Whitehot Magazine

March 2012: Tam Van Tran at Susanne Vielmetter

Tam Van Tran, Flowers of Non Duality, 2012; Low fire glazed ceramic, 5 1/2" x 3 1/2" x 4" each, 32" x 20' entire set
The Radiance of Awareness II, 2012; Acrylic, staples on paper, linen and canvas; 86" x 104" x 23"
Courtesy of Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects; Photo credit: Robert Wedemeyer


Tam Van Tran: Adornment of Basic Space
Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects
Feb 18 through March 30, 2012

The anachronistic edict that informs any verifiable (or not so verifiable) spiritual practice more often than not involves the concept of unity, wholeness and the mysterious sense that life beyond this “living” realm is sustainable, a continuation of what we already know so well, and have repeatedly failed at. Being human isn’t easy, and certainly not a logically discernible unifying experience with any clearly delineated end in sight, and Tam Van Tran’s newest exhibition at Susanne Vielmetter attests to these complications, fragmentations, evacuations and ultimately extraordinary consolations.

I won’t lie. Tran’s work is difficult in the very best sense of the word, much like surviving a moment of sudden transcendence. You come back, but are not the same again. In a series of low-fire, glazed ceramic sculptures entitled Bodhisattva I – XIII which, loosely translated means “wisdom being,” or someone for whom the physical realm is drained of its obvious meaning, Tran exonerates nothing and no one, but offers up these awkward, ramshackle objects as proof of a kind of childlike radiance. In keeping with this concept, Tran’s sculptures are enigmatic and complex, bringing to mind the sometimes maligned (for their overt simplicity) drawings of Marino Marini. Unlike Marini’s sculptural work, Tran is less interested in the final summation of a particular image, committed instead to an often fractured progression of discovery; individual images are not necessarily “whole” and in tact here, but the investigative process itself comprises the journey, with no literal end in sight. The color variations from one object to the next are further evidence that the process is simultaneously beginning and ending, and the strange horse-like figure represented again and again is merely an anchor for our deeper consideration. After all, the human mind needs a place to rest itself in the midst of transformation.

Other works like the magical The Radiance of Awareness I (2012) suggests older work, employing familiar materials like staples on paper, chlorophyll and spirulina, although again the artist pushes the boundaries of process and deliberation, exploding the drawings outward onto canvas, giving them a broader, more expansive suggestibility. Perhaps the most striking works in the exhibition are the ceramic vessels entitled Tunnel 1 – IV (2012) with all the fierceness of the Vagina Dentata, yet subtly persuasive, as the viewer must bend over the open mouths to achieve their full effect. With each work, Tran’s investment appears to be the process by which the physical world is broken down and ultimately transmuted by color, shape, materiality and the sheer force of each negotiation within the physical space of the gallery. Is this akin to some sort of  “spiritual” awakening for the artist himself or for the viewer looking at this work? Alas, it’s not that simple, nor would we want it be.

Tam Van Tran, Adornment of Basic Space, 2012; Installation view
Courtesy of Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects; Photo credit: Robert Wedemeyer

Tam Van Tran, Tunnel I, Tunnel II, Tunnel III, Tunnel IV, 2012
Installation view, High fire glazed ceramic, 16" x 12" x 12"; Gallery Inventory #VAN201
Courtesy of Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Photo Credit: R

Eve Wood

Eve Wood is both a critic and an artist. She was represented for five years by Western Project and before that at Susanne Vielmetter; Los Angeles Projects. She has exhibited her work at numerous galleries including Angles Gallery, The Huntington Beach Museum of Art, The Weatherspoon Museum of Art etc. Her art criticism has appeared in many magazines including Flash Art, Artnet.com, Tema Celeste, NY Arts, Angelino Magazine, Art Papers, Bridge, ArtUS, Art Papers, Artweek, Latin Arts.com, Art Review and Artillery. She is also the author of five books of poetry and one novel.

view all articles from this author