As visitors enter the Museum and ascend the grand staircase to the second floor, they’ll likely notice Arthur Young’s Bell-47D1 Helicopter hovering overhead as though in mid-flight. Manufactured from the mid-1940s through the early 1970s, this helicopter was noted for its sleek design consisting of a seamless plastic bubble with an open frame tail. A few hundred feet away, past the Marron Atrium and inside the Projects Gallery, visitors will discover a strikingly different helicopter. Constructed by hand from scrap metal by two Vietnamese men, this helicopter is part of an installation titled The Farmers and The Helicopters (2006), which also includes a three-channel video projection, by Dinh Q. Lê in collaboration with Tran Quoc Hai, Le Van Danh, Phu-Nam Thuc Ha, and Tuan Andrew Nguyen. Also part of the Museum’s collection, this helicopter has an angular, boxy appearance and handmade qualities such as hand-stenciled wings on the nose and lathe marks on the painted metal surface.
In the video interview below, Dinh Q. Lê, Tran Quoc Hai, Phu-Nam Thuc Ha, and Tuan Andrew Nguyen talk about the installation at MoMA and building the helicopter.
While living in Vietnam in 2004, Lê read a newspaper article about two men—Le Van Danh, a farmer, and Tran Quoc Hai, a self-taught mechanic—who had built a helicopter from scrap metal parts in a remote Vietnamese village. The artist was so intrigued by the story that he tracked down Hai and Danh, prompting an encounter that led to an ongoing collaboration as well as the current installation on view today. In Hai and Danh’s hands, the helicopter transformed from an object of war, still carrying strong political and emotional resonance from the Vietnam War, to an object representing individual determination and community-building. Standing in the Museum’s galleries, this lone handcrafted helicopter comes to the U.S. from Vietnam—thirty-five years after 12,000 U.S. helicopters were sent to Vietnam during the war—offering an opportunity for contemplation of the significance and symbolism of a charged object.