Flash News: Danh Vo – Ghada Amer


Danh Vo. After New York… Bordeaux

Danh VO escaped from Vietnam by boat with his parents, leaving everything behind, and ended up in Denmark. He was just 4 years old. Today he is 42 and his work is admired around the world. After a recent exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York (which ended last May), he is now showing in France, at the Bordeaux’s enormous cultural center, the CAPC (until October 28). There are no less than four installations including one that is distinctly monumental with 22 crudely carved blocks of Carrara marble, each weighing between 8 to 12 tons. The blocks seem pregnant with potential… heavy ‘power sculptures’, that Michelangelo might have used to create colossal masterpieces… and indeed… there are a number of photos of hands carved by the great Florentine artist hung here and there. Danh Vo manipulates contrast with ease, particularly between his subject and his material; everything changes in thickness… the raw matter of the impressive blocks is juxtaposed with photos of selected pieces of Catholic iconography as well as a number of historical fragments… a broken Portuguese altarpiece or a Flemish Christ that has lost his arms. Fragmentation and appropriation are two of the key components in Danh Vo’s artistic vocabulary – reconciling a personal history with a collective history – all presented with Vo’s customary sense of irony and poetry.

Debuting on the auction market in 2012, the artist quickly established himself with six-figure results. The momentum of his secondary market prices was subsequently driven by important exhibitions… from the Whitney in New York to the Jumex Museum in Mexico City, then, in 2013, at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris. His first work on the auction podium was based on the American flag (cardboard with gold leaf, titled Mamy Poko Pants Diapers) which fetched nearly $34,000 at Christie’s. Three years later, while the artist was showing at the Punta della Dogana in Venice, another version of the same subject fetched $920,000 at Phillips in London (VJ Star, 14 October 2015). Since then the Danh Vo has become a clear favourite of the Contemporary art market with seven results above the $100,000 (out of 10 sold) already this year.

Ghada Amer – an art of appropriation

It is now eighteen years since her last exhibition in France …

Born in Cairo in 1963, Ghada AMER arrived in France at the age of eleven. Disappointed by three successive refusals to her requests for naturalization, she finally left for the United States. Since then, she has lived and worked in New York and exhibited all over the world including London, Amsterdam, Rome, Indianapolis and Seoul. Ghada Amer has learned to mix cultures and influences using subtle and appropriated ways to convey a feminist message with a mixture of humour and strength.

The exhibition she is currently presenting at Centre de création contemporaine – Olivier Debré in Tours (CCC OD) is a superb window on her work… in two chapters. For the art centre’s central hall she has created Cactus painting, a huge plant carpet composed of 9,000 green cacti and 6,000 red succulents, whose regular alternation forms three interlocking square motifs. The work is ambiguous and its sexual allusions are explicit. The artist pays tribute to the great masters of American abstract painting (particularly Josef ALBERS and his series Homage to the Square), while simultaneously denouncing male dominance in the art world. The cacti, with suggestive forms (which she calls Phactus), stand in the middle of blood-red succulents, with their leaves out-turned.

The second part of the exhibition is entitled Dark continent, in reference to Freud’s conception of female sexuality. The artist presents some recently created chromed brass sculptures and about twenty of the embroidered canvases for which she is best known. This latter medium – a stereotypical paragon of feminine virtue – has been completely ‘appropriated’ by the artist to present a number of very crude images and an archetypal feminine figure.

Ghada Amer has managed to construct a very singular artistic language. Although most of her collectors are American, London has generated her two best auction results: in 2006, her big blue Expression Painting BBEP sold for $223,000 at Christie’s and in 2013 The Golden Painting 2 fetched $225,000 at Sotheby’s. Results, of course, that are nowhere near those generated by the headline male artists in Western Contemporary art.