Taking contemporary Vietnam art to the world

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  "˜Lotus Flowers' by Dang Phuong Viet.. Photo courtesy of Arthouse Vietnam Gallery

When Hanoi-born artist Vu Trong Anh took 24 works by young local artists to the 2012 Art Expo Malaysia last month, he thought he was merely testing the waters.

He says he only wanted to introduce Vietnamese art to foreign audiences, find out firsthand about international art trends, and have some useful interactions with international artists and organizers.

Artist Vu Trong Anh. Photo courtesy of Arthouse Vietnam Gallery
But Anh, 33, the founder of Arthouse Vietnam Gallery in Hanoi, was taken aback by what happened: "We sold 10 paintings and got a lot of invitations from foreign artists to co-organize exhibitions in the future.

"I believe we can do even better at future events."

Art Expo Malaysia attracted the participation of 60 art galleries and organizations from 20 countries including Singapore, Malaysia, the UK, Brazil, Japan, China and Switzerland.

Arthouse Vietnam Gallery entered the works of four emerging contemporary artists Bui Tien Tuan, Lieu Nguyen Huong Duong, Dang Phuong Viet, and Van Tho.

Anh thought that since the four were varied in terms of styles, themes, materials, and emotions, they would act as a good introduction to the Vietnamese art scene.

"I started preparing for Art Expo Malaysia from March, and thanks to this early preparation I was able to make good choices of artists, works, materials, and styles for it."

"˜Alone' by Bui Tien Tuan. Photo courtesy of Arthouse Vietnam Gallery
Tuan uses silk to produce contemporary paintings depicting charming city women.

Duong likes to depict the beauty of spring, and tiny peach blossoms are his way of doing it. He uses simple materials like acrylic on cloth to depict magnificent spring scenes.

Viet also dwells on the beauty of flowers, with the lotus, Vietnam's national flower, being his favorite. His oil on canvas works depict a peaceful world where there is harmony between the traditional and modern, present and past.

Tho is known for his vivid portraits, which have been compared with folk paintings.

A forum for local artists

Anh opened Trong Anh Gallery on Nguyen Thai Hoc Street in 2004 and then moved to 692 Hai Ba Trung Street last November when he also changed the name to Arthouse Vietnam Gallery.

It has works by dozens of established as well as emerging contemporary artists, including Tuan and Duong, as well as Nguyen Dinh Hien, Mai Huy Dung, and Vo Xuan Huy.

But Anh says he is only a researcher not a collector.

"In the past few years many galleries in Vietnam have closed mainly due to economic difficulties.

"But another important reason has been the widespread "˜interpretation' of masterpieces by well-known artists which has resulted in disappointment and fading confidence among audiences."

As a painter himself, Anh understands the situation of local artists, who get orders from dealers and galleries to reproduce endless versions of whatever sells, rather than being encouraged to explore and develop their own concepts and ideas.

So he wants to create space for young and promising artists to showcase their original works. More than that, he wants to create a link between Vietnamese contemporary painters and the audience.

For the last two years he has traveled to exhibitions, auctions, and art fairs in Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia to see contemporary art trends around the world and learn how to organize professional exhibitions and galleries.

"The trips have brought me lots of useful information and knowledge, and I have found that contemporary Vietnamese artists and paintings are also recognized. We should be more active in introducing our art to the world.

"At the Art Expo Malaysia 2011, K Moller Gallery in Singapore showcased some paintings from Vietnam.

"I am going to take more works to some other big art events in the region including Art Singapore, Art Expo Malaysia, The Affordable Art Fair Singapore, and Art Indonesia."

Next year, he plans to participate in the Affordable Hong Kong Art Fair, Art Expo Studio New York, and Art Fair Dubai 2013.

Despite financial challenges, Anh says he will try to attend these events so that he can attract more foreign art collectors to his gallery.

Dreaming of Art Expo Vietnam

Talking about the art scene in Vietnam, Anh says it is awaiting a new larger event, something like an Art Expo Vietnam that can bring together artists and dealers, and pave the way for more art activities.

"We have three art universities based in our three regions and a large number of museums where more and more paintings and exhibitions by local artists are showcased.

"But we have yet to establish a Vietnam art auction and an art expo to promote art activities and help young people learn more about art and different cultures right in our country, and attract tourists. This is what Malaysia has been doing really well."

He is also envious of Malaysian artists getting plenty of support from their government, which encourages people to buy work by local artists.

"While galleries in foreign countries are willing to buy back paintings from customers, almost no one in Vietnam does this.

"Therefore, many people are hesitant to buy paintings because they cannot sell them. So it is essential that we organize regular art auctions to boost the trading and circulation of works and bring art to more people."

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