(L) Ewer, late 15th century, Cu Lao Cham shipwreck, Vietnam History Museum, Ho Chi Minh City (R) Lotus, Fu Nan period, 7th-8th century, Duc Hoa District, Long An Province, Long An Museum
The element of constant surprise.
This defines Vietnam for Nancy Tingley, an American curator specializing in Southeast Asian art.
"I have the sense that if an archaeologist were to stick his shovel in the ground anywhere in the country, he would come up with a new surprise," said Tingley, who first came to Vietnam in 1988 with the intention of organizing an exhibition of Vietnamese art in the United States.
At that time, it was impossible to organize such an exhibition because the two countries had not yet normalized their relationship.
More than two decades later, all the years she has spent working on Vietnam have come together for the first ever exhibition on Vietnamese art, titled "Arts of Ancient Vietnam: From River Plains to Open Sea."
On view at the Asia Society Museum in New York City until May 2, the exhibition brings together more than 100 objects from 10 museums across Vietnam, including the National Museum of Vietnamese History in Hanoi and the Museum of Vietnamese History in Ho Chi Minh City in addition to many pieces unearthed during the past few decades.
Each section of the exhibition explores Vietnamese culture and history in a different geographical region and time.
There are artifacts from the Early Cultures: Dong Son and Sa Huynh (1st millennium BCE-2nd century CE), with highlights being the burial wares of the Sa Huynh people; Fu Nan in the Mekong River Delta (1st-5th century CE), known for its gold jewelry inset with semi-precious and precious stones; Cham ceramics, metalwork and sculpture from the Champa Ports of Call (5th-15th century); and ceramic ware from Trade and Exchange in Hoi An (16th-18th century).
Melissa Chiu, director of Asia Society Museum, said the exhibition is an eye-opener for Americans in experiencing the richness of Vietnamese art.
"While most Americans recall the Vietnam War as their most vivid memory of the country, this exhibition illustrates the history of trade and cultural exchange and tells the story of a nation that was at the epicenter of great empires, and was at times its own far-reaching empire," Chiu said.