Local galleries sound out chances abroad

VietNamNet Bridge – More local art galleries are these days cannoning their attention to international markets, especially via international art fairs, expecting to boost sales to foreign art collectors at a time when the appetite at home is no longer strong.

Visitors inspect paintings at Craig Thomas Gallery

In fact, local galleries have for many years introduced local artworks abroad but the practice is ever more boisterous these days. Annually, there are dozens of international art fairs like Affordable Art Fair in Hong Kong in March, Art Expo Malaysia in September, Art Apart Fair Singapore in July, or Art Basel in Hong Kong in May.

Local market: gilded age is over

The golden time of Indochina Fine Arts of the last century with renowned names “Sang, Nghiem, Lien, Phai” (Nguyen Sang – Nguyen Tu Nghiem – Duong Bich Lien and Bui Xuan Phai) has gone for long. Even the effulgent age of the early 1990s, when the local market got busy as a lot of international collectors and traders came to buy a lot of artworks, had also been over.

People say ‘Easy come, easy go’ and it was right for the local arts scene when the market was corrupted with pirated and faked pieces. Right after the brilliant period of the 1990s came the gloomy period that has lasted for over a decade when foreign collectors got cautious and were afraid of Vietnamese pirated and faked paintings.

In the last decade, many contemporary art galleries, museums, organizations as well as schools have made great efforts to recover the pride by organizing many exhibitions, talk shows, competitions as well as art projects but it seems to be a long and tough road to walk. Moreover, when the media and education programs fail to stir up public appreciation and love for true values of art, most Vietnamese people prefer expensive smart phones or motorbikes to spending thousands of dollars on an artwork.

Chances abroad

That is not strange many local galleries go abroad to look for buyers.

“While many European galleries rush to art fairs in the Asian market to offer their creative products, so there is no reason for us to hesitate. Moreover, the opportunity is bigger when hundreds of thousands of visitors come to international art fairs featuring works by artists from over the world,” said Vu Trong Anh, founder of Arthouse Gallery, who has experience in taking local artworks to Hongkong, Singapore and Malaysia for the past couple of years. He added that Vietnamese fine art is the second to none in the region, so these are chances to promote Vietnamese contemporary arts.

Apart from seasoned galleries such as Galerie Quynh in HCMC or Mai’s Gallery that have been joining international art fairs for some years, since early this year, there have been many new faces such as Craig Thomas Gallery in HCMC, Cuc Gallery and Hanoi Studio in Hanoi or some online galleries like Orient Painting Gallery.

Names of artists that Arthouse Gallery has introduced to regional art fairs include La Ba Quan, Pham Kien, Nguyen Cuong, Bui Thanh Tam, Luong Luu Bien and Nguyen Dinh Hien, and Lieu Nguyen Huong Duong.

We cannot take risk to choose young names but renowned artists in the national art scene,” said Anh.

Meanwhile, this year marks the first time that Craig Thomas joins Hong Kong Affordable Art 2014. Craig Thomas, director of the gallery, said that “We would like to expand our market to include both Singapore and Hong Kong where we already have a number of collectors and where there is already quite substantial interest in Vietnamese arts. Of course it is nice for the artists to show their works abroad although most of the artists that we took along with us have exhibited multiple times abroad already.”

Not gaining the great sales for the first trip, Thomas pins high hopes on next ones, saying that “The crowds were quite large, however, and we distributed a large amount of promotional materials and after the fair a number of buyers from Hong Kong have contacted us.”

He brought to Hong Kong artworks by Pham Huy Thong, Bui Thanh Tam, Nguyen The Hung, Bui Tien Tuan, Tran Quoc Tuan and Tran Quoc Tuan.

As a businesswoman in jewelries for a long time, Tran Thi Ngoc Hue, founder of Orient Painting, said, “I have lived in Singapore for a long time and you know what, Singapore people can pay thousands of dollars to buy a painting like a Vietnamese buy a high-tech device, so I think I cannot miss this market to make big profit.”

Unlike traditional galleries who often hold arts events, she just focuses on choosing works to bring to art fairs. “I will wait for the time local market gets brighter,” she said.

However, the cost of each trip is not cheap at all, with each booth priced from around US$7,000 to US$20,000 together with air tickets, hotel, shipping fee and personal expenses. “Sometimes, I came home empty-handed, but sometimes we made big profits or at least found new collectors and partners,” said Anh of Arthouse Gallery.

Currently, galleries are rolling their sleeves to choose paintings for Art Expo Malaysia in September and Affordable Art Fair in Singapore in November.


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