Subtle kinetic art by Tam Van Tran

[From The Gallery Insider Series]

Below is an installation view of Tam Van Tran's exhibition, titled "Leaves of Ore," which took place at the Ameringer | McEnery | Yohe Gallery in New York City from February 14 - March 16, 2013. Scroll down for more ...

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As you can see from this picture, the "paintings" appear to have a very dense surface, which is somewhat misleading, in several ways. First, we put quotes around the word "paintings," because even though they hang on the wall like paintings, they're not paintings at all. Rather, they are elaborate collages, using elements like palm leaves, cardboard, and ultra-thin sheets of copper. Stuck flat onto the canvas in some places and crumpled and torn up in others, the copper sheets are so thin that they flutter and move with even the slightest presence of air.

Installation view of Tam Van Tran exhibition titled Leaves of Ore

The sense of movement coming from the work causes several reactions: wonder, awe, a sense of fragility ... being aware of the all-over movement from the whole canvas almost makes one feel like one is standing in front of a magical copper tree on a breezy day. Scroll down to see our short video capturing the motion of the copper sheets.

The artist explains that he has been strongly influenced by landscapes: the landscapes of his Vietnamese childhood, where he lived near the ocean and the Da Nang military airbase, and the landscapes of his current home of Los Angeles and the California coast. The gallery's press release notes that Tran, who was born in 1966 and didn't immigrate to the United States until near the end of the Vietnam War, recalls childhood experiences that included "bombs floating onto shore, villagers fishing with grenades, and intermittent evacuations." One of the pieces in the show was titled "Palm Shrapnel," which suggests violence and destruction. It's somewhat ironic that these pieces that seem so light and airy are in fact reflections on a violent and dangerous childhood landscape. One art critic suggested that "the constant swish of the leaves becomes more sinister — as if it were the only sign of movement on a battlefield."

Installation views showing two works by Tam Van Tran in Leaves of Ore


  • Do you find these works of art to feel peaceful, or violent?
  • Do you think that the viewer should need to know the artist's biographical information in order to understand the meaning of the work?
  • The artist is acutely aware of himself as a Vietnamese-American absorbing both Eastern and Western cultural influences. What sort of influences do you detect in these pieces?
  • "Kinetic art" is art from any medium that contains movement perceivable by the viewer or depending upon motion for its effect. What do you think the movement of the copper sheets lends to the overall effect of the pieces?
  • Might there be cultural significance in his choice of copper as a material? It has been noted that copper casting is one of the most famous and enduring traditional art forms of Vietnam.
  • Taking the information that the artist grew up near the ocean, would you assume the blue aspect of the piece above left is a literal reference to water? The fact that the blue side is at a 90 degree angle (and installed in a corner) rather than side-by-side and flat must mean that the artist wanted the effect of the reflection to play a part in the viewing of the piece. How might this effect be interpreted?
  • The gallery press release states: "In the tradition of artists such as Kurt Schwitters and Robert Rauschenberg, Tran actively considers, explores, and expands painting concepts." Can you think of any other artists who might fall into this category of expanding the concept what is a painting?

We'll finish this segment with a large-view image of one of Tam Van Tran's art works so that you can get a better view of the details.

mixed media art work by Tam Van Tran

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