Danh Vō Revisits The Exorcist at Marian Goodman London
Could this be a sneak peek at his Danish Pavilion in Venice?
How often do you hear a dealer saying to a collector: “Your mother sucks cocks in Hell” or “Shove it up your ass, you faggot”? In one of the back rooms at Danh Vō’s opening at Marian Goodman London last Thursday 5 (see The 100 Most Powerful Women in Art), the artist encouraged the staff to learn the irreverent titles of his new works so they could repeat them effortlessly to potential clients. Although the majority of the works are Untitled—or simply bear a date related to an event referred to in the piece—these are taken from one of the scariest and most commercially successful horror films, The Exorcist (1973), in which a twelve-year-old girl is possessed by a demon. According to Vō, Goodman herself, who has never seen the movie, utters the titles with the utmost conviction, just like the possessed child channeling the devil.
Vō’s spare, beautifully installed exhibition does not immediately reveal its unholy undercurrent. Many of the works on view are familiar. Flattened cardboard boxes plated in gold leaf with the stars and stripes of the first American flag are raised to the rafters among other golden boxes—Coffee-Mate, Tide, and Cornflakes (the latter nodding to Warhol)—and rusted agricultural tools (possibly suggesting the circuitous link from farm to table). Phung Vō, Danh’s father, is also present through his labor. Displayed near the entrance to the gallery is a letter hand copied by the elder Vō from one written by the French Catholic missionary St. Jean Théophane Vénard to his father just before he was beheaded on February 2, 1861, for illegally proselytizing in Vietnam.
Phung Vō also spent hours on the gallery floor, copying lyrics in pencil in an old English script from Nico’s song Afraid, which appeared on her 1970 solo album. He is not proficient in the languages in which he transcribes the letter or the lyrics, so it is unlikely he understands what he writes. The parent-child relationship, based on respect and trust, is an important one for the artist and often the impetus for his work. His installation I M U U R 2 (2013), for example, pays tribute to the painter Martin Wong and his mother Florence Wong Fie, who, together, collected the thousands of objects that make up the work (this piece will be presented in London next month in “Magnificent Obsessions: The Artist as Collector,” an exhibition I am curating at the Barbican Art Gallery).
Despite the brow-raising nature of some of the works’ titles, the profane elements in Vō’s exhibition only become clear after some time. Displayed on a window ledge is a marble fragment of a young child’s right leg and left foot surmounted by another truncated fragment, part of a polychrome wood Madonna and Child. This is Your mother sucks cocks in Hell. Three other works (one is not on view) whose titles are pilfered from The Exorcist’s dialogues include bits from Roman statues of male figures combined with other fragments from the Madonna and Child.
I would not be surprised to see Vō further developing this body of work for his exhibition in the Danish pavilion at the Venice Biennale this summer. As in The Exorcist, in which the unearthing of an archaeological find unleashes the demon, there is something profane about cutting up a Madonna and Child to pieces, not unlike sectioning the Statue of Liberty and dispersing it around the world (see Vō’s celebrated series We The People, 2010-14). The true mark of success of Vō’s devilish ploy, however, is witnessing Goodman’s directors insulting his collectors’ mothers.
Currently Curator at the Barbican Art Gallery, Lydia Yee will assume the position of Chief Curator at the Whitechapel Gallery in March and is co-curating the British Art Show 8 with Anna Colin.
Follow artnet News on Facebook:
Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.