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Fellow travellers

Freedom and adventure, migration and displacement

BY Ed Tang
director at Art Agency, Partners


Paul Gauguin, la Orana Maria (Hail Mary) (1891). Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Paul Gauguin, La Orana Maria (Hail Mary) (1891)

I began thinking about travel after seeing the remarkable display of Gauguin works in the recent Shchukin Collection exhibition at the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris. Gauguin personifies the traveller artist: while his contemporaries were depicting modern city life, Gauguin left for Tahiti to capture a whole other world.

I often forget how incredible the Met’s Impressionist and Post-impressionist collection is. One gem is Gauguin’s La Orana Maria (Hail Mary) (1891). His sense of discovery very much remains in the picture, even though it was painted in 1891. The ability to see faraway lands is something we often now take for granted—it’s easy to see the world at the push of a button through social media and the internet. Looking at Gauguin’s painting makes you appreciate his bohemian, adventurous spirit.

The colours of the painting are so seductive. Gauguin really sparks the imagination, transporting you to this place with abundant fruit in the foreground; women draped in local fabrics; flora and fauna receding to a primitive hut in the background. There is something almost magical about it.

 

 

Wolfgang Tillmans, Market I (2012)

Wolfgang Tillmans, Market I (2012) © Wolfgang Tillmans

Tillmans is a very important figure for me because he’s is one of the foremost chroniclers of our time. I get sucked into his photographic world: you want to be in the London and the Berlin captured in his prints, or immerse yourself in his photos of oceans and clouds. Whatever the subject or place, there is poignancy to his work because it’s so personal.

In his exhibition at Tate Modern (“Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017”, until 11 June), the artist constructs a narrative from room to room. We travel the world through his camera lens: from London to Tasmania, Ethiopia to Saudi Arabia, India to China, Papua New Guinea to Australia and Argentina to Chile.

 Market I is a photo of a bustling market scene in Ethiopia and, my God, it’s an incredible work. Its sheer scale—the photograph is life-size—means one is submerged in the street scene. You can almost smell the place. You’re drawn into the colors and the commotion of the street, its colors and chaos. You become a tourist just looking at the work.

 

 

Danh Võ’s We the People (2011-14)

Danh Vō’, We the People (detail) (2011). Installation view, Aspen Art Museum (2016). Courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery, photo credit: Tony Prikryl

There is a sense of freedom of movement in Tillmans’s work, seemingly casual snapshots that document his life and travels. For other artists, travel is about restriction. Danh Võ’s We the People (2011-14) is about migration and displacement.

It is a one-to-one scale replica of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s Statue of Liberty recreated in more than 250 individual parts. Each element has since been dispersed around the world—one free-standing part has just been installed at the Aspen Art Museum (“Danh Võ”, until 4 June)

Võ was a refugee born in Vietnam who travelled to Denmark on a boat. His art is about moving, and taps into a history of displacement. It is a timely subject. We the People embodies the spirit of freedom of the Statue of Liberty but, through Võ’s literal deconstruction and dispersal of the statue, also points to something less optimistic.



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