Danh Vo, Isamu Noguchi, Park Seo-Bo
Fondazione Querini Stampalia Onlus, Venezia
April 20 – November 27, 2022
‘Meaning‘ is not quality objects have, it is something that we give them. Each of us looks at things differently depending on our baggage. This is how tension is created between objects but also people and environments. – Danh Vo
Fondazione Querini Stampalia in collaboration with White Cube has invited the Danish-Vietnamese artist Danh Vo to co-curate a project alongside Chiara Bertola, curator of the contemporary art program at Querini Stampalia, to coincide with this year’s Venice Biennale. Placing his own works alongside that of the Japanese American sculptor Isamu Noguchi and Korean painter Park Seo-Bo, the three artists engage collectively across the spaces of this unique building.
The history of the Fondazione Querini Stampalia is also that of the Venetian noble Querini family, who lived in this palace for generations, accumulating a vast array of objects, books, and works of art. This collection was made available for public enjoyment with the birth of the Foundation in 1869. The complex architectural layout of the mansion continuously opens windows onto history; alterations to the building signal new epochs, while traces of past histories are rewritten, overwritten, or erased in the process. A palimpsest of both the grand and minimal gestures of successive generations, the space is a labyrinthine experience, conversely audacious and humble.
No artist is better equipped than Vo to cross this threshold. Vo is capable of making new stories from the fog of memory and the weight of history. His work with found objects and architectural spaces reveals a sensitivity to time as it connects with each of us. Vo redeploys his works in new arrangements across his exhibitions so that different contexts shape and alter the viewer’s perception of them. Vo’s art is conditional: together with history, it inscribes itself on distinct spaces and cultures making an uneasy dance of beauty and power. Entering the Fondazione via a side door, Vo’s footsteps follow a subtle conceptual route. It is a way of navigating the nuanced and challenging questions that arise when a contemporary artist exhibits in a historical museum.
What can and should be added? What comparisons and juxtapositions can be made? What balance and productive instabilities are expressed? How to bring the new into play with the old? The artist has installed the light and temporary walls, agile structures that indicate a route and at the same time are responsive to the evolution of the building. In conversation with the rich array of past art on display at the Fondazione including the Intesa Sanpaolo Collection, Vo introduces work from his own oeuvre and that of Isamu Noguchi and Park Seo-Bo. Marking this ephemeral route inside the Fondazione are the photographic portraits of flowers in Vo’s garden at Güldenhof – his studio and farm north of Berlin – and gardens in Pantelleria, Denmark, Friuli, Italy, and Seville, Spain.
Taken with Vo’s smartphone, the images are printed in color with the Latin names written in pencil by the artist’s father, Phung Vo. The works have a gentle subjectivity while also seeming like pages plucked from an encyclopedia. Once a refugee from Vietnam, now a Danish citizen, Phung participates in the West’s rituals of systemisation, but also makes the words his own. In a new series of sculptures made in Murano, Venice, Vo has taken decommissioned wooden molds and used each to create one final glass cast. The Pearwood constructs – charred, deformed, with broken fixings – were due to be discarded, but Vo became fascinated by their integrity and form, and the idea that such a vital part of the glassmaking process is rarely exposed so brought them into the display. In presenting these warped and weathered molds together with their imperfect casts, Vo considers the relationship between function and beauty through this age-old art form.
Vo has introduced a wide selection of Noguchi’s paper Akari lamps into the Querini; while they illuminate the objects around them and the spaces they inhabit, they also serve as a gateway to perception. An itinerant cultural synthesizer, Noguchi was engaged in creating social sculptures that could be universally applied and were underpinned by the belief that nature was of fundamental importance to the human condition. His iconic Akari (Japanese for light), which he first conceived of in 1951 en route to Hiroshima, was based on Japanese chochin lanterns and influenced by American design aesthetics. The paper structure, made from the mulberry tree, is created in a multitude of different forms and is a prime example of Noguchi’s ability to bridge the traditional and the modern.
Park is widely acknowledged as the father of Korean abstraction or Dansaekhwa. Minimal and monochrome, this influential post-war movement aligns with Western Modernism in renouncing the pictorial. Rather than attempting a rupture and repudiation of the past, however, Dansaekhwa sought a connection with the historical through cultural practices such as calligraphy and the use of Hanji paper, and through spiritual traditions including Daoism, Confucianism and Buddhism. Park’s meditative practice achieves minimalism not through reduction, but through layering and accretion via sustained, repetitive actions. Park’s refined material vocabulary and calligraphic idioms share a sentiment with both Noguchi’s paper Akari lamps and the penmanship of Phung Vo.
As well as being a museum-home, the Fondazione Querini Stampalia is one of the city’s references libraries. It’s not fortuitous that Vo brings his work here as a sort of living archive which changes whenever and wherever he exhibits it. Vo, Noguchi and Park are guests and intruders who alter our perceptions of objects that might otherwise be fixed. Each work returns the gaze of those open to seeing. Perhaps the reverse is also true: each gaze brings to the work a scintilla of light and life.