Vietnamese art fetches few int'l buyers

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Vietnamese paintings were barely even noticed this weekend at auctions by Sotheby’s in Hong Kong and Borobudur in Singapore.

The same was true for the contemporary art fair Art Singapore 2009 last week and the same is expected for the upcoming Larasati auction in Singapore.

The offering prices of Vietnamese works usually range between US$4,000-5,000 while pieces by other Asian artists such as Guan Yong, Liv Wei and Shi Chong were tagged with starting prices between $400,000-600,000.

At Borobudur, the bidding price for Book Lover by I Nyoman Masriadi from Indonesia started at $93,333 and ended at $133,333. Indonesia has hundreds of artists whose paintings are offered at such auctions for around $100,000.

La Femme à L’Ã"°charpe Verte, a painting by Le Pho

Among Vietnamese artists, only the work of the late Le Pho (1907-2001) sold at all. At Sotheby’s Hong Kong last Friday, Pho’s Paysage du Tonkin (Landscape of Tonkin) was sold for $260,000 and La Femme à l’Ã"°charpe Verte (The Lady with the Green Scarf) went for $202,564.

Pho lived in France from the late 30’s until his death, and his works have exhibited and been bought around the world.

Art critic Nguyen Hung told a local newspaper last year that Pho’s sales were not necessarily related to talent. He said they were due to marketing, a mechanism Vietnamese artists do not have.

“As a critic, I don’t praise Le Pho’s contribution to art,” Hung said. “His paintings sell better only because they are placed in well-managed commercial channels.”

Though Vietnamese painters have been trying to sell at auctions in the region for 15 years, their prices have not gone up much.

Only five to ten Vietnamese names are recognized abroad, even less if you just count contemporary artists such as Nguyen Trung, Dang Xuan Hoa, Pham Luan, Nguyen Minh Dong, Boi Tran and Duong Ngoc Son.

Vietnam was represented by only two galleries Zen and Ngan Pho (A Thousand Streets) at Art Singapore 2009.

Not the real deal

One of the problems is that Vietnam’s art market is crowded with “artists” who make their livings duplicating famous works, both local and foreign.

Vietnamese-French collector Gerard Chapuis said at the Singapore art fair last year that collectors are scared of Vietnamese fakes.

Many other international critics have said the country’s painters rarely offer anything new and instead cling to certain topics or designs once they are well-received.

Vietnamese paintings have long been criticized by critics at regional auctions for appealing only to the eyes rather than the heart or mind.

Vietnam doesn’t have a large local fine arts market like Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines. And few of the country’s well-to-do are interested in collecting art.

Le Thai Son, who manages the Thai Son Fine Arts Gallery & Collection in Ho Chi Minh City, told Thanh Nien following the Singapore art fair last year that Vietnamese artists had to produce better work while local collectors and galleries had to launch better advertising campaigns if local work would ever sell abroad. He also said art critics had to become more outspoken and brave if Vietnamese art ever wanted to be respected abroad.

Source: TN, SGTT

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