Claire Bishop at Artforum:
THE FIFTY-SIXTH VENICE BIENNALE is dominated by a Danh Vo double bill: “mothertongue,” a solo show in the Danish pavilion, and “Slip of the Tongue,” a large exhibition curated by the artist at the François Pinault Foundation’s Punta della Dogana, where Vo has mixed his own work with that of some three dozen others. Vo’s solo outing makes for one of this year’s most striking national pavilions, an exquisitely spare arrangement of Danish modern furniture, Oaxacan tiles, sinuous dead branches, and sawn-off or crated-up statuary from the first through seventeenth centuries. The tasteful atmosphere is subtly undercut by the venue’s plate-glass windows, which are covered in barely legible words (e.g., YOU'RE GONNA DIE) that turn out to be quotes from The Exorcist, as are many of the works’ expletive-laden titles (e.g., Do you know what she did, your cunting daughter?). Some of these elements have obvious autobiographical significance—the tiles and branches were shipped from the Vietnamese-born artist’s latest country of residence, Mexico—but understanding what, if anything, connects these meticulously arranged artifacts to one another is something of a challenge. An accompanying pamphlet offers extended captions, an essay by art historian Patricia Falguières, and an artist’s statement in which allusions to colonialism and Catholicism are interspersed among stories about Vo’s father, Phung. However, these texts are so aleatory and fragmented that they ultimately reinforce the installation’s poetic opacity.
In the sprawling Punta della Dogana, “Slip of the Tongue” is just as sparse and striking. Here, as in the pavilion, modestly scaled objects are judiciously distributed in a great deal of empty space, and even manage to counteract the relentless machismo of Tadao Ando’s architecture. Once again the configuration of works is transhistorical: Illuminated manuscript fragments by late-medieval masters, borrowed from the Fondazione Giorgio Cini, are displayed alongside modern and contemporary pieces from the Pinault holdings—including Bertrand Lavier, Lee Lozano, Pablo Picasso, Auguste Rodin, Nancy Spero, and Alina Szapocznikow—and more than twenty pieces by Vo himself.