artist displays the temporal layers that have accumulated in the space, as well as the multiple transformations it has undergone since its construction. In this way, he emphasizes the impermanence of the house’s museographic discourse and interprets Barragán’s architecture as a living archive, an active laboratory of ideas.
The second part of the project is an installation in which Danh Vo has arranged numerous beeswax candles, made by master artisans in Oaxaca, all over the house. To produce the candles, the artisans set the wax in the sun for days to bleach its natural yellow color; assemble the candles layer by layer; and, finally, dye them with different densities of carmine. The interaction between the materials and the environment—and their transformation over time—is a constant source of fascination in Danh Vo’s work.
The candles allude to the historical lineage of carmine dye extracted from the cochineal insect: a pre-Hispanic technique with a cultural application that survived the Viceroyalty and became an essential part of the economy in New Spain. The ceremonial character of these candles also evokes the Catholic faith, which is a central subject both in Barragán’s life and work and in Danh Vo’s own explorations (albeit in a very different way). In using these specific elements from Mexican cultural history, the artist reflects on colonization, globalization, and the re-signification that occurs when objects are removed from one context and then “migrate” into another.
This installation will create new experiences for visitors to the Casa Luis Barragán. As the lighted candles burn down during the exhibition, guests will be able to visit the house at dusk, to witness a new dialogue between light and shadow in the space.
Through a body of personal work inspired by historical and political events, Danh Vo probes into the inheritance and construction of cultural conflicts, traumas, and values. When Vo was a child, his family fled Vietnam and settled in Denmark: their assimilation to European culture and the political events that prompted their flight are intrinsic to his artistic investigations. His work sheds light on the relation between the inseparable elements that shape our sense of self, both through collective history and private experience. Exhibiting objects based on the ready-made principle is a characteristic artistic strategy of Danh Vo; through objects charged with a symbolism that retains the sublimated desire and sadness of individuals and entire cultures, he examines how meaning changes with context. Danh Vo’s work, enigmatic and poetic, deftly avoids didacticism as he explores the power structures behind liberal societies and the fragility of our nation-state notions.
Danh Vo studied at KADK-The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Denmark and at the Städelschule in Frankfurt, Germany. He’s been awarded with the Hugo Boss Prize in 2012 and the Blauorange Kunstpreis by the Deutsche Volksbanken und Raiffeisenbanken in 2007; in 2009 he was nominated for the Preis der Nationalgalerie für junge Kunst in Germany.
His most important exhibitions include: Danh Vo, CAPC Bordeaux (2018); Danh Vo: Take My Breath Away, Guggenheim Museum, New York and SMK Copenhagen (2018); Ng Teng Fong Roof Garden Commission series: Danh Vo, National Gallery Singapore (2016-17); Banish the Faceless / Reward your Grace, Palacio de Cristal del Retiro, Madrid (2015); Danh Vo: Wād al-ḥaŷara, Museo Jumex, Mexico City (2014/2015); We The People, commissioned by Public Art Fund for the Brooklyn Bridge Park, New York (2014); I M U U R 2 (Hugo Boss Prize), Guggenheim Museum, New York (2013); Chung ga opla, Villa Medici, Rome (2013); Fabulous Muscles, Museion – museo d’arte moderna e contemporanea di Bolzano, Italy (2013); Go Mo Ni Ma Da, Musée de’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (2013); We The People (detail) 2010-2013, Art Institute of Chicago, United States (2012); Hip Hip Hurra, SMK- National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen (2010); Danh Vo: Where the Lions Are, Kunsthalle Basel, Switzerland (2009); and Package Tour, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, The Netherlands (2008).
His work has also been included in group exhibitions such as: Stories of Almost Everyone, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, United States (2018); Stepping into the Unknown, National Museum of Art, Osaka, Japan (2018); Question the Wall Itself, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, United States (2017); Collected by Thea Westreich Wagner and Ethan Wagner, Centre Pompidou, Paris (2016); Sculpture on the Move 1946 – 2016, Kunstmuseum Basel, Switzerland (2016); The Precarious, The Menil Collection, Houston, United States (2015); Magnificent Obsessions: The Artist as Collector, Barbican Centre, London (2015); The Ungovernables, New Museum, New York, (2012); Heroes, Galleria d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Torino, Turin, Italy (2011); Strange Comfort, Kunsthalle Basel, Switzerland (2010); Morality – Act II: From Love to Legal, Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam, The Netherlands (2009); The California Files: Re-Viewing Side Effects of Cultural Memory, CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco (2007), among others.
Danh Vo participated in the International Art Exhibition at the 55th Venice Biennial (2012) and represented Denmark at the 56th Venice Biennial (2015) with the exhibition mothertongue.
Danh Vo currently lives in Mexico City and Berlin.