Danh Vo – artist, curator, collector

An exhibit of more than hundred seventhy works that he selected from his own and from other artists’, ranging from XVth century to nowadays: sometimes he also collects and for sure he knows some of them personally. We meet Danh Vo even though we have mysteriously disappeared from the list of the confirmed interviews, so they are urging us to be as quick as possible and take not more than 10 minutes otherwise they will not allow us to meet him. We’re in a light, joy-filled and noisy bar at Pinault Foundation (Punta della Dogana; Venice) where his stunning exhibition catches every angle of the monumental building, including the small rooms and the unforgettable terrace: Slip of the Tongue is pure magic and will last many months. If you happen to be in town, don’t miss it.


You story in ten lines: How did you come in that way on this planet?

How I came to the planet…Mhh, not sure, I hope that I came out from my mother, that’s what she said.


It is not just your biography, how do you feel the path you have taken until now?

Step after step, you encounter the things which take you in some other places. Just going through a weird step and via tons of events, people, whatever it is – part in shaping you and creating the path where you walk on.


Are you not influencing this path, i.e. as you did on this show, where you are writing on the floor instead of on the walls…?

I use walls or floors, but this time I got fascinated by the concrete texture of the floor when touched by graphite. It is classical, in a way, almost – don’t you think?


It could be, but it is also special. For sure it is not immediate; people have to search for these lines written on the grey concrete floor with a pencil…And even if you find those lines, they are difficult to read and will be soon erased by the shoes stepping over the letters…

I do not think that artists should be servants. You do your stuff and people have to be in alert to discover and look for it. That’s the job of the viewer, not my job.


You and the viewer: will you erase the function of such institutionalized places like this and modify the relation with the viewer and the role of education to arts – do you think it is enough?

No, I think is a dialogue: my job is to do whatever I do and his job is to be aware and look. The art industry – and also education departments, texts and whatever – are treating viewers as stupid. And this makes people even more stupid.


How do you get pleasure in collecting artworks? It is clear and visible in any of your works that you’re also a collector and you like to possess, preserve and accumulate…

How do you know it? I’m actually an impulsive collector. That’s the bad part of it.


The worst and the best, should we say? Do you also collect furniture?

Yes, I have some.


That is the nature of interests in which you display the works of arts here: there are cabinets, lamps, together with seminal paintings and sculptures, new names and your creations. Is all this having a form of an ideal house or an ideal place to rest?

I would not mind to have a house like that (he laughs), mine is not!


Any fear to be collected?

No, not at all.


You’re collected also in Italy, I saw, in small or big collections. How they met you?

I came here for 16 times and now I will be residing here for two months…so I started to meet some people and really enjoyed Venice….


You did a great job in displaying your works together with the other ones all around the show (for typology and quantity) but the greatest impact can be seen on the terrace. Flies in a Jar (by David Hammons, part of the Collection Pinault) is fantastic. How did you decide to put it there?

That piece is very fragile. I wanted to put it on the floor but there was no go from the security so I did not want to build a pedestal or a shelf for it because it would have distorted the work. We had to find a naturally safe shelf, that’s why it came there, the only place meant to be for it. I love it there. When you put it on the ground, you actually do not see very well the work while there you have a light room and you really can see it.


And it also fits the gigantic scale of the place…Which is a talent you have and the one you miss?

I’m good in grabbing chances, yes. I have a lot of talents I miss.


What are you giving to your actual city (Mexico City) and what the city is giving back to you?

I do not feel to give anything to Mexico City. I feel I am abusing from its beauty and I am just enjoying it.


Presuming Denmark is your mental and residential state (the artist will represent Denmark at Venice Art Biennial, starting on May 9 with a solo show at its pavilion at Giardini he will completely subvert in space, lighting source and paths), how difficult is it to work there as artist?

I do not know, I’ve not been there during the last 15 years, actually I do not know so much about or anymore of. I’ve been there for 25/30 years but when I talk about it I will be seeming a very old guy because things are changed. I spent 10 years now in Berlin and there also things changed crazily! It is almost the same: when I speak about Berlin I feel very old.

Any city changes very much and rapidly: look at Venice, with Easy Jet it changed a lot!


I think you’re stateless… I was interested much more in the way you quickly enter in a community when you settle there and on the relation you’ve with places you go through… Which is the book with you now?

I do not read so much; I’m reading now a book about Mexico to understand something better about the place where I’m living now.


Which music do you listen?

I do not listen to music so much either…


Do you write poems?

No, I wish but I think people wish I do not. I do not write so much in general.


What you’ve learned from life, if you learned anything so far?

I still have lots of things to learn. I do not have time to look at what I have learned because I’m looking forward. At a certain point, I could look backwards but it’s not the time yet.


Which is the last thing of the show you’re not able to fulfil completely?

To take out more works – mine and others. It is all about cutting it to the bottom, you can always cut things smaller.


Can you tell me about the lines you’ve written downstairs on the concrete floor?

It’s a lyric from Xiu Xiu (told sciu-sciu, the Pinault Foundation via Vo invited the Californian band to perform for a free concert on May 5 at the Teatrino because they collaborated for a long while with the artist in performances in theatres and in museums: Xiu Xiu will end to also dedicate a lyric to him in their next album). I never go to concerts or anything similar but when some friends of mine dragged me there and it was just a fantastic performance, with really good lyrics (and later on I got to meet them), this specific song meant very much to me in a specific moment of my life and so I had the writing of it on the floor (the artist’s father has handwritten each word).


Is your father happy of the way you create art?

No, he is happy of my success. He is a craftsman, he is not so interested in contents.


Cover: Danh Vo, courtesy Matteo de Fina

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