About the Exhibition
We The People (2010-2014) is a 1:1 replica of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s Statue of Liberty, recreated by artist Danh Vo (b. 1975) in about 250 individual pieces. Vo’s segmented version is faithful to the original, using the same fabrication techniques and copper material. However, he never intends to assemble all of the pieces of the statue. Instead We The People invites us to experience this world famous icon on a human scale, and to reflect on the meaning of liberty from multiple perspectives.
We The People brings together a constellation of historical and cultural references that frame Vo’s process, calling attention to the similarities and differences between the means of production in the 19th century and today’s global economic system. While the Statue of Liberty was a gift from France to the United States, paid for (in part) by American citizens, and constructed by French laborers, Vo’s We The People was conceived in Germany, fabricated in Shanghai, supported by his French gallery, collections and art institutions worldwide, and dispersed to exhibition venues in more than 15 countries.
This exhibition at City Hall Park and Brooklyn Bridge Park presents nearly a fifth of Vo’s project in two distinct installations. The presentation at City Hall Park, dispersed in small groupings among Victorian-style lawns and trees, gathers a selection of pieces that range from the figurative to the abstract, and from the ornate to the minimal. Inside the lobby of City Hall, visitors will encounter the ear of the statue placed beneath the cornerstone of the historic building, and links of the chain found at the feet of the statue scattered beneath the rotunda staircase of the entrance. Interested in City Hall Park’s colonial aesthetic, Vo also designed a new flower garden for a large planter at the southern entrance of the park. The garden is comprised of flowers and plants that were catalogued by 19th century French missionaries in Southern Asia and later imported to Europe and North America. Like We The People, Vo’s garden addresses themes of cultural interchange and the residue of colonialism today.
The presentation at Brooklyn Bridge Park features three colossal sculptures that have been assembled from 13 individual pieces of the statue. Together these pieces comprise large sections of the draped sleeve of the Statue of Liberty’s raised right arm. Sited on the central stone terrace of the Pier 3 Uplands, with the original Lady Liberty visible on the horizon, the installation recalls the ruins of antiquity in a contemporary context.
The title for this work – and the exhibition – borrows the first three words of the preamble to the United States Constitution, underscoring our collective role in shaping democracy. Accordingly, each sculpture in We The People is part of a conceptual whole, conjuring the full form of Lady Liberty in our mind’s eye. A poetic gesture as much as a sculptural feat, Vo’s multipart copy of the Statue of Liberty is a metaphor for the circulation of cultural values. Like a monumentally-scaled puzzle, these forms ask us to reconsider liberty as it exists globally and locally.
This exhibition is curated by Andria Hickey
Brooklyn Bridge Park
Pier 3 Greenway Terrace
City Hall Park
Broadway & Chambers Street
Danh Vo’s exhibition We the People brings together may pieces from his segmented replica of the Statue of Liberty, alongside a new horticultural work created especially for this exhibition. The information below sheds light on the significance of different parts of the figure and the composition of the statue, as well as the making of the garden.
Lady Liberty’s Drapery:
The drapery of the Statue of Liberty’s robe covers nearly 80% of the figure’s body. There are 23 pieces of this drapery on view as part of Danh Vo’s We The People at City Hall Park and Brooklyn Bridge Park. As with the original statue, the sculptural folds of fabric were rendered by pounding copper sheets over a cast of the statue to create each form.
The original statue’s sculptor, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, worked in the neo-classical tradition and clothed Lady Liberty in elegant folds of drapery to evoke Greek and Roman antiquity and represent the classical legacy of Western politics. In terms of practical artistic concerns, drapery was also seen as a useful approach to figurative sculpture because it both concealed and revealed the physical attributes the female body.
A Broken Chain:
At the feet of the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island, there lies a broken chain that is partially concealed by the statue’s dress. There are many anecdotes about the reason for including the chain in the statue’s design. Some have said that it was a symbolic gesture of support for the anti-slavery movement in the United States at the time. Others have said that it was a general reference to freedom and the end of oppression as outlined in the Declaration of Independence.
