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Danh Vo is one of Denmark’s pre-eminent artists on the international scene, and SMK has followed his career right from the outset. The Vietnam War changed his life, and his art is loaded with references to international politics, historical events and, importantly, his own life.
Like much of Danh Vo’s art, the chandelier bearing the title 08:03:51, 28.05.2009 has a direct link to his personal story. It originally hung over a large conference table in the main hall of the Hôtel Majestic in Paris, the place where Vietnam and the United States signed the peace treaty between the two nations in 1973. A major work in Danh Vo’s oeuvre, this work is a natural choice for a spot among the SMK’s ten greatest highlights.
Firmly established as a very important contemporary artist, Danh Vo is particularly interesting for SMK because his art looks back on cultural, aesthetic and political themes from the past, reflecting contemporary themes in the mirror of history. Being a national gallery, SMK houses art dating as far back as the fourteenth century up until the present day, and like Vo, the museum engages the past and present in ongoing, mutual exchanges under the same roof.

SMK began working with Danh Vo at an early stage of his career, purchasing several of his works for the museum’s collection. In recent years, Vo has enjoyed great attention on the international art scene and been featured in a large number of prestigious exhibitions – most recently at the Guggenheim Museum in New York in the spring of 2018, prompting The New York Times to state that ‘Mr. Vo has expanded the definition of art’.
A refugee at the age of four
At the age of four, Danh Vo and his family set out from war-torn Vietnam in a boat. Getting picked up by a Danish container ship, they arrived in Denmark and became Danish citizens. Danh Vo went on to graduate from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen.
‘Danh Vo addresses private history and personal experiences as well as the major political upheavals in the world. In his works, he carefully selects objects and documents that tell stories of universal and ever-present themes such as colonialism, religion and identity – and about the rise, fall and continuous transformations of cultures,’ says chief curator and senior researcher Marianne Torp.
‘But even though his works are about migration, homosexuality, capitalism, identity policy and the Vietnam War, Danh Vo does not make overtly political statements. He speaks of political matters through the aesthetic and poetic potential of art. His messages are subtle, often revealing surprising connections that you had not thought of yourself, thereby raising our own political awareness.’

Not just an object

Danh Vo is neither the first nor only artist to have picked out an object and move it into the realm of art, thereby transforming it from a functional object into a work of art. Marcel Duchamp famously did so back in 1917, turning a urinal upside down and exhibiting it. But, unlike Duchamp, Vo is not interested in the shift in value that occurs. Rather, he is concerned with the specific stories represented by his chosen objects.
Accordingly, the chandelier that makes up the work 08:03:51, 28.05.2009 is not just any period piece from France, nor does it simply refer to privileged lifestyles of nineteenth-century Paris. For Vo, this particular chandelier is significant because it used to hang in the room – the ballroom of a former Parisian hotel – where the peace treaty between Vietnam and the USA was signed. Thus, this specific chandelier has witnessed the end of a conflict that affected the entire world, and which also had such tremendous impact on Danh Vo’s own life.
‘I think it’s a fantastic work of art because it creates this dynamic and complex web of stories and contexts. The chandelier is a completely unique object, pointing simply, yet with great complexity to how major world events criss-cross with personal, individual lives. Such exchanges form a quintessential starting point for Danh Vo’s art,’ says Marianne Torp.

Details

  • Title: 08:03:51
  • Creator: Danh Vo
  • Date Created: 2009
  • Physical Dimensions: 300 cm
  • Medium: Mixed Media

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