Magazine article Artforum International

Tam Van Tran: Cohan and Leslie

Magazine article Artforum International

Tam Van Tran: Cohan and Leslie

Article excerpt

Vanitas images are rarely subtle--it's hard to ignore the implacable presence of a human skull or a solemn timepiece, or to disavow the implications of a decomposing piece of fruit--but neither are they merely symbolic. Efficient vehicles for the display of technical mastery, paintings like Chardin's Soap Bubble, ca. 1734, or Manet's Boy Blowing Bubbles, 1867, also use that illusionism to facilitate aphoristic moralizing. Still, soap bubbles on the verge of rupture can only mean one thing.

Tam Van Tran's third show at Cohan and Leslie betrayed a connection, albeit an oblique one, to such historical concerns, if not to such pictorial conceits. Eschewing realism for the tattered remnants of modernist abstraction, Van Tran's recourse to the organic (here, beet juice and cabbage as opposed to the chlorophyll and spirulina of the painted, hole-punched, and stapled paper constructions of his 2002-04 "Beetle Manifesto" series) materializes the idea of impermanence. Seven large works on paper take their cues from Buddhist philosophy, which is more specifically referenced by the show's title, "Entering the City of Omniscience." Through this appropriation of eighteenth-century visionary Rigdzin Jikme Lingpa's aspiration prayer of the same name, Van Tran's ubiquitous use of food as a painterly medium, a habit that has often been linked to his past day jobs as a waiter and private chef, is philosophically grounded as a meditation on the mindfulness of taste. In the Buddhist tradition, taste is a fleeting experience and an ungraspable idea. The point becomes not to fall prey to a binary structuring (something tastes good or bad) or an occluding tautology (strawberries taste like strawberries) but to fully experience eating without losing that sensation's immediacy.

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Translated into visual terms, such an argument suggests that the act of looking should be paramount. …

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