The Vietnamese Art Scene

Nguyen Thanh Binh - Mother and Child


While researching some possible destinations in Vietnam, Ive come across something Ive never really written about before: art.

The word Vietnam has always been frequently associated with war, and times of hardship, but has anyone ever seen any of the works by Nguyen Thanh Binh? Or photographs from Phan Tu Trang?

According to Nguyen Qui Duc, art curator and author, It wouldnt be an exaggeration to say that art is big business in Vietnam. But a lot of money is changing hands in exchange for modern canvases, woodblock prints, or paintings on silk and the Vietnamese bark paper, giay. Gallery owners talk of selling individual works for tens of thousands of dollars, and some are financing frequent trips to the United States, Europe, and Asian cities such as Hong Kong, Singapore, and Tokyo. Meanwhile, artists in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Hoi An are boasting about the houses theyre able to build for themselves as a result of their commercial success.

And for good reason, too the combination of styles such as Chinese realism and just plain absurdist vision has critics all around the world talking the increase in tourism of Vietnam has greatly contributed to the interest in the Vietnamese art scene, and will probably even skyrocket further, given the proper chance to compete with big names.

Collectors and critics alike are won over by the style, expressiveness and creativity that Vietnamese artists bring to the table, even hosting projects such as an artist exchange, where several artists are sent over to the US to for visits and residencies.

There are even several art shops that sell reproductions, various recreated works by Dali and Van Gogh are on display, as Vietnamese artists are hard at work in small confined spaces, expertly recreating works by famous Vietnamese artists before them.

Not only does this give the art scene there some exposure, but it also necessitates for a growing interest in the works of previously undiscovered gems into the limelight.

Several big publishers in the US have even published stories about the resurgence of the art scene, therefore creating bigger and bigger interest in them.

Many people are thinking that not much has changed over the last decade, but thats only because the artists are now selling directly to collectors. Several of probably their best works are probably never going to be seen by the general populace, and its not because they lack interest, its quite the opposite.

As Im told, techniques of the famous Vietnamese artists are passed down from generation to generation in art classes, in various universities dedicated to preserving the medium, such as the University of Fine Arts in Hanoi.

While I may never know how to properly critique art (because in my mind, art is a subjective experience) I know what I like when I see it. Therefore, in my visit to Vietnam, Im pretty sure Im going to take a trip down the artsy-fartsy lane, maybe check out several galleries and shops along the way, to see if I can take a chunk of that culture home with me.

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