Bad art drives out good in Hoi An Town

Ancient Hoi An has been a favourite destination of tourists and art collectors. But lately the bloom is off the art market.

Ancient Hoi An has been a favourite destination of tourists and art collectors, attracted by its handsomely preserved buildings and bustling art scene. But lately the bloom is off the art market.

Many painters have moved to Hoi An Town to live, draw and open their galleries. Walking along the old streets of this acclaimed ‘world heritage site,’ one can see a hundred galleries selling both good and bad art.  Besides art exhibitions, the city also offers many art services like making portraits and copying masterworks.

 Lately the number of foreign visitors to Hoi An has fallen, a consequence of the global economic slowdown, and Hoi An’s art market has experienced a tough period.  It’s not just the slow economy that’s depressed the art, however. In a word, bad quality work is driving out the good.

 Hoi An, with its unique architecture, culture and history, had welcomed many famous artists, such as Bui Xuan Phai, Luu Cong Nhan, Tran Luu Hau, Vu Gian Huong, Dinh Cuong, Buu Thi and Thanh Chuong. The late painter Luu Cong Nhan said “Every place in Hoi An is worth a painting.” In the eyes of Luu Cong Nhan, the entire town is a painting.

 When Hoi An became a fertile land for art activities and services, not only professional painters but amateurs also flocked to Hoi An to open galleries. No place in Vietnam could compare with this quaint old town in the number of its galleries.  Even the smallest street had galleries selling paintings of all kinds and at all prices.

Thus Hoi An became the busiest market for paintings in central Vietnam, with good points and evident faults.  Some painters withdrew from this market, like Hoang Dang Nhuan, Phan Ngoc Minh, Hoang Dang and Bui Cong Khanh. Others came to open new galleries, such as Tu Duy with La Gai gallery, Vinh Phong with Ngoi Nau and Lang.

 The art life in Hoi An has clearly declined in recent days.  The number of galleries has halved.  Painter Huynh Thi Nhung, who owns a gallery in Hoi An, said that not only has the number of foreign visitors to Hoi An fallen but also they are no longer keen on paintings.

Many galleries in Hoi An these are stocked with products that try to please foreign tourists. Most of them are lacquer paintings but not ones not produced by traditional technique.  Instead of using lacquer made and applied by traditional methods, producers used chemical paints so paintings will get dry quickly. This “technology” has eroded customers’ belief.

Bryan, an Irish painting collector, has quit going to Hoi An. Artist Doan Huy Giao said that the situation would have not become so gloomy if amateurs did not dominate the painting market in Hoi An.

Painter Phan Ngoc Minh, who has brought the beauty of Hoi An and My Son Sanctuary to the world through his paintings, said that paintings of Hoi An are now mass-produced as souvenirs.

 Hoi An is a city celebrated for its ancient culture, said Minh, so artworks distributed in the city ought to be highly artistic. He suggested that the local government should be more strict in liencing galleries. Souvenir shops ought to be differentiated clearly from galleries.

 The artist has asked the local government to set up an art council to appraise the quality of artworks at galleries, so that Hoi An can once again be a trustworthy address for tourists and art collectors. 


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