Tammy Nguyen: The Gale

Tammy Nguyen:
The Gale

2022.9.2 - 10.15

Opening reception:
9.2 (fri.) 17:00 - 19:00
*artist in attendance
gallery hours:
9/17 (Sat.) 11:00 – 19:00
9/18 (Sun.) 11:00 – 18:00
9/19 (Mon.) 11:00 – 18:00

© Tammy Nguyen
Press Release

Venue: nca | nichido contemporary art
Date: 9.2 (fri.) – 10.15 (sat.), 2022
Opening reception: 9.2 (fri.) 17:00 - 19:00
Gallery hours: tue. – sat. / 11:00 – 19:00 (closed on sun., mon., and on national holidays)
*Open during “ROPPONGI ART NIGHT 2022” (hours are as above)

nca | nichido contemporary art is pleased to present The Gale, a solo exhibition by American artist Tammy Nguyen.

In this new series of paintings, the artist draws on the tradition of illuminated manuscripts to create “a world of Catholicism cannibalized by the tropics” in her words. Nguyen’s eleven maximalist artworks depict scenes and fragments from Codices Illustres: The world’s most famous illuminated manuscripts 400 to 1600, a publication of 167 significant manuscripts from the medieval age. Working with narratives of Catholicism as a set of compositional starting points, The Gale depicts a world of religious motifs that are simultaneously consumed by and capable of enduring forces of nature and geopolitical warfare. Considering how Catholicism has been ingrained within various aspects of day to day life in the global South, and her parents’ native country of Vietnam in particular, Nguyen characterizes the religious operation as “a colonial campaign so powerful, it can withstand not only nature, but also modern geopolitical campaigns of conquest.”

The artist is inspired by the ways in which craft and mythology interact and rely on one another within the historical custom of illuminated manuscripts. Traditional illuminators reactivated the glue that adhered gold through the transference of breath, the vital force that is also said to transfer the Holy Spirit onto text and image, making these religious compositions ever more sacred. Though the surface of these manuscripts appears to be completely flat, under certain lighting conditions, the metallic elements seem to become three-dimensional, as if to come alive with gold rising from the page. Herein, what is evidenced physically comes into being alongside its mythological framework, a productive tension that inspired technical and thematic collisions in Nguyen’s own artworks. The surfaces of her paintings are also completely flat, causing the figures and foreground to vibrate against each other. The narrative structure and question of subject versus environment entangle in her verdant and dense configurations, humming with traces of gold that highlight forces of nature, colonialism, and Catholicism in motion.

Throughout the series, the artist explores wind as a conceptual thread and a mode for strategizing her compositions through mark-making and shape formation. Her paintings render the natural phenomenon as a tool for understanding how objects interact and as one that shapes landscapes. Ancient trees are also sustained by wind over time, a natural support system that holds a kind of sublime power that echoes that of scripture and has been a central point in the artist’s recent body of research. Nguyen renders the man-made winds of swarming helicopters moving west, and the winds of storms, indicated by red maritime flags, that move east. The winds of geopolitical warfare and climate change collide against the backdrop of Catholic scripture and ancient trees, forms that seemingly hold ground and adapt to human and natural turmoil throughout history.

-Alison Karasyk Hines, Independent Curator and Writer

Tammy Nguyen (b. 1984, San Francisco, CA, lives and works in Easton, CT) creates paintings, drawings, artist books, prints, and zines that explore the intersections between geopolitics, ecology, and lesser-known histories.
A storyteller, Nguyen’s multidisciplinary practice takes two forms—her more traditional fine arts practice, which encompasses her lush, dense paintings, as well as her prints, drawings, and unique artist books, and her publishing practice, embodied through her imprint, Passenger Pigeon Press, which creates and distributes Martha’s Quarterly, a subscription of artist books and interdisciplinary collaborations. Across both domains Nguyen’s work aims to unsettle, and the tension between the artist’s elegant forms and harmonious aesthetics often belies the nature of her content. The confusion this dissonance creates becomes generative, opening space for reevaluation, radical thinking, and the dislodging of complacency.

