Vietnam museum, artists trade barbs over prices, respect

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The Vietnam Fine Arts Museum has said it will seek to rent paintings as it cannot afford to offer Vietnamese painters the sums given by museums overseas.

Artists, on the other hand, say money was not the bottom line, but that the museum has not treated them well.

While critics blame the museum for not taking good care of the artists, leading to the ‘painting drain’, museum director Vi Kien Thanh said they have their own difficulties.

Every painter wants to sell as many works at high prices for both income and fame, but the small budget it receives from the state allows the museum to buy only a few pieces at negotiated prices, Thanh said.

“If the artists don’t understand, the museum has to accept that Vietnamese pieces are taken by foreign museums and galleries.

“Artists need to earn a living but only when they sacrifice for the common interest will the museum have more paintings.”

Thanh said the museum has tried to offer the artists “very high prices” but it was nothing compared to offers from overseas.

So the museum decided to rent paintings from artists that it cannot negotiate a purchase with, he said.

It will pay the maintenance costs for the paintings left at the museum as well, he added.

Recently the museum sent letters to artists suggesting they gift some of their works to the museum, but it only received pieces of low value from unknown artists.

“I cannot give my paintings to the museum for nothing. I’m not weighing the pros and cons but the age of ‘give and take’ is over,” said renowned painter Thanh Chuong.

Chuong said he understands the difficulty of the museum and that Vietnamese artists know the payment standard in Vietnam.

“We are willing to sell at lower prices to the museum but it doesn’t mean any low price and it still depends on whether the museum’s behavior makes us happy,” the Hanoi-based painter said.

To sell some paintings at below normal prices is not a big deal once the artist has achieved some fame, he said.

“We know who we are and where we stand. Having some paintings bought by foreign museums is not a big thing.

“We really want to contribute to the country and feel honored to have our pieces displayed at a national museum.”

But Chuong said the Vietnam Fine Arts Museum has so far not tried to make itself a place where artists would want to leave their works.

Le Quang Ha, another known painter in Hanoi, said money was not the issue. The way the Vietnam Fine Arts Museum negotiated with them was not professional and respectful, he said.

Ha recalled that one time the museum visited him to buy some paintings but gave him a contract with prices already decided by it. “It was like they were doing me a favor.”

The museum returned later and changed their behavior so he agreed to sell, Ha said.

Ha said some artists also don’t feel respected when the museum put real pieces alongside counterfeits or copies.

Reported by Y Nguyen

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