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Danh Vo takes on US independence with Mexican brands and gruesome tools

Permanent installation revealed at the Aishti Foundation in Beirut

by Gareth Harris  |  24 February 2017
Danh Vo takes on US independence with Mexican brands and gruesome tools
Danh Vo's Untitled (2017) at the Aishti Foundation in Beirut
The Vietnamese artist Danh Vo has unveiled a major new work, Untitled (2017), at the Aishti Foundation in Beirut that taps into the fraught political climate in the US today. The installation is made of 27 cardboard US flags coated in gold leaf and suspended from the ceiling. Each flag depicts 13 stars, representing the 13 British colonies that declared independence in 1776 leading to the birth of the United States of America. Motifs for Mexican beer brands are emblazoned on the reverse.

“I was really interested in this idea of exploring the time when [the US] fought for independence, and then became the dominant world power,” he tells The Art Newspaper. “What I’m really interested in is the continual misuse of power, and that’s always a changing subject.”

Asked if the piece is particularly potent in the era of President Trump, who insists he will build a wall on the US-Mexican border, Vo references David Wojnarowicz’s 1994 photograph (Untitled) Buffaloes. “This was always such an important piece for me. After the Aids crisis and [era of President] Reagan, he takes up the subject matter when the Indians were ruling the plains. They dominated, and trapped the buffalos which ran off a cliff. Today, the situation is a complete mess.”

A series of crude farmyard tools are also incorporated in Vo’s work, hanging above the heads of visitors. These include calf weaners that prick the adult cow when the calf feeds, prompting the mother to reject her offspring. “I just think this is a fantastic object,” Vo says. He adds though, that he “never makes art as a statement… someone out there who is totally different, can make use of my work. The connecting point [with the viewer] is the most beautiful thing for an artist.”

The retail magnate Tony Salamé, who founded the Aishti Foundation in 2015, says that he first suggested that Vo made a permanent work for the space five years ago. He visited the artist in Mexico to discuss the work. “After five years, the piece makes sense [in today’s climate],” Salamé says.

The work complements the current show at the foundation which dissects the American dream. Good Times, Bad Times, American Mythologies (until 1 April) includes works by 56 artists such as David Salle and Kara Walker who, say the organisers, “engage in a complex analysis of American popular culture.”  

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