When an artist is also a curator...

14:55

The old Customs of the city of Venice has become, a few years ago, house to the Pinault Art Collection. It is currently displaying “Slip of the tongue”, which refers to an unconscious error of speech, like when we want to say a word, but we actually pronounce another one.
Vietnamese artist Danh Vo (1975) was summoned for this exhibition, not only as artist but also as chief curator, task he accepted with the collaboration of Caroline Bourgeois. The challenge was to work with the collection in conjunction with a series of guest artists and some historic pieces. This is the first time that Punta della Dogana trusts an artist with a curatorial task.
Elisabeth Lebovici, who wrote the introduction text to the exhibition, justifies the choice of Danh Vo, explaining that Venice is an excellent location for these challenges, since it's a city with two extremes:  on one hand, many institutions preserving historic art of the 13th to the 15th centuries and, on the other, contemporary art, as that of the Pinault collection.
In this exhibition of 120 pieces, Vo pretends to have them converse with each other, while he plans to demonstrate that an object created by an artist will pass the test of time after his death, no matter its meaning. Example of this are the historic pieces on display here, specially those of mystical sense, which, although we may not understand them today, they have prevailed through various centuries. 
We are welcomed to the exhibition by an artwork by Bertrand Lavier, La Bocca: a normal freezer supports a lip-shaped sofa, in direct reference to one of Dalí's work. According to the artist, the freezer is there just to act as base to the couch.
La Bocca/Bosch, by Bertrand Lavier (2005)
Materials: Sofa (85 x 212 x 87 cm) and Freezer (86 x 157 x 70 cm)
The curator of the exhibition is the one presenting more pieces, 23 in total. One of them rules over the main exhibition room: a huge chandelier from the Majestic Hotel, in France, which used to be seat to the German military high command during the Nazi occupation. It later became headquarters of UNESCO, till it was converted into a conference center for the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and thus became witness to many peace treaties (Vietnam in 1973, Kosovo, Côte d'Ivoire, etc.). It was finally sold and transformed into the first Peninsula Hotel in Europe, opened in 2014. So much happened under the light of this chandelier. Vo makes an art object out of it.
08:03, 28.05, by Danh Vo (2009)
19th century Chandelier from the Majestic Hotel, 
Kléber Ave., Paris.
Probably Vo's most interesting piece on display is a totemic figure made of electric appliances and a wooden cross. The appliances belonged to his grandmother, who migrated from Vietnam to Germany, and the cross was a gift from the church. For someone escaping from war and trying to adapt to a new life in a new place, the appliances become as important as the crucifix.
Oma Totemby Danh Vo (2009)
Materials: 26" Philips TV, Gorenje washing-machine, Bomann refrigerator, wooden crucifix / Measures: 220 x 60 x 60 cm
An artwork by Nairy Baghramian occupies an entire room on the top floor: a series of silicone and polycarbonate panels, in aluminium stands. The panels are arranged into a curve, as in a mouth undergoing orthodontic treatment, but seen from the inside. 
Retainer, by Nairy Baghramian (2013)
Materials: aluminium, silicone, polycarbonate, cromed metal, rubber / Variable dimensions
Contemporary artists such as Félix Gonzalez Torres, David Hammons and Elmgreen & Dragset  share space with artists of the 20th century of the likes of Pablo Picasso and Constantin Brancusi.
Untitled (Portrait of Julie Ault), by Félix Gonzalez Torres (1991)
Technique: paint on wall / Variable dimensions 
Untitled, by David Hammons (2007)
Materials: plastic / Measures: 325,1 x 226,1 
Powerlees structures, fig.13, by Elmgreen & Dragset (1997-2014)
Materials: MDF, slide-proof rubber, aluminium, glass
Measures: 73,3 x 56 x 230 cm 
Baigneuse au ballonby Pablo Picasso (1929)
Technique: oil on canvas / Measures: 187 x 128 cm
Various artworks refer to sexual discrimination and homosexuality. By the end of the tour, we find a flower by Alina Szapocznikow, which is actually a lamp.
Sculpture-Lampex, by Alina Szapocznikow (1970)
Materials: poliester resin, cable, metal
Measures: 127 x 42 x 33 cm
The artists featured are so many, as also the number of artworks, that it becomes difficult to pay the proper attention to each one on just one visit. The presence of historic religious pieces, next to the modern and contemporary ones does not achieve the desired connection, so the original aim is somehow weakened.

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Liliana Wrobel


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