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Diane Severin Nguyen: IF REVOLUTION IS A SICKNESS at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston

October 28, 2022–February 26, 2023

Public opening: October 27, 7–9pm

In conversation: October 29, 2–3pm, artist Diane Severin Nguyen and curator Rebecca Matalon

Panel discussion: Differences and Diaspora: January 26, 6:30–8pm, wth Diane Severin Nguyen, Matt Manalo, Preetika Rajgariah, and Anh Hà Bùi

The first solo museum exhibition for New York and Los Angeles-based artist Diane Severin Nguyen (b. 1990) will be held at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (CAMH). It will include a recent video installation, photographs, a site-specific architectural intervention, and the artist’s first public art commission, a billboard that will be erected in Houston’s Midtown neighborhood in January 2023.

If Revolution Is a Sickness, the exhibition’s centerpiece video, serves as its focal point. The movie is partially based on the life of a Vietnamese orphan who is adopted by a dancing group with South Korean pop influences and is set in Warsaw, Poland. The artist uses K-pop, which is hugely popular in a Polish youth subculture, as a tool to establish a relationship between Eastern Europe and Asia with roots in Cold War allegiances. Nguyen’s video explores the process of finding shared symbols and naming oneself from within another’s regime. It is rooted in the visual and political context of the Vietnamese community in Poland, which is made up of both Northerners who immigrated before the fall of the Iron Curtain and Southerners who came in the protracted aftermath of the Vietnam War. The work is a melodic investigation into the power of collectivity versus the peril of the clique, one that identifies youth culture as a critical site of revolutionary power. It includes voiceovers (in Polish, Vietnamese, and English), culled from writing on revolutionary practice by the likes of Hannah Arendt, Ulrike Meinhof, and Mao Zedong among others. If Revolution Is a Sickness explores the awkward borderland between revolutionary rhetoric and its commoditization, protest and propaganda.

The exhibition also showcases a number of Nguyen’s meticulously staged, up-close images that show assemblages of both organic and man-made objects. The liminal areas where an image is almost, but not quite, recognizable as representing a certain entity are what the artist refers to as “moments of becoming or unbecoming.” This tactic stems from Nguyen’s fascination with the mechanisms by which we distinguish objects—and ourselves—from the environment.

Additionally, the CAMH presentation will feature an architectural intervention created on-site during the exhibition as a direct reaction to the gallery space. It will also include Nguyen’s first work of public art off-site, which will take the form of a billboard in Houston’s Midtown district. January 2–29, 2023, will see the billboard up. Houston, which has the largest population of Vietnamese and Vietnamese Americans in the United States outside of California, is a significant location in the post-Vietnam War diaspora, much like Poland. Understanding the elasticity of identity development in connection to visual culture is essential to both photographic and moving image work.

Nguyen’s solo exhibition continues CAMH’s longstanding commitment to supporting the work of artist’s early in their careers, as well as the institution’s mission to engage Houston communities beyond the Museum.

Diane Severin Nguyen: IF REVOLUTION IS A SICKNESS is co-organized by Myriam Ben Salah, Executive Director and Chief Curator, the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, and Sohrab Mohebbi, Director, SculptureCenter. Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (CAMH)’s presentation is organized by Rebecca Matalon, Curator.

Contemporary Arts Museum Houston
5216 Montrose Boulevard
Houston, TX 77006
United States
Hours: Wednesday–Sunday 12–6pm,
Thursday 12–9pm

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