The Hugo Boss Prize 2012: Danh Vo

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In 2012, Danh Vo (b. 1975, Bà Rịa, Vietnam) was named the winner of the Hugo Boss Prize, a biennial award that recognizes significant achievement in contemporary art. Vo’s work illuminates the entwined strands of private experience and collective history that shape our sense of self. Emerging from a process of research, chance encounters, and delicate personal negotiations, his installations unearth the latent connotations and memories embedded in familiar forms.

The title of this exhibition, I M U U R 2, is derived from a formulation used by the artist Martin Wong (1946–1999) on his business cards and stamps. Vo has long been fascinated by the life and work of Wong, a visionary painter and beloved figure of New York’s downtown art scene of the 1980s and ’90s. After acquiring one of Wong’s works, Vo struck up a correspondence with the artist’s mother, Florence Wong Fie, and eventually visited her home in San Francisco. There, he discovered a remarkable collection of objects ranging from curios and tourist souvenirs to rare antique ceramics and scrolls of calligraphy, interspersed with numerous examples of Wong’s paintings and works on paper.

An obsessive collector with an astute eye for overlooked finds, Wong had collaborated with his mother since childhood to assemble an evolving constellation of artifacts—a project that culminated during the last five years of his life, when he returned to his family home to undergo treatment for an AIDS-related illness. Giving equal weight to the rarefied and the disposable, the collection expresses Wong’s omnivorous desire to absorb and understand his cultural environment. Much of the collection focuses on exuberant Americana and sentimental keepsakes, but Wong also examined the problematic aspects of American popular history, creating clusters of objects that depict racist caricatures. At the time of his death in 1999, the collection had grown to cover almost every surface in the house, where it has been carefully preserved by Florence Wong Fie ever since.

In this installation, Vo has configured a selection of objects drawn from the Wong collection. Elucidating the affinities between the two artists, the gesture merges their individual processes through a creative exchange that transcends historical circumstances and challenges the traditional concept of the stable, authored artwork.

Katherine Brinson, Associate Curator

This exhibition is made possible by HUGO BOSS.

Objects from the collection of Martin Wong. Photo: Heinz Peter Knes

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