An interesting album of photographs taken in French Indochina in the 1880s is currently for sale. It contains 118 albumen prints of views of people, landscapes and temples. It may well have been compiled by a French colonial officer as it is unlikely a local would have had photographic equipment and the pictures have clearly been posed for someone in authority. The most interesting ones are of people: sick beggars, musicians, opium smokers, rich Chinese women and members of the local upper classes. Two images show decapitation scenes and there is a large group portrait of French soldiers and native auxiliary troops (La Garde indigene).
The album is being sold by the auction house Galerie Bassenge in a timed auction ending on December 3 2014. The estimate is Euros 1,500-1,800. You can get further details on www.invaluable.com.
There have been several shows of Vietnamese contemporary art on in London to coincide with the annual event, Asian Art in London (www.asianartinlondon.com). A regular participant in the event is New York-based dealer Raquelle Azran who has been promoting Vietnamese contemporary art and artists worldwide for almost 20 years. Pictured above is part of her exhibit which this year was mounted in St James’s, London, in Masons’ Yard.
Last year she showed in WC1, slightly off the beaten track. Her more central location this year has paid dividends. “I have been very busy this year and just a few days into (the event) I have sold three paintings.” She generally does three UK fairs a year and this year has been at The Affordable Art Fair (Battersea) and The Affordable Art Fair (Hampstead Heath) as well as Asian Art in London. Now she is off to Hamburg with her peripatetic show! In January, she will show at Art Palm Beach. On the first Saturday of the Fair she delivered a talk in the Gallery to around 50 people and, afterwards, there was Vietnamese food laid on by the Vietnamese Embassy in London.
The Vietnamese mission in London had a busy weekend as they also opened their own exhibition of 20th century art drawn from public collections in the Republic. The Ministry of Culture, Sports & Tourism showed examples of lacquer painting and handicrafts in Kensington Church Street. Although not officially part of Asian Art in London, as the Street is one of the main location for exhibitors in the event there was a good spillover into the temporary gallery. The event was curated by Truc Nguyen, who divides herself between London and Hanoi and operates Egret, a consultancy (www.egretlondon.com).
The most common question we found asked of her by amazed visitors, most of whom had never seen Vietnamese art before, was “Can we buy any of these pictures?” Of course, the answer was, No. There were some very remarkable works on show, including examples of pyrography (works created by the use of fire) by one of the two artists in the world working with this unusual medium, Trang Nghia Nguyen. To be specific, he makes the fire from a mixture of bat droppings and sugar . . . surely an explosive mix!
Left Truc Nguyen pictured with Thu Nguyen Photo Paul Harris
Coincidentally just down the road on Kensington Church Street is to be found the permanent gallery named Art East 133, run by owner Sylvie Skeet. She has been dealing in Vietnamese contemporary art since the year 2000 and bought her gallery in 2010. There you can see Vietnamese art pretty much anytime!
This interesting article by Cristina Nualart first appeared on the Asian art site www.artradarjournal.com Take a look at this site if you are interested in a wide range of Asian art topics
Over a decade after the unification of Vietnam, the regime’s Doi Moi reforms allowed private enterprises to be formed. One of the first of these enterprises was Tu Do art gallery. 25 years later, it continues to operate from its base in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon).
Mr Son Dang, who founded Tu Do gallery with his wife Ha in 1989.
Art Radar asked the owner Mr Dang Son, who is now 78, the same question that many of his friends had asked him when he started out: how could an art gallery survive in a country with so many pressing needs? “Luckily” [sic], he smiled.
In the late 1980s, husband and wife duo Son and Ha reunited after Son’s return from a re-education camp. The couple lived in a house on the centrally located Dong Khoi street (formerly Tu Do, meaning freedom), which they renovated into a shop. When Nguyen Tuan Khanh, the artist better known as Rung, suggested that he exhibit his paintings in their house, the would-be shop became the first private gallery in South Vietnam.
At that time, there was no artistic activity in the city, as the gallery owner explained, because there were virtually no public or private art spaces in fresh-faced Vietnam. Son spoke fondly of the work of the Young Artists Association, formed in the 1950s, and of the Alliance Française in Saigon. The Tu Do founder also recalled an art show organised at the Continental Hotel, built in 1880, by its then Italian manager. In 1987, renovation was also begun on the building that would become the HCMC Fine Arts Museum, but the institution was not inaugurated until 1991 – the year when abstract art was permitted to be shown at public venues.
