Oscar Wilde once said: “A work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament.” Rarely has this been truer than in the case of Trong G. Nguyen, a multi-disciplinary artist whose work, which includes painting, sculpture, film, photography and performance art, defies easy classification.
Take, for instance, his ironic cake sculptures, which celebrate things that are just, well…wrong (Happy Birthday War, for instance, rendered in the red and yellow colors of the Vietnamese flag to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Vietnam War). Or his 2009 piece, Colección Whitney, a life-size wooden stockade that references both the medieval torture device and the current stocks-and-bonds financial crisis. Or “Artists Commercials,” a series of videos in which artists promote themselves, infomercial-style. Or All You Need is Love, a live matchmaking game involving real bachelors and bachelorettes that takes place simultaneously in two spaces—a restaurant and a gallery connected by a live video feed—with everyone partaking in the same meal and trying to find Ms. or Mr. Right.
“All You Need is Love explores the dating mores of the city that it takes place in while structured on Romeo and Juliet meets Dan Brown and Marcel Duchamp, with a little Stephen Merritt thrown in for good measure,” Nguyen told AHAlife. “Using every medium conceivable, the intent of All You Need Is Love is to mis-communicate as much as possible while attempting to uncross the stars and still make a love connection between two people.”
Nguyen, who was born in Saigon and grew up in Orlando, Florida, received an MFA in painting from the University of South Florida, but even as a student he refused to conform, eschewing the expected medium for his senior thesis show and producing instead an interactive, sculptural installation. Today, the Brooklyn-based artist and Artslant editor is probably best known for his turn on Bravo’s reality show, Work of Art: The Next Great Artist, where he was eliminated in the second episode after presenting a series of white TV monitors emblazoned with the words “I HATE REALITY TV!” and “It’s so fake” to express his ambivalence about doing the show. Needless to say, the judges were not amused. Hey, the truth hurts, people.
More subtle, but no less thought-provoking, are the artist’s 2010 “Metaphysical GPS” iPhone app, which features 250 individual license plates stating “U R Here,” unless you happen to find yourself at one specific GPS coordinate somewhere in the world, chosen by the artist and never to be revealed, and then the word “there” appears, followed by a special message of enlightenment. And then there’s the ongoing Library series, in which Nguyen reinterprets the library by writing the entire text or chapters of books (including Charles Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities and and Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper), word by word on individual grains of rice that are then encased in clear, date-stamped Mylar pouches from the New York Public Library.
“I like to make people look hard and think—a lot. I also like to make things that have the appearance of convention but are in fact far from it. Sort of similar to how I look Asian, but I’m not really at all,” explained Nguyen of his raison d'être, with tongue planted firmly in cheek.
The artist is currently planning a special installation in the AHAlife loft, where he promises “some element of audience interaction.” Whatever he does, it’s sure to be provocative, inspiring and unique.
Works, from top: Adieu grandes illusions, 2010, The Once and Future..., 2008; Los tres museos, 2010; Library, 2007.