The opening of new major exhibits and new installations as well at the Wende Museum on April 1, 2023, was an occasion that drew friends and fans together for a series of events that celebrated art, politics and people. As ever, the Wende finds ways to weave diverse stories into an international, almost inter-dimensional narrative showcasing art as the best aspect of human nature.
Saturday afternoon attendees heard a presentation in the garden that included remarks by Wende Curator Joes Segal, Emma Diffley, Exhibition and Programming Coordinator, Guest curator Olya Sova, photographer Geoff MacCormack, artists Binh Danh, Katya and Alexei Tylevich, and CCUSD School Board member Kelly Kent. Guests also got to sample Vietnamese cuisine for the occasion, provided by Cafe Vietnam.
The main gallery exhibit, Vietnam in Transition, offers work from more than a dozen artists, working in both traditional mediums like painting and photography, and completely avant-garde forms such as salvaged fabric and photosynthesis. The exhibit includes a special collection from Art in the Camps (Garden Streams) Archive, from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Of notable local interest is work by the CCUSD Superintendent of Schools, Quoc Tran. A young teenager at the end of the war, his father was a high ranking officer in the defeated South Vietnamese Army, and his escape from the country put him in a refugee camp in Malaysia for more than a year before being granted asylum in the United States. Tran’s art shows the last U.S. helicopter to leave Saigon as the city was falling to North Vietnamese control. He offered “All this artwork brings back such a lot of memories, and suddenly it all feels as if it just happened. It was decades ago, and it seems like a moment.”
Every section of the exhibit is compelling, beautifully presented, and deeply thought provoking. Vietnam’s creative rebirth incorporating such painful and traumatic realities reflects human resilience with extraordinary power.
The new photography exhibit on display shows a whimsical journey through treacherous territory; David Bowie in the Soviet Union; the photographic memoir by Geoff MacCormack, a lifelong friend and band mate of Bowie. Because Bowie preferred not to fly, in 1973 they undertook a journey from Yokohama, Japan, back to England, crossing the USSR via the Trans-Siberian Express. MacCormack’s photos show Bowie both candid and casual, a surprising view of a face so often photographed in highly stylized frames. As they were two pals traveling together, also included are photos by Bowie of MacCormack, and scenes of Russia viewed from the train. The exhibition, guest curated by Olya Sova, also includes David Bowie’s film The Long Way Home, which documents various stages of their trip on the train, including their time in Moscow during the May Day Parade.
Also on display are works from CCUSD’s Academy of Visual and Performing Arts, inspired by the standing collection at the Wende. Art by Shaniece Cornelius, Liz Davis, Grace Erekson, Ava Frans, Tobey Greenberg, Lola Hamilton, Allie Kim, Lauryn Kinsella, Fia Layne, Maia Lazor, Lijeia Marinuara, Yahira Ruvalcaba Palos, and Koji Schafer are on display, inspired by the Museum’s propaganda posters, ceramics, scrapbooks, ceremonial flags, and collages.
Saturday evening saw an even larger gathering, highlighted by a performance from Ane Thanh Lion Dance, delighting the visitors with a brilliant interpretation of the tradition. Both museum and garden were crowded to capacity with an appreciative audience.
Throughout the weekend, visitors were drawn by the curious new installation at the famous guardhouse in the garden. Katya and Alexei Tylevich had created a new restaurant chain, TGIFrieheit, whose red and white striped signage was clearly a reflection on an American commercial eatery. The word ‘Frieheit’ is German for freedom, and the figure inside the installation was lifelike enough that there was much speculation whether it was an actor or a mannequin. The guardhouse, an actual military station from the ‘Checkpoint Charlie’ passage at the Berlin Wall, might have been the exact spot that Bowie sang about in his song “Heroes.”
The talented staff at the Wende Museum has succeeded again in presenting perceptions of time and travel that offer the opportunity to revisit the past and (re) imagine the future.
All current exhibits are on display through October 22, 2023.
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Artwork shown is “A Little Girl” 2022 by Võ Trân Châu, hand quilted found fabric and embroidery on linen.