Danh Vo - Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, November 13, 2014 | Phillips

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  • Video

    DANH VO 'We the People (detail)', 2011

    "Taken as a whole, Danh Vo's 'We the People' project is perhaps one of the most insightful and certainly one of the most interesting projects to emerge in contemporary art in the beginning of the 21st century." Benjamin Godsill, Contemporary Art Specialist discusses Vo's groundbreaking initiative to recreate the Statue of Liberty and the significance of 'We the People (detail)', 2011 that is included in our Contemporary Art Evening Sale.

  • Provenance

    Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris

  • Exhibited

    Kassel, Kunsthalle Fridericianum, DANH VO, JULY, IV, MDCCLXXVI, October 1 – December 31, 2011
    Copenhagen, National Gallery of Denmark, Danh Vo, We The People (detail), June 1, 2012 - August 1, 2013

  • Catalogue Essay

    “The image of it [The Statue of Liberty] is stronger than the physical materiality of it.” Danh Vo, 2011

    Danh Vō’s immersive project We the People (detail), 2011, seeks to dis-assemble the iconic and monumental Statue of Liberty into 400 uniquely crafted copper pieces. Working with fabricators in Shanghai, Vō recreates what he terms “the skin [copper sheathing]” of the statue. The present lot depicts the six copper links removed from Lady Liberty’s ankle. The chain, which appears at the foot of the statue, has been severed from its bolt, encapsulating the very essence of freedom for which she stands. Here, the shackles of the chain are rendered in a beautiful copper and with a subtle delicacy. Seeing the chain removed from its captive lends the work a sort of elegance and levity, as the links tumble over one another. It sits gracefully on the floor, standing in great contrast to the confinement and freedom it symbolizes. Vō explained to the Wall Street Journal that in choosing the State of liberty he "wanted to do something that everyone had a relationship to, and make it a bit unfamiliar. It's kind of like creating a Frankenstein that gets its own life." (K. Ramisetti, Exhibition in New York Gives New Perspective on Statue of Liberty, Public Art Fund's 'Danh Vō: We the People' Gives Viewers a More Intimate, Abstract Look at Statue, The Wall Street Journal, May 15, 2014)

    Vō admits that he had never seen the Statue of Liberty before embarking upon this project. The artist, an immigrant from Vietnam, fled at the tail end of the war in 1979 with his family. The ship upon which they were traveling was intercepted by a Danish tanker and redirected to a Singaporean island. Taking the tanker as a sign, his family ultimately settled in Copenhagen a year later where V¬¬ō spent his childhood and youth. Vō’s ability to repurpose and re-contextualize that which is already known or established can be understood to grow directly from his early years growing up in Denmark. As in any situation, it often requires the fresh perspective of an outsider, or at least one who is best able to think “outside the box” in order to fully appreciate the opportunities or solutions given therein, and Vō’s practice, in its many iterations and manifestations, does exactly that. As he himself has stated with regards to We the People (detail), “I thought it would be a great challenge to take an image that everyone has some idea about and twist it. Do something to it. It’s more of a challenge than a goal…When Bartholdi created the Statue of Liberty he created an image and a political agenda. What I'm doing with it is a shift of scale and shift of meaning." (Danh Vō, “Danh Vō – We the People,” Statens Museum for Kunst, SMK TV, 2011)

    Vō’s practice is almost universally grounded by the idea of utilizing items of cultural and historical import to new and exciting ends. His perspective, and perception, is unflinching in its desire to uncover the latent energy inherent in these things and to release them in new and profound fashions. In addition to mining Bartholdi’s Statue of Liberty, itself modeled on historical examples ranging from the Colossus of Rhodes to more domestically scaled Greek and Roman sculptures of emperors and goddesses, Vō has amassed a veritable treasure trove of historical artifacts which assume radically new meaning within their new contexts. From the Esterbrook pen which signed the Gulf of Tonkin resolution to the refrigerator, crucifix, television set, and casino entry card which his grandmother first received from cultural and religious charities upon arriving in Germany, Vō’s oeuvre is loaded with personal and more general histories and the emotive responses inherent in their understanding.

    The present lot, We the People (detail), 2011, was included in Vō’s exhibition in Kassel at the Fridericianum in 2011. “It’s quite a large museum,” says Vō, “the first public museum in mainland Europe, established after the French revolution. The curator approached me, suggesting that I exhibit in the whole space, usually given over to 2 or 3 artists at a time, because the space is that large. He mentioned that he had seen several of my exhibitions —he liked the way that I was able to deal with empty spaces.” (Danh Vō in J. Stronberg, Re-envisioning the Statue of Liberty, Sculptor Danh Vō deconstructs the American icon, Smithsonian Magazine, June 2012) Vō’s approach to this monumental project prompted him to create one of the most iconic contemporary sculptures and led The New York Times to describe him as “one of the most stimulating figures on the international [art] scene.” (H. Cotter, Quiet Disobedience, The New York Times, February 16, 2012)

    Installed in Kassel, We the People (detail) and its estranged siblings which make up the rest of the dismantled sculpture were arranged and laid out across the entirety of the hall. As opposed to some of the other installation iterations in which only a handful of works are arranged outside like some ancient ruin strewn across the plains by the sands of time, the works in Kassel engage with one another in a sort of sculptural sacra conversazione on American freedom and liberty. Typically, each piece of the sculpture functions independently from one another, and indeed much of the intrinsic power of each piece is most apparent in its ability to abstractedly allude to a greater whole while never appearing to be unfinished or piecemeal. At Kassel, however, the interplay of each section palpably enhanced the gravitas of Vō’s endeavor with the project.

    Vō’s approach to exhibiting the work further emphasizes his concern with the sculpture’s universal significance and yet also with its changing associations through history. Vō explains that “I don't think it’s necessary that when you build a monumental thing, it has to be in one place. It’s almost a conceptual idea—that it exists, but you never comprehend everything at once.” (J. Stromberg, “Re-envisioning the State of Liberty, Sculptor Danh Vō deconstructs the American icon,” Smithsonian Magazine, June 2012) Exhibited in order to “evoke discussion,” the display of the pieces was pointedly not curated or overseen by the artist; Vō allowed the installation teams to arrange the exhibitions. As he explained, “It’s a matter of practicality. It should be the installation team…It shouldn’t be more or the curator, because we’re trained in adding meaning – and we have reasons why we do certain things. There is beauty in letting people who are used to installing things do it, because then the objects are what they are.” (Danh Vō, “Danh Vō – We the People,” Statens Museum for Kunst, SMK TV, 2011) Vō has successfully dissected, fragmented, and rearranged the iconic statue into symbolically potent pieces of contemporary form and movement.

    Danh Vō’s practice, as beautifully evidenced and manifested by We the People (details), 2011, is one in which intellectual underpinnings find their expression through the artist’s accumulation, rearrangement, and repositioning of already loaded imagery towards a new aesthetic and academic vertex. Working from a sculptural form whose inception was similarly heavily based upon prior existing examples, Vō’s paean to personal freedoms and shared histories is all the more potent for its ability to be both a self-referential and self-contained unit while simultaneously existing as an integral component to this overarching project that can literally span across and exist within multiple continents at the same time. As the preeminent contemporary sculptor and conceptualist working today, the critical reception and market attention will only continue to grow as Vō’s constantly evolving practice continues to push the realms of what is possible within the context of contemporary art of the 21st century.


We the People (detail)

copper, 6 parts
15 3/4 x 129 7/8 x 23 5/8 in. (40 x 330 x 60 cm)

$300,000 - 500,000 

Sold for $629,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Stoffel
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+ 1 212 940 1261

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 13 November 2014 7pm