Copycat scandal rocks revived Hanoi art festival

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Do Trung Kien's work Cho xu ly (Wait to be treated) (R) and Nguyen Quang Hai's Phuot II (Backpacking tour II) (L). There are a few differences in colors and some minor details but otherwise the paintings match each other in layout and theme.

The annual Young Artists' Fine Arts Festival in Hanoi has been rocked by scandal.

The festival, which offers young artists a chance to showcase their works, has seen one artist being hauled up for plagiarism after submitting an entry that turned out to be an exact reproduction of another painter's work.

Do Trung Kien's work Cho xu ly (Wait to be treated) features three Belarusian-made Minsk motorbikes covered with dust and piled with luggage, a helmet, and a water jug, a copy of Nguyen Quang Hai's Phuot II (Backpacking tour II).

There are a few differences in colors and some minor details but otherwise the paintings match each other in layout and theme.

The judges did not seem to have a clue and accepted the copycat painting, and the plagiarism only came to light after the two works were posted side-by-side on some art forums.

Hai, who got a master's degree last May in Russia and teaches at the University of Fine Arts in Hanoi, created his work last year and displayed it during his graduation ceremony.

He said: "One of the motorbikes in the painting is mine; the other two are my friend's. The helmet is unique since I made it myself. The Minsk is not available in yellow, but I repainted mine. My Minsk has a tire near the fuel tank because I like it and got it fixed. The young guy also has all those specific details in his painting."

He would be happy if his painting was reproduced because that would mean it was admired, he said.

"But it is not good for him to reproduce another's work and then compete or display it."

However, he wants no more part of the dispute and has left the final verdict to the relevant authorities.

On December 5, Nguyen Phu Cuong, deputy general director of the Fine Arts, Photography and Exhibition Department (on behalf of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (MCST) for the state management of the fine art and photography sector) and head of the festival organization board, called a meeting to discuss the scandal.

After the two artists appeared in front of the board, it concluded that Kien's painting was clearly a copycat. He withdrew from the competition.

Cuong said the board was considering what penalty to hand out. The board will inform Kien's infringement to his workplace, Hanoi Open University.

Critics blamed the jury for accepting Kien's work though Hai has already exhibited his work twice in Hanoi this year.

A member of the festival's panel of judges said that it is not easy for them to recognize the origin of nearly a thousand entries.

"To prevent copyright violations, we have taken photos of all the works on display and posted them on the internet. We hope that the netizens will help us uncover any irregularity. We have tried to solve the problem as soon as we knew about it. However, this is still a matter of shame that has affected the festival's prestige heavily," he said.

This is not the first instance organizers being left red-faced at a national festival. In 2005 the Nationwide Fine Arts Exhibition discovered that it had awarded the bronze medal to Luong Van Trung's painting Binh minh tren cong truong (Dawn on the construction site) which turned out to be a copy of Russian M.C. Ombus Cuznhexov's 1981 work Brigada.

In 2010 the bronze medal winner at the event again came under a cloud - Nguyen Duc Khoi's Duoi mua (Under the rain) resembled one of Tran Cong Dung's series of works on bicycles.

Unreasonable regulation

The Young Artists' Fine Arts Festival also came under criticism for its unreasonable requirements of performance artists who have to submit video clips of their work before the event.

Critics said performance art was sometimes impulsive or responsive, depending on the conditions, location, and audience. Artists improvised depending on the circumstances and interacted with the audience, so it was pointless asking them to submit their entries in advance, they said.

The Young Artists' Fine Arts Festival had a low-key start in 2007 and was not held for the last three years. It managed to make a strong comeback this year, attracting nearly 1,000 paintings, graphics, sculpture, installation art, and videos by more than 500 artists, and having a scandal to boot. 

Over 150 works were chosen and will be on display at the Culture and Arts Exhibition Center until December 10.

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