Many of Nguyen’s paintings expand from her unique artist books, often through engagement with similar themes, questions, or investigations. Throughout her work she has explored a range of topics and ideas, including the Bandung conference, the first large-scale Afro-Asian conference which was attended by world leaders from 29 non-aligned countries during the Cold War, Forest City, a sprawling off-shore development project in Malaysia, and the red-shanked douc langur, an endangered species of monkey native to Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. A recent artist book series, Four Ways Through a Cave (2021), relates Nguyen’s travels through the Phong Nha-Ke Bang karst in Vietnam, significant for its numerous underground caverns and passageways and its history in the Vietnam War as a crucial area of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The book simultaneously invokes Plato’s allegory of the cave—the recognition of truth through the loss of illusion—and conveys the sense of physically moving through a cave, with circular-shaped cutouts that shift from page to page, tunneling through the book and transforming the reader into a momentary spelunker.

In 2008, Nguyen received a Fulbright fellowship to study lacquer painting in Vietnam. Her recent paintings reflect influences of this traditional technique in their remarkable flatness, colored grounds, use of gold and silver leaf, and her rich, intricately layered compositions. In Nguyen’s newest paintings she re-envisions the Stations of the Cross, filling the picture plane with references ranging from the biblical, to the historical, to the contemporary. Fighter jets fill the sky of one station, in which Jesus’ face has been transformed into a commedia mask, while in another the outline of a Pan American airliner can be identified. Commercial ships emblazoned with names like Enterprise, Constitution, and Truth sail across the 14 panels, implying the deep interconnection between commerce, colonialism, religion, and global politics.
At its core, Nguyen’s, collaborative, research-based practice is propositional, exploring ideas and conjectures for ways of looking at the past, examining the present, and imagining possible futures. Across her work, Nguyen addresses the question of how one reads, both visually and linguistically, and she considers the idea of multiple narratives being told simultaneously, held together by the edges of her compositions or spines of her books.

Tammy Nguyen
Born in San Francisco, California, 1984. Lives and works in New York City.
2013 M.F.A. in Painting/Printmaking, Yale University School of Art, New Haven, CT
2007 B.F.A., The Cooper Union School for the Advancement of Science and Art, New York, NY
Main Recent Solo Shows; SEA Focus, Tropical Futures Institute, Singapore (2022) / Four Ways Through a Cave, Francois Ghebaly Gallery, LA, California, US (2022) / Freehold, Smack Mellon, Brooklyn, New York, US (2021) / Five Myles, Brooklyn, New York, US (2020) / The Ship Names Atlast, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia, US (2019)、Lightwell Gallery, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Ohio, US (2019) / Primate City, Ground Floor Gallery, Brooklyn, New York, US (2017) / Primate Cities (on the wall), Tree Top Chamber Music Society, Stamford, Connecticut, US (2015)
Main Recent Group Shows: Berlin Biennale 2022, Berlin, Germany (2022) / Wonder Woman, Jeffrey Deitch, NY, NY and LA, California, US (2022) / Greater New York 2021, MoMA PS1, New York, US (2021-22) / The Hearing Trumpet 1, curated by Danielle Shang, Galerie Marguo, Paris, France (2022) / Where The Threads Are Worn, Casey Kaplan, New York, US (2021) / Facing New Axes, Hunter Shaw Fine Art, Los Angeles, California, US (2020) / Drinking the Reflection, curated by Elizabeth Malaska, Russo Lee, Portland, Oregon, US (2019) / Curiously Enough Vol. 2, nca | nichido contemporary art, Tokyo, Japan (2019) / Curiously Enough, galerie nichido Taipei, Taipei, Taiwan (2019) / Harlem Perspectives, Factions Art Gallery, curated by Leanne Stella, New York, US (2019) / Necessary Fictions, The Factory Contemporary Arts Centre, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam (2019) / Face of the Future, The Rubin Museum, New York, New York, US (2018), and others.

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