Luck has been shining down on artist Danh Vo this year. Yesterday, the Guggenheim announced Vo as the winner of this year’s Hugo Boss Prize, and he now joins the ranks of Matthew Barney, Tacita Dean, and Rikrit Tiravanija, all previous winners of the prize. Vo also gets $100,000 in cash, a solo exhibition at the Guggenheim, and a small, triangular trophy.
Not exactly an underdog for the win, his work We the People, a full-size copper replica of the Statue of Liberty—broken down into over 400 parts of the torchbearer—seems to have hit a sweet spot in the art world. This year, some of those pieces were displayed at the New Museum, The Art Institute of Chicago, and The National Gallery of Denmark, among others. The National Gallery of Denmark even has a Google Map tracing all the locations of Vo’s Statue of Liberty.
Here at Art Fag City, we’re a little ambivalent about the piece; there’s an awful lot of invisible history to this work and it’s of questionable merit. After all, a dismembered statue originally conceived to spread America’s democratic values to France now in galleries all over the Western world tends to have its backstory lost when the surrounding architecture primarily defines the object’s success. We thought the work fared relatively well aesthetically when we saw its various strewn parts in the New Museum’s boxy space, but lowered our opinion some when we saw them dwarfed at the National Gallery of Denmark. There we mainly remarked on the quality of the skids supporting the work, an aspect of the work that has nothing to do with its supposed poignancy.
The fact of the matter, though, is so little of the object communicates its history that as far as the artwork is concerned, said history might as well not exist. Most viewers will never know the story anyway.