A GLIMPSE OF
CONTEMPORARY VIETNAMESE ART
By Art Critic Duong Tuong, 2000
It is not very long since Vietnamese art in general and
contemporary Vietnamese art in particular emerged from
unrecognization - I'd rather say anonymity - to have its say on
the world's art scene. For a long period, scholars and
researchers in the West were prone to dismiss Vietnamese
culture as a wan replica of Chinese or a mishmash of
French-Chinese-Indian cultures. That Viet Nam owes much to those
great civilizations is undeniable, but it in no way means that
Vietnamese culture is a mere product of mimicry. It is safe to
say that what has enabled Viet Nam to survive as a nation
through an aggregate thousand-odd years of foreign domination is
that she has known how to digest foreign influences and
incorporate their quintessence into her own culture.
these days, when people are speaking of an identity crisis in
Asian art, Vietnamese art has become a center of attraction.
Indeed, Vietnamese art works, in the last decade, have been
increasingly sought after by foreign collectors and art lovers.
Exhibitions of contemporary Vietnamese art organized in Hong
Kong, Singapore, Japan, Australia, France, Germany, Great
Britain, Belgium, Swizerland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Holland,
the USA, Argentina...have commanded attention and acclaim.
Indeed, the art scene here is showing such a brimming vitality
and explosive diversity as could never be seen in the past. The
current blooming of Vietnamese art springs from our earnest urge
toward self-affirmation as a culture with its own unmistakable
identity and can be interpreted as the tumultuous release of
long-suppressed of creature desires. This is a time of change
and I'd rather lay emphasis on the younger generation.
Vietnamese artists have now become more exploratory and
go-ahead, trying to attune themselves to international trends as
they are enjoying the benefits of artistic freedom of expression
in the salutary climate of doi moi. A powerful upsurge of new
art forms and revitalized traditions are moving Vietnamese art
forward. Young artists are seeking their hallmarks based on
their own experience and personal vision, increasingly showing
self-confidence and audacity in their work. Theirs is a
generation without complex. They are not overawed by what their
elders had done in their capacity as pioneers, nor do they
attempt to make tabula rasa of the past. While doing their best
to wed tradition with modernity, they are in no way
traditionalistic, well aware as they are that tradutons can
sometimes become impeding and conducive to conservatism.
Of this young generation, the first group to gain international
renown by their works is the Gang of Five, composed of five
Hanoi painters:Hong Viet Dung, Ha Tri Hieu, Dang Xuan Hoa, Tran
Luong and Pham Quang Vinh. Concurrently rising to prominence are
such artists as Tran Trong Vu, Hoang Hong Cam, Nguyen Than, Bui
Minh Dung, Le Quang Ha, exponents of a robust neo-expressionist
trend. Among the foremost adepts in abstractionism, are Nguyen
Trung, Do Hoang Tuong, Tran Van Thao. Do Minh Tam, Tran Luong,
Le Hong Thai...The romantic-minded Nguyen Thanh Binh and Pham
Luan charm with their sunny palettes and enchanting lyricism.
Such cutting-edge art forms as performance and installation
begin to be explored and are no longer unfamiliar to the public.
The iconoclast Truong Tan turns a corner from orthodoxy by
producing most unconventional works straightforwardly expressing
his gay convictions. Nguyen Bao Toan, Nguyen Minh Thanh in Ha
Noi and Le Thua Tien in Hue are among the first "engage"
installation artists to produce in Viet Nam. Mention should be
made of Vu Dan Tan the Sorcerer who turns castoffs into art
works, the minimalist Le Thiet Cuong,the unclassifiable Dinh Y
Nhi with her hallucinatory black-and-white paintings, the
instinctive Vu Thang with his compelling use of mixed media in
Indeed, it is this complex-free generation that is setting the
tone for the future of Vietnamee art. They do not content
themselves with following up traditions. They are fashioning a
new vision that keeps drawing substance from national roots and
are accordingly creating a new tradition - the tradition of the