Danh Vo

Each time the artist Danh Vo sells a work through his gallery, the collector or institution is billed up to 100 euros, whereby they acquire a special handwritten letter. The project, 02.02.1861, [last letter of Saint Théophane Vénard to his father before he was decapitated] (2009– ), is a text in English translated to the French and copied out by Vo’s father, who speaks neither language. Ever since Vo’s legendary graduation show from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in 2002, when the artist had his family negotiate the terms of the exhibition, Vo used his work to unpack the myths of his immigrant family (who moved to Denmark after being discovered in a boat fleeing Vietnam in 1979). But the 36-year-old artist’s work attempts more than merely personal ambitions. “It’s not about my father, it’s about the labor,” Vo says of those letters. “The project sees language go into the world and return in a mutated form.”

In 2004, he moved from Frankfurt to Berlin, where he has lived ever since (although he also keeps a second apartment in New York). For a recent show at Artists Space in New York, Vo used his background as a gay Asian man to interrogate issues of objectification and history. The exhibition included photographic imagery culled from the collection of a man named Joseph Carrier, who showed up in 2006 when the artist gave a talk in California and would eventually list Vo as a beneficiary in his will. “He came to cruise me—or I should say he came to check me out,” says Vo. Carrier’s estate included photographs of young scantily clad men from behind. Says Vo, “I thought of Hiroshima Mon Amour, and other instances of extreme political circumstances that you approach by inserting your own private experience.”

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