Contemporary Artists - Efforts to Build and Affirm a Novel Spirit for the New Artistic Tradition

By Nguyen Xuan Tiep

Dang Thi Khue
Mankind and Bowls, Oil
83cm x 66.8cm
Vietnamese plastic arts enjoy a time-honored tradition. Their most prominent achievements are the famous wooden statues and engravings in communal houses, pagodas, royal tombs, shrines and temples of Northern Vietnam dating back over millennia. There were also the diverse, multi-faceted arts including the well-known, brightly colored Lang Ho and Hang Trong folk paintings (Ha Bac, Hanoi); the Champa architecture which spread from Quang Tri to Binh Dinh Province and whose ideology, philosophy and religious belief were imbued with reproductive language; as well as a system of funeral houses from Tay Nguyen (Central Highlands) with primitive Aboriginal, mystical and hallucinatory artistic language. These cultural and plastic arts values represent the spiritual foundation and nutrient source that has fostered the creativity of generations of Vietnamese painters.

Dinh Quan
Dancing, lacquer
120cm x 120cm
The founding of the Ecoles des Beaux-arts de l'Indochine (French Indochina's School of Fine Arts) in 1925 was a landmark in the history of Vietnamese Fine Arts. This institution of higher learning trained a generation of very talented artists. Prominent artists, including Nguyen Gia Tri, Nguyen Phan Chanh, To Ngoc Van, Bui Xuan Phai, Nguyen Sang, Nguyen Tu Nghiem, Vu Cao Dam, Nguyen Sy Ngoc, Duong Bich Lien and Tran Van Can, left the stamp of their genius from which a distinctive identity of Vietnamese plastic arts can be asserted.

Over thousands of years of foreign rule, Vietnam suffered numerous periods of war. In light of this, it is only natural that it has been influenced significantly by the great civilizations of China, India and France. Nevertheless, a very positive aspect of this process has been the way in which those influences were assimilated selectively into Vietnamese culture. Vietnamese people integrated their essences to enrich the inherent, original character of their own plastic arts.

Nguyen Xuan Tiep
Fairy No.5, Acrylic
100cm x 100cm
With the renovation policy initiated by the Party and government in 1986, Vietnamese Fine Arts took a major turning point, which has fired artistic creativity with renewed enthusiasm. Following the explosive expansion of the early 1990s, within two or three years, Vietnam became a very attractive center of arts in Asia. This situation was truly paradoxical. The country had just abandoned the system of subsidization which had resulted in a backwards economy and a great many social problems were still waiting to be solved, and yet the diversification of new, vigorous artistic concepts and tendencies radically changed the face of Vietnamese Fine Arts. In this period, when the frenzied atmosphere of free artistic creativity was heaving like a whirlwind both within individual artists and among society as a whole. Once this gestation and decade-long inhibitions had been emancipated, a group of artists with powerful creativity instantly opened a spiritual current for the new art, thus creating a momentum for the positive advance of Vietnam Fine Arts. This also led to the trend of self-introduction and integration with regional and international art.

Vu Thang
Father and Son, Lacquer
100cm x 100cm
Interactions between the Vietnamese fine arts community and those of the Southeast Asian and Asian-Pacific Region as well as the efforts of young painters to express new concepts has contributed immediately and directly to artistic and cultural exchanges around the world. Conversely, this also helped Vietnamese artists to improve more rapidly since they possessed the determination, ability and eagerness to cooperate and integrate. In terms of the origins of cultures, other Asian countries have many things in common with Vietnam in addition to concepts and lifestyles, such as religion, life outlook and arts. The success of Vietnamese art exhibitions in Asia is encouraging and their value has been worthily asserted over the last decade.
It is widely acknowledged that many countries around the world are currently facing a cultural crisis, and yet culture is the very basis and aim of life for all human societies.

Presently in Vietnam, the cultural environment is open and favorable. Vietnamese people are attempting to reach the peaks of contemporary culture. Although this has not yet been achieved to a large scale, it is nevertheless the goal of Vietnamese fine arts and an open-ended road.

Nguyen Trung
Grey Composition, Mixed
100cm x 100cm
During the explosion in artistic styles and movements over the last few decades, Vietnamese Fine Arts has successfully trained and given birth to a new generation of vanguard artists, zealous for improvement. These are talented and devoted people. Compared with the situation before 1986 when Vietnamese arts mainly focused on realism, in the 1990s there was a complete and comprehensive rally by various artistic trends and concepts. Important artists included Nguyen Trung, Do Hoang Tuong, Tran Van Thao, Do Minh Tam and Luong Xuan Doan (abstractionists); Dinh Quan, Do Son, Dang Xuan Hoa, Ha Tri Hien, Nguyen Xuan Tiep, Vu Thang, Dao Chau Hai, Dinh Y Nhi, Le Quang Ha, Dao Minh Tri and Do Phan (expressionists); Nguyen Tan Cuong, Nguyen Quan and Le Anh Van (expressionists-abstractionists); Do Quang Em, Le Vuong and Le Huy Tiep (ultrarealists); Truong Tan and Nguyen Van Cuang (pop art), Nguyen Quoe Hoi and Hong Viet Dung (romantic artists); Nguyen Bao Toan, Nguyen Minh Phuong, Pham Ha Hai, Vu Dan Tan, Dao Anh Khanh, Nguyen Minh Thanh, Truong Tan, Dang Thi Khue and Nguyen Van Cuong (installation art).

Nguyen Sy Bach
Lotus flower, Watercolour
51cm x 71cm
Endowed with a rich legacy of traditional plastic arts, contemporary Vietnamese artists with a dynamism of new thinking had created their own, extremely varied messages and languages at major professional art exhibitions. Over the last seven or eight recent years these have included the Asia-pacific Triennials I, II and III I in Brisbane, Australia; the 10th, 11th, 12th and 14th International Art Exhibitions of the Union of Asian Artists (in Singapore, the Philippines, Macao and Japan; the 4th Asian Art Exhibition at Fukuoka Museum, Japan; the Artists Camp and Artists Exhibition of Asian Countries in Singapore; International Exhibition of the Union of International Artists; Tsaimo Taiwan; and the auction sale of paintings at Christie's and Sotheby's (Singapore). Through their participation and presence at the above exhibitions, Vietnamese painters could exchange professional experiences with their colleagues in the region and enhance their self-confidence in artistic creativity.

In short, the generation of contemporary artist are endeavoring to build and affirm a novel spirit for the new artistic tradition of Vietnam.

Nguyen Xuan Tiep
Scientific Council Secretary
VietNam Fine Arts Museum
HaNoi, VietNam
English editor: Mark Caltonhill