Magazine article Artforum International

Pipo Nguyen-Duy: Clampart

Magazine article Artforum International

Pipo Nguyen-Duy: Clampart

Article excerpt

Pipo Nguyen-duy

CLAMPART

The show is a kind of wonderland: Fifty cyanotypes, all made in 1998, all untitled, and all portraying flowers, seeds, soil, and water from Monet's garden at Giverny, France, neatly line the walls of the narrow gallery. They are the creations of Pipo Nguyen-duy, a political refugee from Vietnam and now a professor of photography at Oberlin College in Ohio. One can't help but admire the sheer beauty of the ghostly images, each hovering in space like a mirage, each coolly composed and self-sufficient, each alive with immediacy and formal verve. The specimens sparkle like stars in a cyan sky. However, this prettiness is deceptive: We are looking at corpses. Elemental nature has lost its elan vital, is reduced to a denatured Hadean shadow. Like pages from a botanical textbook, the cyanotypes demand disinterested analysis and study. Nguyen-duy reinforces this sense by exhibiting a collection of test tubes, each containing a real specimen taken from Giverny.

Nguyen-duy's cyanotypes have many precedents, including scientific fluoroscopy and radiography, as well as more obviously the nineteenth-century botanical photograms of William Henry Fox Talbot and the groundbreaking botanical cyanotypes of his student Anna Atkins. Nguyen-duy's art may also bring to mind such twentieth-century examples as Man Ray's rayographs and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy's photograms. But if Man Ray's and Moholy-Nagy's works are particularly cold and colorless, Nguyen-duy's--in spite of their scientific detachment--are warmly hued. …

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