Le Cong Thanh

Born in Da Nang in 1931, Le Cong Thanh grew up and worked in the north. Graduated from the Hanoi Fine Art Institute in 1962 and was a teacher at the Hanoi Fine Art University from 1963 to 1968. Had close working relations with Nguyen Tu Nghiem, Bui Xuan Phai and Nguyen Sang. Studied art in Russia from 1968 to 1970.

Had many solo and group exhibitions around the world. In 2001 he won two prestigious awards, The Vietnam State Award and the First Class Labor Order. His work is presented at the Vietnam Fine Arts Museum since 1970 and in collections and galleries around the world. Vietnam, France, Italy, US, Holland, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Singapore and Korea.

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Lê Công Thành and the
question of the human condition

By Nguyen Quân

Lê Công Thành was part of the emeritus of South Vietnam1. A graduate of the Hanoi Art School in 1962 and having studied abroad, this young sculptor represented, without a doubt, hope for the new revolutionary sculpture movement. From his very first exhibits in the early 1970s and despite his young age, Lê Công Thành was deemed an icon and treated like an elder of the village. Indeed Lê Công Thành realized very early on how to seize and appropriate himself all that everyone was aspiring to under the banner of "nationalism and modernism" alongside Nguyen Hai, a more sentimental and popular artist, whereas he was more rational, erudite and "occidental". The path towards a new stage of sculpture was hence paved, richer and more characteristic than the incongruous, academic, grossly realistic sculptures quickly made at the Fine Arts College of Vietnam under the French influence.

His works, such as Súy Vân simulant la folie, La jeune fille enroulant le fil à coudre, La mère en manque de bétel… immediately give to the public the familiar sensation of villages, of the earth and the woods, the ambiance of the Dình2, the pagodas of the sunny and windy high plains. His generation rediscovered the expressive sensuality of the art of the high plains, the elegant and mysterious sensuality of the art of Champa, and the gushing inspiration defying the rigid cannons of the sculpture of the Dình and of the statues streaked in bright colors of the North Vietnamese pagodas.

Lê Công Thành enriched his works in a gentle and accurate manner with the echoes of modern international sculpture, unfamiliar to the public and more or less banned in Vietnam in those days. He created volumes oscillating between closures and openings, links, virtual topological spaces, games in volumes and forms, the invisible and the visible… It seems to him that the confrontation, the contradiction between East and West is but a conventional artifice belonging to the dogmatic researcher. There are no exaggerated differences between the East and the West, because man has been the same since the dawn of time, regardless of the place. Otherwise, how would we be able to coexist?

More precisely, Lê Công Thành is a mystical and a genius of Champa, faithfully sculpting a complete temple with female and male bodies in a trance, jubilant, in pain, torn between two beams of light : that of the flesh and that of philosophy. He has sculpted, chiseled, contemplated, closed his eyes and meditated while murmuring, chanting incomprehensible words like magical invocations, but also like the monologue of a character in a tragedy.

We easily recognize his sculpture from afar, like we recognize a different central region of Vietnam as soon as we come across the Col des Nuages. The backs, stomachs, buttocks, navels, thighs, breasts or round eggs, heads and necks (gat ngo) like crosses, thin moons, bird wings tied up with threads of silk or powerful steel cables…On this background, the sharp indentations of a razor blade marking the (ky hiêu dinh vi); more importantly, the battle between the attraction and the repulsion of scattered volumes creating a united whole, these invisible forces, this tension hiding in the empty spaces, inching its way between volumes, masses and shadows, encircling them. The sensuality, elevated to a symbolic level of extreme delicacy and the purity, the extremely severe choice of each line, each volume, each (bi_u ch_t) give Lê Công Thành's statues the familiarity of an elegant knick-knack and the overwhelming solemnity of a place of worship that captivates us, plunges us in a world of expectations and modesty. It is surely not language which expresses it, but rather these experiments and this meditation, the use of creativity as a means of this experiment and this meditation on the human condition, very rare in our art which is tending less and less to reflect reality, that has permitted him to create a personal space for his art. To kid him, Lê Công Thành's friends call him the Vietnamese Henry Moore, which is partly true, for two reasons : he has received a lot from the outside world, but it has opened the door to our culture. I would nevertheless like to say that solely the question that he addresses to the human condition can allow the work to reach the heart of the esthetic quality of every fruit of the tree of life.

From the cultural magazine Thao & Van Hoa, Vietnam, Nov. 2003

1 In 1954, in accordance with the Geneva Accords putting an end to war between Vietnam and France, the members of the opposing Viet Minh in South-Vietnam merged with the North-Vietnamese to separate the warring parties.
2 Common houses of Vietnamese villages.

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Exhibition - November 18 to December 9, 2004

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