Word of mouth quickly spread news of Tu Do gallery’s opening in 1989. Over 500 people – poets, writers, journalists and artists – attended the gallery’s inaugural exhibition of Rung’s paintings on 24 June. The event included a performance: the artist, also a poet, recited poetry for a few minutes, in darkness. Then the lights came on again, signalling that the dark times had gone, and the outlook for former Saigon was bright and luminous.
Before the exhibition closed, over half the paintings had been sold. In those early days, one painting would sell for about USD40, a fortune in that economic climate.
Tu Do gallery’s first exhibition pamphlet, announcing paintings by Rung, 24 June 1989.
Since 1989, Tu Do gallery has organised over one hundred art exhibitions, and it has branched out to the United States, where it operated a space in Houston from 2003 to 2008. The founders often travel to the United States and are still active in promoting Vietnamese art online. Through working with artists, co-founder Tran Thi Thu Ha also took to painting and has had a parallel career as an artist as well as a gallerist.
Paintings by Tran Thi Thu Ha, owner of Tu Do gallery.
Represented artists: Mapping Vietnam’s contemporary art
The gallery has dealt in artworks by the most prominent figures in Vietnamese art. Tu Do’s collection includes works by Ta Ty, possibly the most important figure in the history of abstract painting in Vietnam. Also included is work by Nguyen Gia Tri, Vietnam’s master of lacquer painting, graduate of the Indochina Fine Arts School. The gallery owns three panels of a large lacquer painting by Tri. The historical battle scene is interrupted by a missing piece that disappeared in transport during the war – only three of the four cyclos carrying the large wooden panels reached their safe destination.
Another important artist who worked with Tu Do gallery is Nguyen Quan. Well known for his work as an art critic, lecturer and as Editor of My Thuat (Fine Art) magazine, during the 1990s he was the compass for the younger generation of artists. Concerned with tradition but forward-looking, his expressionist paintings veered on the abstract. Quan exhibited at Tu Do gallery in 1990, and the following year at one of the most important international exhibitions of Vietnamese art, “Uncorked Soul” at Plum Blossoms Gallery in Hong Kong.
Nguyen Hai Chi, who signed his works Choe, is one of the gallery’s favourite artists, according to Ha. The well-known cartoonist, whose illustrations were published in the United States back in the 1970s, began his career as a fine artist with an exhibition of his bold oil paintings in Tu Do Gallery in 1989.
Three panels of a 4 panel lacquer painting by Nguyen Gia Tri, Vietnam’s most revered lacquer master.
A troubled legacy
In the year 2000, the gallery moved to 53 Ho Tung Mau, its present location. For Son, the most memorable exhibition in this new space featured the paintings of popular songwriter Trinh Cong Son. The anti-war singer attracted much public interest from young and old all over Vietnam. All the musician’s artworks were sold: some to bankers, some to wealthy teenagers.
As Son trekked through his memories of past exhibitions, he matter-of-factly mentioned the troubles encountered by many of the artists that he worked with: how many years each artist spent in a re-education camp, or who was sent to the infamous Con Dao prison. Anecdotes popped up that were, as often as not, related to the Paris Peace Accord or the Viet Cong as they were to art. And yet the gallerist is forward-looking.
Tu Do gallery at its present location on Ho Tung Mau street, HCMC, Vietnam.
25 years and new generations
For its 25th year anniversary, however, Tu Do gallery did not take its pick from established artists of historical importance. Son and Ha selected six artists from Central Vietnam, all under thirty, for an exhibition titled “Laotian Wind“. One of these young artists is Truong The Linh, winner of the 2013 Dogma prize, Vietnam’s only privately funded art prize.
Son is already preparing another exhibition of young artists for 2015, this time from Saigon. He will only stop when he is too old. He said:
“I am very happy that I came to do this work and that I have continued to do it for such a long time. I still love this work.”
The New York-based gallery of Raquelle Azran showed a fine display of contemporary Vietnamese art at London’s Affordable Art Fair, which has just closed June 15 after a four-day run on Hampstead Heath in the north of the capital.
Raquelle, who appears to be endlessly peripatetic, exhibiting at all the best shows internationally, was her usual enthusiastic self meeting clients old and established and introducing Vietnamese art to those yet to discover it.
