MoCA of the Month

Sàn Art (“sàn” meaning “platform”) is an independent, artist‐initiated contemporary art space and reading room. Though small in scale, it is currently the country’s most active non‐profit arts organization based in Ho Chi Minh City and was founded in 2007 by four Vietnamese visual artists. Sàn Art is a production house, showcase venue and meeting place. As introduction to the project follows a long statement by Sàn Art’s initiators and directors.

Sàn Art, Collection Show, November 2009

Why?

“In Vietnam, there is no government support for contemporary art of the style and concepts relating to current international ideas of art history. The tourist commercial market dictates much of the artistic presence you find in the galleries in the city centre of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. The majority of museums across the country are ailing in disrepair, possessing collections questionable in provenance and catering largely towards Vietnamese historical and ‘modernist’ art. Universities are also sadly still ill equipped (restricted due to government policy and gross lack of funds) with next to no visual resources post-1975 concerning art and culture. Here, artists must work doubly hard in their artistic endeavors as they not only face economic and educational hurdles, but also social dilemmas in a society that increasingly values the dollar in isolation of how culture can contribute to economic innovation. Determined to find their own voice in a country where all cultural events fall under the jurisdiction of the Cultural Ministry, artists continue to struggle to gain a wide social relevancy in their experimentation with their ideas.

Sàn Art at L’Usine, Safe by Bui Cong Khanh, May 2010
The founders of Sàn Art – Dinh Q Le, Tuan Andrew Nguyen, Phu Nam Thuc Ha and Tiffany Chung – are all considered Viet Kieu ‘overseas Vietnamese’ artists. This term also has an alternate derogatory meaning as a ‘Vietnamese sojourner’, implying a person who has betrayed their ‘Mother Land’. In 1975, during the closing days of the Vietnam War, many people in the South fled Vietnam and took to the sea in search of freedom. This community is often historically termed ‘boat refugees’. There were many others who fled to safe havens aided by friends and family living abroad. The founders of Sàn Art are a part of this complex history. Educated abroad, aware of the benefits of comparative learning and being encouraged to think critically about the meaning of their art, they returned to Vietnam feeling a duty to share their knowledge and experience. Sàn Art was established in recognition of the integral role that art spaces (galleries, museums, artist‐run initiatives) play in nurturing critical dialogue within artistic communities. Its programs address the great lack of access to resources and expertise in areas of art history, theory, exhibition making, curatorial practice, multi‐discipline ideas of art making and criticism.

Collective exhibition Tam Ta Safe, September 2010Sàn Art’s mission is to empower established and emerging artists in Vietnam and the broader South East Asian region, by nurturing talent, fostering innovation and providing a forum for collaboration among local and international creative communities. Offering space and opportunity for artistic engagement by way of exhibition and education programs, Sàn Art operates as a hub that connects and facilitates discussion and projects between local and visiting artists, curators, writers, researchers, arts workers and many more. Exhibitions showcase talent from home and abroad, encouraging foreign guests to spend additional time with our audiences via talks, workshops, lectures and, where of interest, the collaborative creation of new work. The target audience of our programs is the thriving Vietnamese cultural community, while seeking equal opportunity to showcase their talent abroad”.

About

As the founders of Sàn Art are involved in international art projects, Sàn Art can benefit from an extensive international network. However in order to achieve a higher professional profile in terms of arts management and curatorial practice Zoe Butt has been appointed as Co‐Director and Curator in late 2009. “As a writer and curator, museum‐trained and an art history graduate, with experience in both commercial and non‐profit international sectors, she brings a unique set of skills to Vietnam where arts management is yet to be found in its universities”.

Sàn Art, collective exhibition Tam Ta by artists from Hanoi, September 2010Sàn Art’s initial location was in the centre of Ho Chi Minh City on Ly Tu Trong Street. In june 2009 Sàn Art relocated to a neighboring District Binh Thanh on Me Linh Street. Here it occupies the ground floor of a Vietnamese‐style villa, replete with courtyard. The above 2 floors are shared with The Propeller Group (artist collective/film and media production house), as office and production space http://www.propeller‐group.com. Its founders, Tuan Andrew Nguyen and Phu Nam Thuc Ha, who are also two of the founders of Sàn Ar, work in the field of cinematography, film and sound editing. Their usage of up-to-date technologies supplies Sàn Art with a close insight into the latest innovations in new media practice.

Funding

Sàn Art is supported by private donors, foreign grants and the sale of art works by artists the institution collaborates with. In particular Sàn Art recieves fundings by the “Vietnam Foundation for the Arts” (VNFA), an organization based between Los Angeles and Ho Chi Minh City. “Founded also by Dinh Q Le, the VNFA aims to provide Vietnamese artists with the opportunity to experience international contemporary art first‐hand while at the same time introducing the richness and diversity of Vietnamese art and culture abroad. This organization supports lectures, seminars, exhibitions and workshops”.

Programs

Sàn Art is currently fund raising to create residency opportunities abroad for Vietnamese artists, while also aiming to establish a national contemporary art award. These prize‐winning artists would be given the chance to exhibit their work at Sàn Art.

Sàn Art, collective exhibition Tam Ta by artists from Hanoi, September 2010Since its inception in 2007, Sàn Art has organized 30 exhibitions locally and abroad, working with over 100 local and foreign artists. Overseas exhibitions and lecture highlights include Time Ligaments, co‐curated by Dinh Q Le and Zoe Butt at the 10 Chancery Lane Gallery, Hong Kong (May 2009); participation in No Soul for Sale 2 at the TATE Modern, London (May 2010); Curatorial Perspective with Zoe Butt, at the Independent Curators International, New York (June 2010) and workshops on Vietnamese art with emerging curators in Seoul, Korea at Samuso (October 2010).

Local exhibition highlights include Future, the opening exhibition of Sàn Art (October 2007); TransPOP: Korea Vietnam Remix, co-curated by Viet Le and Yoon Soon Min (August 2008); Syntax and Diction co‐curated with Christopher Myers (January 2010); Porcelain, a collaboration between The Propeller Group and Danish collective Superflex (August 2010) and My Diary of that Battle of 10,000 Ships – Solo exhibition of Tammy Nguyen, co‐hosted by L’usine (October 2010).

Sàn Art, reading by writer and poet Le Thi Diem Thuy, May 2010Educational collaborations include lecture series with the Ho Chi Minh Fine Arts University and Galerie Quynh; while also asking local and visiting expertise to share their knowledge, research and experience, such as Tran Luong (artist, curator, Hanoi); Eungie Joo (Curator, New Museum, New York); poetry readings by Le Thi Diem Thuy (award winning author, poet); Dr Charles Merewether (art historian, writer, curator) and Claire Hsu (Founder and Head of Asia Art Archive, Hong Kong).

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