Contemporary Artists – Efforts to Build and Affirm a Novel Spirit for the New Artistic Tradition

By Nguyen Xuan Tiep

Dang Thi Khue Mankind and Bowls, Oil 83cm x 66.8cm

Dang Thi Khue Mankind and Bowls, Oil 83cm x 66.8cm

Vietnamese plastic arts enjoy a time-honored tradition. Their most prominent achievements are the famous wooden statues and engravings in communal houses, pagodas, royal tombs, shrines and temples of Northern Vietnam dating back over millennia. There were also the diverse, multi-faceted arts including the well-known, brightly colored Lang Ho and Hang Trong folk paintings (Ha Bac, Hanoi); the Champa architecture which spread from Quang Tri to Binh Dinh Province and whose ideology, philosophy and religious belief were imbued with reproductive language; as well as a system of funeral houses from Tay Nguyen (Central Highlands) with primitive Aboriginal, mystical and hallucinatory artistic language. These cultural and plastic arts values represent the spiritual foundation and nutrient source that has fostered the creativity of generations of Vietnamese painters.

Dinh Quan Dancing, lacquer 120cm x 120cm

Dinh Quan Dancing, lacquer 120cm x 120cm

The founding of the Ecoles des Beaux-arts de l’Indochine (French Indochina’s School of Fine Arts) in 1925 was a landmark in the history of Vietnamese Fine Arts. This institution of higher learning trained a generation of very talented artists. Prominent artists, including Nguyen Gia Tri, Nguyen Phan Chanh, To Ngoc Van, Bui Xuan Phai, Nguyen Sang, Nguyen Tu Nghiem, Vu Cao Dam, Nguyen Sy Ngoc, Duong Bich Lien and Tran Van Can, left the stamp of their genius from which a distinctive identity of Vietnamese plastic arts can be asserted. Over thousands of years of foreign rule, Vietnam suffered numerous periods of war. In light of this, it is only natural that it has been influenced significantly by the great civilizations of China, India and France. Nevertheless, a very positive aspect of this process has been the way in which those influences were assimilated selectively into Vietnamese culture. Vietnamese people integrated their essences to enrich the inherent, original character of their own plastic arts.

Nguyen Xuan Tiep Fairy No.5, Acrylic 100cm x 100cm

Nguyen Xuan Tiep Fairy No.5, Acrylic 100cm x 100cm

With the renovation policy initiated by the Party and government in 1986, Vietnamese Fine Arts took a major turning point, which has fired artistic creativity with renewed enthusiasm. Following the explosive expansion of the early 1990s, within two or three years, Vietnam became a very attractive center of arts in Asia. This situation was truly paradoxical. The country had just abandoned the system of subsidization which had resulted in a backwards economy and a great many social problems were still waiting to be solved, and yet the diversification of new, vigorous artistic concepts and tendencies radically changed the face of Vietnamese Fine Arts. In this period, when the frenzied atmosphere of free artistic creativity was heaving like a whirlwind both within individual artists and among society as a whole. Once this gestation and decade-long inhibitions had been emancipated, a group of artists with powerful creativity instantly opened a spiritual current for the new art, thus creating a momentum for the positive advance of Vietnam Fine Arts. This also led to the trend of self-introduction and integration with regional and international art.

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