There are replicas of four of the colossal chain links placed in the historic rotunda in the lobby of City Hall. Like the divergent stories of Lady Liberty’s chain, the history of the surrounding park is equally evocative. Prior to its current designation, it was the site of an almshouse, a jail, an African burial ground, and a union organizing commons. Historically it has represented a crossroads of power and oppression, hope and salvation. Here, the chain links symbolically connect a constellation of references to freedom and liberty that are buried within the site’s own history.
A Stacked Pedestal:
If assembled, the stack of flat copper sheets on view in City Hall Park would comprise a copy of the small rectangular pedestal at the foot of the Statue of Liberty. Since the original monument is structurally supported by its large stone pedestal, the copper plinth was incorporated into its design for aesthetic reasons, rather than out of architectural necessity.
In City Hall Park, Vo has stacked the sections of the plinth to create a new sculpture in reference to the original. Recalling similar forms by minimalist sculptors who rejected the notion that a sculpture required a pedestal, Vo’s installation transforms monumental nature and symbolic value of the Statue of Liberty’s plinth. In doing so, he also subtly recontextualizes the pedestal and its function into a generic, minimal sculpture.
Rodgersia aesculifolia armandi, Rodgersia pinnata, Buddleja davidii, Clematis armandii, Clematis-forgesil, Osmanthus decorus, Osmanthus delavayi, Paeonia delavayi, Stachyurus chinensis, Rhododendrons racemosum, Rhododendrons irroralum, Rhododendrons ciliicalyx, Rhododendrons-calophytum, Rhododendron-discolor, Rhododendrons-moupinense, Rhododendrons-williamsianum “Andrea”, Rhododendrons-“danula”, Rhododendrons-augustini-“stoutette”, Primula forbesii, Primula rosea, Deutzia discolor, Deutzia purpurascens, Deutzia scabra, Aconitum tongolense, Aconitum delavayi, Aconitum lilijestrandii, Aconitum forrestii, Aconitum nutantiflorum, Anemone begonifolia, Anemone coelestina, Anemone trullifolia, Aster delavayi, Bashania fargesii, Buddleja myriantha, Catalpa ovale, Cerasus tomentosa, Cerasus tianshanica, Cerasus fruticosa, Clematis potaninii, Delphinium brunonianum, Delphinium forrestii, Delphinium smithianum, Delphinium yunnanense, Delphinium pseudotongolense, Delphinium Delavyi, Delphinium grandiflorum, Delphinium anthriscifolium, Delphinium trichophorum, Impatiens delavayi, Impatiens noli-tangere, Lilium souliei, Lilium henrici, Luzula rufescens, Luzula plumose, Nepeta prattii, Nepeta stewartiana, Nepeta coerulescens, Nepeta tenuiflora, Nepeta sibirica, Nepeta souliei, Osmanthus didymopetalus, Pinus densiflora, Populus rotundifolia, Rodgersia aesculifolia, Rodgersia henrici
This garden reflects Danh Vo’s ongoing interest in the history of botany and the impact of colonialism through horticulture. The plants on view have been selected according to a list of flowers that were catalogued by French missionaries during their ministry work in Southern Asia in the late 19th Century. The missionaries’ many discoveries are archived in the Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris. The plants selected for this garden – specifically, the rhododendrons – are descendants of the varieties that were introduced to Europe and North America by way of the missionaries’ research. Together, the names of the plants also comprise the title for the work. Like We The People, Vo’s garden addresses themes of cultural interchange and the residue of colonialism in contemporary life.
About the Artist:
Danh Vo (b. 1975, BàRa, Vietnam) is a graduate of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Copenhagen, and the Städelschule, Frankfurt. He has been the subject of solo exhibitions at institutions including Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris (2013); Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2013); Porto Culturgest, Porto, Portugal (2013); The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago (2012); The Art Institute of Chicago (2012); National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen (2012, 2010); Kunsthaus Bregenz, Austria (2012); Kunsthalle Fridericianum, Kassel, Germany (2011); Kunsthalle Basel (2009); Kadist Art Foundation, San Francisco (2009); Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (2008); and Bergen Kunsthall, Norway (2006). His works are also included in numerous public collections including those of the Tate Modern (London), Museum of Modern Art (New York), The Centre Pompidou (Paris), National Gallery of Denmark (Copenhagen), and Walker Art Center (Minneapolis). In 2012, he was named the winner of the Hugo Boss Prize.