Danh Vo mines history and his own background for sculptures and installations that adroitly explore such topics as identity, authorship and geographical displacement. Born in Vietnam in 1975, Vo escaped a Cambodian refugee camp four years later, fleeing with his family by boat in the hopes of reaching America. Instead, they were rescued by a ship from Denmark and granted asylum there.
Since coming to public attention a decade ago, Vo has become known for using readymades with loaded provenances. His projects have incorporated the chandeliers from the hotel that hosted the Paris peace talks that ended the Vietnam War, the Unabomber’s typewriter, and household appliances that his grandmother received through government agencies or from Catholic charities when she settled in Germany.
In IMUUR2, Vo presents 4,000 objects collected by the artist Martin Wong and his mother, Florence Wong Fie. Wong had been a fixture on New York’s downtown art scene during the 1980s and ’90s, before his death from AIDS. The trove he amassed is an eclectic one, including Popeye and Mickey Mouse memorabilia, Asian ceramics, blackface figurines, kitschy cookie jars, vintage African and Indonesian masks, ancient Chinese scrolls and small artworks by Wong himself. They’re all displayed in a room full of shelves—a Kunstkammer, or cabinet of curiosities, that presents a vision of America as seen through the eyes of immigrants. By appropriating Wong’s treasures, Vo creates a compelling metaphor for his own experienceÑand for the life he might have lived, had his boat landed on these shores.—Paul Laster