The Changing Face of Hanoi: Vietnamese Art Show in Hong Kong

Suzanne Lecht

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Hanoi…an enchanting city of romance steeped in sadness and tradition. Ancient architecture, achingly beautiful, graces paths winding through the myriad of treasures spilling out onto the streets of the old quarters. Cyclos dreamily encircle Hoan Kiem Lake, their passengers silently gazing at the vibrant, happening place…businessmen, tourists, adventure seekers, art collectors, all flocking in with the hopes of capturing a little of the magic dust.

Earlier this year, I mounted a show called ‘The Changing Face of Hanoi‘ held at the Rotunda, One Exchange Square in Hong Kong. It portrayed the dynamic forces unleashed in this city today with the works of Hanoi’s most promising artists.

Veteran artist and well-known art critic, Nguyen Quan was reacquainted with many of his old friends from his prior exhibition at the Plum Blossom Gallery in 1992. All were happy to see the current path of this unique, solitary man. Remnants of his former style, the controlled acuteness and sharpness of line combined with his sensuous shapes seem to go deeper and darker as this intriguing artist examines the autumn years of his life, as in his painting ‘The Dead‘. Perhaps it is an expression of pondering his own mortality and curiosity for what lies beyond. Intense and analytical as the man himself, yet full of passion for love and for life. Ever mindful and deeply attached to his family and loved ones, ‘Birthday’ is a celebration offering to all of the women in his life, while ‘Vietnamese Beauty‘ pays homage to the exquisite loveliness of the women of his motherland.

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Thanh Chung, somber and introspective in his sensitive self-absorption, delighted his devoted admirers with his mocking self-portraits and his depiction of Vietnamese family life. All of his works were executed in lacquer, an ancient traditional technique of painting indigenous to Vietnam, yet transformed by modern application and contemporary styling. The bold presence of his ‘Celebration of the Year of the Buffalo‘ created a sensation of interest for the sheer scale of the work, 62 inches by 99 inches, 132 pounds, coupled with deft technique and brilliant color.

The taciturn, solitary member of Hanoi’s renowned ‘Gang of Five‘, Pham Quang Vinh, excelled in his powerful symphonic triptych, ‘The Musician,’ brilliantly executed in lacquer, each player reflecting, resonating a note, a chord, at once boldly filling the room with luxuriant sound and yet deeply soulful and melancholic. A gentle and kind, devout Buddhist, yet courageous and incisive, his intensely somber self-portrait perhaps best portrays the multifaceted character of this complex artist.

Le Quang Ha, a bright and promising rising star, with his confident dramatic figures and his bright vivid colors, breaks free from all constraints, dramatically punctuates the canvas with deep emotion, sadness and pain deeply contained, the tenderness of silent joy quietly placed admist profound sorrow. ‘The Day of Return‘, a testimony to the grief experienced by a nation torn apart by centuries of war, is in great contrast to ‘The Song of Bird‘, a testimony to the prevailing indomitable Vietnamese spirit to live. ‘Cyclo,’ the endearing, romantic symbol of Vietnam captures the contradictory character of the cyclo drivers, at times sages of great wisdom, at other times expressions of mundane everyday life.

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Pham Minh Tuan received rave reviews for his first international exhibition. A sensitive newcomer, he perhaps epitomizes in his works the contradictions that abound in the life of his country today. In his lacquer painting ‘Calendar’ he uses the calendar motif symbolized by three lacquer heads to express the different seasons and directions of one’s life. ‘Countryside’ and ‘Living Quarter‘ are realistic portrayals of the wide river that separates the modern urban existence from the bucolic traditional life of the Vietnamese peasant.

The broad variance of styles and mediums of these five painters presented here are just a small sampling of the singular artists in Hanoi today. Yet in all of the works of art, the essence, the deep soul of the magical country exudes the quintessential nature of this enigmatic culture with quiet strength. Passionate and yet deeply controlled, reflective and yet intensely vibrant.

Published on 12/1/97

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