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 unrecognition - 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 VietNam owes much to those great civilizations iscundeniable, but it in no way means that Vietnamese culture is a mere pro-duct 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.

In 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, F France, Germany, Great Britain, Belgium, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Holland, the USA, Argentina... have commanded attention and acclaim.
<br><br> 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 creative 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 complexes. 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 traditions 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 neoimpressionist 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 orthodoxyby 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 "engaged" 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 lacquer painting....

Indeed, it is this complex free generation that is setting the tone for the future of Vietnamese 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 New.