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Leading HCMC gallery shifts focus from foreign collectors to Vietnamese buyers


A photo taken June 4, 2013 shows works being displayed at Hanoi-based artist Ha Manh Thang's first solo exhibition, "Heaven is a Place", at the new Galerie Quynh on Dong Khoi Street in Ho Chi Minh City's District 1. The new Dong Khoi space of Galerie Quynh will open to the public beginning June 11

Galerie Quynh, owned by Quynh Pham, is undergoing a sea change. After nine successful years running the gallery, which showcases Vietnamese and foreign artists to a largely international audience, Pham is opening a second showroom aimed specifically at engaging with the emerging local market.

"I've always wanted that. It's just taken a really long time," Pham told me recently on a busy day between the Art Basel festival in Hong Kong and preparations for the gallery's next exhibition.

During the last nine years the gallery has been at several locations and is currently housed in an old factory on De Tham Street. The design of the space keeps with the industrial neighborhood, with stark lines and concrete floors. The new space is a dramatic departure in many ways.

"Aesthetically, it's very different. It has a much more refined feel. We wanted to exude a sense of luxury for visitors when they walk in."

The warm wood floors from the US, striking German light fixtures, and charming courtyard were all designed by local architecture firm HTA + Pizzini, who had originally handled Galerie Quynh's renovation in 2004.

The new location shares its charming colonial building with the popular L'Usine and is just steps away from the opera house and some of the city's best hotels. While it is much smaller than the two-story gallery on De Tham, it insinuates an intimate and exclusive experience.

At 4.5 meters wide and 15 meters long, the space is a little reminiscent of a traditional Vietnamese house, but only in dimension. The high ceiling and rarified view are perfect for a gallery located quite literally next door to Louis Vuitton.

The address was chosen specifically to appeal to a new generation of Vietnamese collectors. This bourgeoning local interest coincides neatly with recent international spotlight on Vietnamese art. Galerie Quynh was featured in Conde Nast Traveler's April edition among the best galleries in Asia, and Vietnamese artists have enjoyed increasing opportunities to show and sell their work around the world. What hadn't coalesced until now, Pham told me, was a robust local market for local art.

"The (Vietnamese) collectors I feel are definitely becoming more sophisticated, they're traveling and going to museums and galleries and they're getting more interested in what's going on with the younger artists in Vietnam especially."

Galerie Quynh recently sold a major installation by a local artist to a local collector, which was important to Pham because it meant that the art was going to stay in the country.  When she began selling art in Ho Chi Minh City, hardly any of it was bought by local Vietnamese, which meant that she was essentially exporting art. While it was exciting to help Vietnamese artists succeed, Pham admits that her original vision was also to nurture a local art collecting culture.

Born in the central port city of Da Nang, Pham and her family left in 1975 and eventually, after stays in several refugee camps, wound up in San Diego, California, the United States. She grew up amid brothers, sisters, and Vietnamese cousins, but largely not engaging with Vietnamese culture nor speaking the language.

After interning in Washington, DC, at the Smithsonian and attending the University of California San Diego to study art criticism and art history, she felt pulled back to Vietnam.

Her plan, along with her long-time partner Rob Cianci, was to find out as much as possible about art in Vietnam.

With little information available online in the late 1990s, their only choice was to buy one-way tickets to Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon.

She first worked as an English teacher and freelance writer, then periodically rented an exhibition space to show art, hold educational events, and distribute publications. Eventually she and Rob decided to open their own gallery. Nine years, a two-year-old daughter, and a second gallery later, a lot has changed in Pham's life. What remains central, however, is her commitment to the artists she works with.

"We will never compromise the quality of our programming, and the integrity of the artists is very important to me."

She hopes that the new location's more commercial emphasis will provide access to Vietnamese collectors and also allow for more exhibitions, publications, and education at the De Tham Galerie Quynh.

"I have a responsibility to the artists I work with," she said. For her that means a thriving business that also finds and develops emerging artists.

She is always looking for new artists, as well as traveling, networking, and researching in support of her long-term vision.

The new Dong Khoi space of Galerie Quynh will open to the public beginning June 11. Visitors can stop in between 10:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.


Address: Level 2, 151/3 Dong Khoi Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City



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