Fine arts awards uninspiring

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The annual Vietnam Fine Arts Association awards for the Ho Chi Minh City region were handed out last week, leaving many artists frustrated that the same artist was honored, for a similar painting, as last year.

Lam Thanh received the top prize for "Tich tu cua bien" (The accumulation of the sea) images of fish scattered on red, black and yellow squares, triangles and rectangles.

Last year, his "Tinh dat va lua" (Love of land and fire) took first prize. That painting featured distorted human faces made from clay on the same geometric shapes, with the same colors, plus orange and brown.  

Artists and critics said there are only two possibilities to account for Thanh winning again either his works are truly extraordinary, or the awards have become unreliable.

Most observers are on board with the latter.

Critic Manh Ha called the judges' choice for top prize "shameful" on SOI, an online fine arts forum, according to a Tuoi Tre report.

"It's funny that for two years straight, [the association] chose paintings that are stunningly similar, only differing in name, and belonging to the same artist."

Ha said Thanh's style was passé.

The style was popular ten to 15 years ago, and were favored because it was distinctly Eastern, he said.

Ironically, sculptor Phan Gia Huong, chairwoman of the judge panel for the awards, told Tuoi Tre the association chose a highly creative work emblematic of contemporary
and nationalist values.

She justified the decision, saying that this year's submission from Thanh is more beautiful than last year's.

Thanh has declined to comment on the controversy, saying only that the Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts Museum, which exhibited 109 works by 91 painters and sculptors for the awards from August 8-16, has offered to buy his.

Hanoi's painter Le Thiet Cuong, who is celebrated as a pioneer of contemporary art in Vietnam, said the awards have become meaningless.

According to Cuong, not only were more creative works ignored, but the event also failed to attract the bigger names among the country's artists.

"Of the 30 best, most renowned painters in the country, none of them participated in the association's awards, because they're unreliable," Cuong, who has held exhibits around the globe, told news website VietNamNet.

Top artists only participate in contests if they know that its judges and organizers are qualified and impartial, he said.

Cuong said among the contestants' entries, he prefers "Khuc nhac tinh" (A piece of love dance), a colorful oil painting of women dancing fast to a man blowing his flute.

Though Cuong said it was superior to all other submissions, Hoang Thi Ngoc Huyen's work did not receive any of the six awards.

"The other submissions were not nearly as good as Thanh's. They're ugly, old-fashioned and sleazy," said Cuong.

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