Danish installation artist Danh Vo, who was born in Vietnam in 1975 and lives and works in Berlin and Mexico City, deconstructs a treasured American landmark and international symbol of freedom in unique ways in “We the People.” The Public Art Fund project is named after the first three words of the preamble of the U.S. Constitution, which was ratified on June 25, 1788. Using the same technique nineteenth-century French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi employed to construct the 3/32-inch-thick copper drapery that envelops eighty percent of the 305-foot-high, 225-ton “Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World,” Vo, winner of the 2012 Hugo Boss Prize, re-created Lady Liberty’s clothing at scale in Shanghai, dividing it into approximately 250 pieces. Even the fresh copper color is faithful to the original, as the Grand Dame’s well-known green hue is the result of 128 years of weathering in New York Harbor.
A true international affair, “We the People” has been seen in more than fifteen countries over the last few years and now has finally come to America, with select sections on view in City Hall Park and Brooklyn Bridge Park through December 5. The latter installation features three large-scale parts taken from thirteen individual pieces from the sleeve of the Lady on a Pedestal’s torch-raising right arm; as a not-coincidental bonus, the actual statue is visible in the distance. The pieces on display in City Hall Park include various segments on the grass and hidden among the trees; the broken chains and ear are inside City Hall itself, and a flower garden at the southern end further evokes the late-19th-century period in which the statue was built, referencing colonialism and missionary work. Vo has said that the full sculpture will likely never be put together to form a complete whole, metaphorically leaving Liberty naked and fragmented, representing the continuing struggle for freedom throughout the world and the inability of so many nations to unite in peace. The work also has deep personal meaning to Vo, whose family escaped from Vietnam in the late 1970s on a boat his father made, floating toward eventual freedom in Denmark just as so many people still take ships to Ellis Island, passing by the Statue of Liberty on their way to a new life in America.