The most elegant show in Venice? That would have to be “Slip of the Tongue,” the exhibition that artist Danh Vo has organized at billionaire François Pinault’s museum at the Punta della Dogana. Vo’s layout is about as spare as you can get and still have a coherent exhibition. Most rooms have just a few artworks, and sometimes you have to look closely to find them. There is a great deal to swoon over: an all-plastic tarp painting by David Hammons from 2007, a number of Lee Lozano paintings and drawings from the 1960s (one, of a very sexualized pencil sharpener, hangs next to a Picasso, which is likely a first), and quite a few pieces by Vo, including new ones that combine fragments of statues that are centuries old. (Their titles come from lines uttered by the demon in The Exorcist—Your Mother Sucks Cocks in Hell, for instance. “Very charming!” one collector-type was heard to declare, sarcastically, as he snapped a photo of that wall label.)
There’s also a potent selection of work that was made in downtown Manhattan in the 1980s, by Zoe Leonard, Peter Hujar, David Wojnarowicz, and Martin Wong, whose collection of thousands of knick-knacks Vo showed in his superb show at the Guggenheim in New York in 2013. Here, Vo has selected four Wong paintings—two from Pinault’s collection, two from private collections—that date from 1981 to around 1997 (just two years before the artist died of AIDS) and provide glimpses of his life among the tenements of the Lower East Side at the time. INRI (1984) is a portrait of the muscular, tattooed back of the poet Miguel Piñero, who was the artist’s partner for a time. Two others are scenes from Wong’s neighborhood, each brick rendered with his trademark studiousness.
Most intriguing, though, is Statue of Liberty (ca. 1997), in which the Wong has sliced open a brick Lady Liberty to reveal its insides, which are filled with hidden passages. The show’s pamphlet notes that it was one of the direct inspirations for Danh Vo’s We the People project, for which he had that entire statue replicated in copper in about 250 pieces at a foundry in Shanghai. A piece from that series sits atop on a terrace near the top of the museum.