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Danh Vō, Isamu Noguchi

Noguchi for Danh Vō: Counterpoint / M+ Pavilion / Hong Kong / Dec 27 – Jan 10 / Christine Chan Chiu /

Noguchi for Danh Vō: Counterpoint, the eighth show staged at M+ Pavilion, brought together the diverse works of two artists, Danh Vō and the late Isamu Noguchi. The word “counterpoint” refers to the two artists’ works being independent but possessing the ability to be interdependent, creating a harmonious rapport when juxtaposed. The exhibition lived up to its musical metaphor and more, highlighting the talent and ingenuity of one artist while exploring the imaginative, multi-layered approach of the other.

Inspired by a leitmotif in traditional Chinese ink painting, Vō’s Untitled (Structure for Akari PL2) (2018), modelled after a Chinese Dong pavilion, took centre stage in the main gallery. Flanked and illuminated by Noguchi’s famous Akari lamps, visitors were encouraged to sit and rest there. Parallels soon became clear between Vō’s pavilion and Noguchi’s lamps: both are made from wood (cedar and bamboo respectively), are affordable, easily dismantled and rebuilt, and most importantly stand alone as sculptures in their own right, redefining their surrounding spaces. 

Dirty dancing by Danh Vō, Bronze, writing by Phung Vo, 121.9 x 21 x 20.3 cm, 2015/2018.
© Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach. Photo: Achim Kukulies.
Courtesy West Kowloon Cultural District Authority.

In fact, the viewer is consistantly encouraged to consider the notion of space. With no suggested order of visit or partitions, visitors roam freely in the spirit of Noguchi’s imagination to explore more than 30 pieces. Standing, sitting or hanging, and ranging from stone to metal to bamboo to ceramic, they demonstrate his mastery over different textures and media, testifying to his versatility and creativity not only as artist, but also as designer, architect and sculptor. 

Outside, experimental works by Vō were sited inside modified shipping containers, giving new meaning to interior/exterior space. Dirty Dancing (2015/18), an installation of a hanging bronze sculpture of Christ juxtaposed with large Fraktur script written by Vō’s father, draws attention to the complicated relationship the artist has with religion. ydob eht ni mraw si ti (2015), a Greek marble sculpture sectioned off to fit inside a milk crate, looks seemingly innocent, but carries with it strong underlying messages involving consumerism, religion, good versus evil, and traditional canons of beauty.

Both artists’ works convey transcultural upbringings impacted by displacement and diaspora, and raise collective consciousness for a heritage not easily forgotten. The themes interweave at particular points of the exhibition, the multi-faceted approach traversing the boundaries of sculpture, design and architecture to create pieces that not only redefine the spaces around them, but also tell meaningful stories.

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