An-My Lê was born in 1960 in Saigon. She currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York...
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An-My Lê
An-My Lê
Portrait of An-My Lê. John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
Marian Goodman Gallery is pleased to continue our artist-centric newsletter IN FOCUS, where we delve deeply into one artist on the MGG roster at a time. Aiming to show a fuller picture of the breadth of our artists' careers, we will feature our favorite stories, podcasts, interviews, artists’ writings and videos from the archive, as well as new and upcoming projects.

An-My Lê (b.1960, Saigon, Vietnam) currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Raised in the epicenter of the American war in Vietnam, Lê experienced the turmoil of war at an early age. In 1975, Lê fled Vietnam with her family, eventually settling in the United States as a political refugee. As a refugee, Lê often grappled with notions of identity and authenticity. For generations, Vietnam had been westernized by France, then by the United States. As Lê recently put it, “How do you argue for authenticity in an identity that grew out of colonized cultures?” Lê found the answer in landscape photography. In 1994, after receiving her MFA from the Yale University School of Art, Lê visited Vietnam for the first time since her exile. There, she used a large-format film camera to create her photographic series, Viêt Nam (1994–1998). Through this series of black-and-white photographs, often shot from an elevated perspective, Lê reconciled her childhood memories with the country’s contemporary realities. The panoramic views enabled her to examine the terrain and to confront its layers of history. “My understanding of landscape changed when I went to Vietnam,” An-My Lê said. “Instead of seeking the real I began making photographs that use the real to ground the imaginary.”

Lê has continued to address the environmental and cultural impacts of war in her photographs by adopting a distinctive parallel approach: one that observes the American military from both the inside, as an American, and the outside, as a Vietnamese refugee. Her clear-eyed perception and distanced perspective as both artist and outsider challenge the status of photographic ‘objectivity,’ which is capable of blurring the boundaries between the actual and its representation. At the same time, Lê’s photographs have embraced performance as a means to explore conflict and war (e.g., Small Wars, 1999–2002), the military-industrial complex (e.g., 29 Palms, 2003–2004), and national identity (e.g., Silent General, 2015–present). It is no surprise, then, Lê’s work has made her one of the most reliable witnesses to the complexities of American life.

Current exhibitions by Lê include the traveling career survey, On Contested Terrain, on view at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas, through 8 August 2021, and đô-mi-nô, on view at Marian Goodman Gallery in New York through 20 August 2021.

Awards and grants include the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (2021); the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award (2010); the National Science Foundation, Antarctic Artists and Writers Program Award (2007); the John Gutmann Photography Fellowship (2004); and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowship (1997).

Lê is also the Charles Franklin Kellogg and Grace E. Ramsey Kellogg Professor in the Arts at Bard College, New York, where she has taught since 1999.

Today, follow along as we explore the unique imagery of Lê’s photographic terrain…
An-My Lê, Thomas, 2021, 3 vintage lighters, 6 ½ × 12 ¾ × 1 ½ in.
To Lê on her new collection of jumbo Zippo-style lighters, engraved in her studio, as featured in đô-mi-nô, the solo exhibition of her work, at Marian Goodman Gallery New York. Her collection is inspired by the original Zippo lighters that were first brought by American soldiers during the Vietnam War. The lighters became symbols of protest and emblems of individuality during the conflict. Hand-etched with personal mantras, the lighters became both ‘amulets and talismans of protection’ as well as individual symbols of protest and violence.

To Lê in conversation with Dawoud Bay for the Carnegie Museum of Art. Listen to them discuss their artistic beginnings, their shared trajectories, and the significance of the contemporary landscape to their current photographic practices.

To Lê in "The Artist Project," an online series by The Metropolitan Museum of Art in which artists respond to the works in its encyclopedic collection. For this series, Lê chose Cuisine (ca. 1910), a photograph by Eugène Atget of his kitchen. Hear Lê talk about her selection and why it resonates with her on multiple levels.
An-My Lê, Untitled, Ba Vi, Viêt Nam, 1998, Silver gelatin print, Image: 16 × 23 in., Frame: 21 ⅛ × 27 ¾ in.
A 2021 conversation between Lê and writer Viet Thanh Nguyen for The New York Review of Books. They discuss Lê’s photographic series, 29 Palms (2003–2004), Events Ashore (2005–2014), and Silent General (2015–present), on the occasion of her career survey at the Carnegie Museum of Art. While revisiting these projects, Lê draws parallels between her photographs capturing the American war effort and her experience as a Vietnamese American and refugee, prompting the reader to think about conflicting notions of authenticity and identity.

A 2020 op-ed piece written by Lê herself for The New York Times. Through an array of images from her four-year road trip across the United States, Lê documents power in the most unexpected places, reminding us that “our American landscape and the communities within it transcend this cultural and political moment.”
An-My Lê, Fragment VIII: Cars along the Rio Grande, US-Mexico Border, Ojinaga, Mexico, from Silent General, 2019, Pigment print, 40 × 56 ½ in.
A 2020 review of An-My Lê: On Contested Terrain at the Carnegie Museum of Art, written by Nancy Princenthal for The New York Times. For Princenthal, Lê’s photographic terrain blurs the boundaries between performance and documentation, as well as between photojournalism and fiction. One poignant example is Small Wars (1999–2002), where Lê photographs Vietnam War re-enactors in Virginia and North Carolina. By photographing these dramatizations of war, Lê creates a unique kind of war imagery—one that captures its psychological complexities, Princenthal writes of this “revelatory” survey.

A 2020 conversation between Lê and Kostas Prapoglou for XIBT Contemporary Art Magazine, where they talk about Silent General, the first exhibition of Lê’s work in London, at Marian Goodman Gallery London. “I wanted to take on a subject that is larger than me in every way, a subject conceptually and formally larger than my experiences,” said Lê.
An-My Lê, Security and Stabilization Operations, Iraqi Police, from 29 Palms, 2003-2004, Silver gelatin print, 26 ½ × 38 in.
An-My Lê: On Contested Terrain, 2020–21, Carnegie Museum of Art
A 2021 digital tour of An-My Lê: On Contested Terrain at the Carnegie Museum of Art. “It’s about me asking questions, about having answers I wanted to know,” she says. “It’s about trying to resolve chaos and appease a kind of anxiety I have about the world, and I think there is a connectedness to them.”

A 2020 exhibition walkthrough of Silent General at Marian Goodman Gallery London. Featuring a major presentation of her ongoing project Silent General (2015–present), together with selected works from 29 Palms (2003–2004), this exhibition offered a reflection on how reality and myth are portrayed and contested. “There are many current events that get my blood broiling, but I am always looking to approach it from another perspective.”
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