May 12, 2011  |  Artists, Collection & Exhibitions
The Personal and Political in the Art of Danh Vo

Installation view of 26.05.2009, 8:43. 2009. Chandelier from the former ballroom of the Hotel Majestic, Paris, dimensions variable. The Museum of Modern Art. Gift of The Contemporary Arts Council of The Museum of Modern Art and the Fund for the Twenty-First Century. © 2011 Danh Vo

Upon entering the first room of The Paul J. Sachs Drawings Galleries, where the exhibition I Am Still Alive: Politics and Everyday Life in Contemporary Drawing is currently on view, visitors will encounter a crystal chandelier methodically disassembled and laid out in pieces directly on the floor. Seemingly simple in its dismantled readymade state, this installation by Danh Vo, like many other works in the exhibition, in fact resonates profoundly with the artist’s personal history. Vo was born in South Vietnam but grew up in Denmark after the boat his father constructed to flee the country was picked up at sea by a Danish commercial tanker. He obtained this lighting fixture from the ballroom of the former Hotel Majestic in Paris, where delegates from the United States, North Vietnam, South Vietnam, and the Vietcong signed the Paris Peace Accord on January 27, 1973.

Installation view of Death Sentence. 2009. Ink on 60 pieces of paper. Text compiled by Julie Ault and handwritten by Phung Vo. The Museum of Modern Art. Purchased with funds provided by The Contemporary Arts Council of The Museum of Modern Art and the Fund for the Twenty-First Century. © 2011 Danh Vo

Vo references his own personal history in his art while simultaneously raising larger concerns about Western colonization and the radically arbitrary nature of identity. Disassembled and arranged in pieces on the floor of an art museum, the chandelier is a ghost of its former self and a silent marker of a historical event. The related 60-page drawing installed in the front vitrine, titled Death Sentence, contains passages addressing death and commemoration from English and French literary and historical sources. The passages were compiled by the artist’s friend, Julie Ault, who is herself an artist. Alluding to France’s historic involvement in Southeast Asia, these texts were handwritten by the artist’s father, Phung Vo, who cannot read either language but still attended to them carefully with his elegant handwriting.

Danh Vo. 2.2.1861. 2009. Ink on paper, handwritten by Phung Vo. The Museum of Modern Art. Purchased with funds provided by the Contemporary Arts Council of The Museum of Modern Art and the Fund for the Twenty-First Century. © 2011 Danh Vo

On view in the last gallery is 2.2.1861, a work comprising a copy—also handwritten by the elder Vo—of the letter French missionary Jean-Théophane Vénard (1829–61) wrote to his own father the night before his execution in Vietnam for Christian proselytizing. Created through a simple gesture of transcription, the drawing evokes the colonial history of Vietnam and, on a more personal level, bears witness to two father-son relationships, separated by 150 years. By appropriating and reconfiguring found, acquired, and bequeathed elements in new contexts, Vo unearths and highlights allusions and memories that form his—and our—past and present.


This is art because??? It is a disassembled chandelier sitting on the floor with passages researched by someone other than the artist that were handwritten by a person with good penmanship. This required no talent whatsoever. Any meaning could be assigned to this mess. I could say it represents knee surgery. Or whatever. My Vietnamese manicurist is more artistic than this guy, and she actually grew up in Vietnam during the war, not in Denmark.

It is obvious that many people still only understand “Art” as being that which is drawn, painted, printed or stitched to prescription, in their own decor colours to be hung on their lounge room or living room walls. Concept Art, Installation etc is obviously beyond them and yet they still feel the need to comment and show their ignorance. I think Danh Vo’s work shows layers of meaning that will always escape the seekers of ‘pretty pictures’ and the admirers of formula painters.

Hmmmm, I’m with M. Riordan on this one.
(ps; I am a talented painter and installationist, and take objection to folk-museum curators calling themselves ‘artists.’

some works need some thing to say, and some not,but when its done in a posiable way it look better,sounds good.

Go look at some other Danh Vo pieces. Art is the process by which people are influenced by art, if this piece makes you develop some personal methodology or reveal some theoretical application relevant to your own life than the job of art has been fulfiilled. Keep painting Jim Overall because obviously you dont understand that art has been credited through people challanging convention social understandings of culture.

I’ve just recently seen Vo’s work at the Kunsthaus in Austria. I can’t even to pretend to understand most of the complexities of Modern Art. It’s important to me however to make the effort. It’s like a study in overcoming any prejudice. Some pieces appear obvious, some not so much. To me, it’s how the viewer interacts with the art that makes it special. Personally, it helps to have a narration on the work to gain insight as to what it represents to the artist, the thought process behind it and the story the art tells. Yes, it was real Johnny Walker Red in the bottles – I smelled it.

I am contacting you to seek permission to include the following photograph within the electronic version of my DPhil thesis:

Danh Vo, 16:32:15.22.05, 2009

If you are not the rights holder for this image I would be grateful if you would advise me who to contact.
The thesis will be made available within the Oxford University Research Archive, ORA ( The repository is non-commercial and openly available to all.

hi Jaimini, below is the procedure (from our website) for getting permission to use images of works in MoMA’s collection. thanks and good luck, Rebecca

Unauthorized publication or exploitation of MoMA’s files is specifically prohibited. Anyone wishing to use any of these files or images for commercial use, publication, or any purpose other than fair use as defined by law, must request and receive prior permission. All requests to reproduce works of art from MoMA’s collection within North America (Canada, U.S., Mexico) should be addressed directly to Art Resource, Scala’s New York representative, at 536 Broadway, New York, New York 10012. Telephone (212) 505-8700; fax (212) 505-2053,, Requests from all other geographical locations should be addressed directly to Scala Group S.p.A., 62, via Chiantigiana, 50011 Antella/Firenze, Italy. Telephone 39 055 6233 200; fax: 39 055 641124,,

I don’t think that in 2115, anybody will pay one lousy buck for this nonsense. It will probably be long gone to a garbage dumb.

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