Raquelle Azran shows clients her latest selection of Vietnamese art at the Affordable Art Fair. Photo Paul Harris
This must be one of the most important photographs ever taken in The American War (aka The Vietnam War) and it is currently available in an online auction hosted by Invaluable.(www.invaluable.com).
It was taken by Japanese photographer Kyoichi Sawada who was working for United Press International when he captured this powerful image of a family escaping from US bombing in 1965. It was widely published internationally as it captured all the anguish of ordinary civilians caught up in the war. This photograph got the World Press Photo Award in 1965 and the photographer also received the 1966 Pulitzer Prize for Photography and this image was entered into consideration for that award. Sawada died in 1970 whilst on assignment in neighbouring Cambodia.
Photo size 20.2×25.5cm., vintage ferrotyped gelatin silver press print with UPI stamp and typed press text label affixed to verso.
Puppetry is one of the great art forms of Vietnam. This photograph captures an open air puppet show a short distance from Hanoi. Photographer Paul Harris.
An interesting, if controversial, article on the theme of the paucity of Vietnamese art abroad, rather than at home. http://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?cc=mqr;c=mqr;c=mqrarchive;idno=act2080.0044.123;rgn=main;view=text;xc=1;g=mqrg
Check it out!
A quantity of Vietnamese war art, dating from the American War in the 1960s and ’70s is to be sold by National Book Auctions of Ithaca, New York in the coming days. There are a number of magazines and one-off publications issued by the government in Hanoi. It is possible to place bids using www.invaluable.com/.
by Paul Harris
The Global Art Compass: New Directions in 21st Century Art by Alistair Hicks, Thames & Hudson £18.95
Alistair Hicks should know his way around the art world. He is Curator to the Deutsche Bank where he buys contemporary art for the Bank’s extensive collection. Extensive is possibly an understatement: it has some 60,000 works of art from all continents. It is difficult not to suspect that to some degree the Bank is hedging its bets and its acquisitions represent investment potential as much as support for artists. Nevertheless, Hicks avers that ‘I am meant to locate art, but also to help others to relate to it.’
The world is now global thanks to the digital and communications revolutions. However, rather than making the art world easier to understand, we are assailed by so much information, images from so many places and the requirement to assess so many artists. The object of this new book is to help the reader make his or her way through this confusing panorama. It is not trying to tell you “Why should I like this?” Rather, in Hicks’ words, it “seeks to encourage you to use artists to help you understand yourself and those around you.” He repeats Gombrich’s opening salvo in the ground-breaking The Story of Art (1950), ‘There really is no such thing as Art. There are only artists.’
The author deals with his mission on a continent-by-continent basis. Approximately a quarter of the 224 pages is given over to Asia. Essentially, he deals with the impact of artists he has come into contact with on a professional basis and there are well known names like Ai Weiwei, Cai Guo-Quiang, Yan Pei Ming and Wang Qingsong. He is not intimidated by any startling new media. He relates much of new Asian art to the collision of cultures and relates the dramatic fireworks which opened the Beijing Olympics to the tradition of gunpowder drawings. Recent seismic changes in the political and economic structure of China has, he believes, led to dislocation and a growing remoteness from the legacy of the past: the role of the violent and disruptive Cultural Revolution, which features in many artists’ work today, is rightly highlighted. And so, history dominates much of contemporary Chinese art.
I have no real quarrel with the views and assumptions formed by the author. It is a highly useful tool in seeking perspective on the role of art today. However, as an active collector of modern Vietnamese art, I am, of course, disappointed to find that no Vietnamese artist features in the book. That is a failure derived from the ‘personal experience’ model adopted by Hicks. Hopefully, this book will be updated in the future. By that time, I hope Hicks will have found his way to Hanoi and will have discovered the vibrant and exciting work emanating from Vietnam. Strongly influenced by the troubled country’s colonial past, it fits his model.
A boy making rice paper, near Quan Trung Photograph by Paul Harris
Carre d’Art in Nimes, France, is holding an exhibition of eight Vietnamese contemporary artists who present alternative views of colonisation, altering assumptions about history. The show is said to ‘challenge the relationship between Vietnam and the global stage’. The show is called Disrupted Choreographies from Vietnam and features Nguyen Huy An, Dinh Q Le, Jun Nguyen Hatsushiba, Nguyen Thai Tuan, Nguyen Trinh Thi and Tiffany Chung.
Courtesy Carre d’Art Nimes/Image Tiffany Chung
The show is on from February 21 until April 27.