The visual arts sector was hard hit by the crisis caused by COVID-19 pandemic. With museums closed (or operating at a limited capacity) and art exhibits repeatedly postponed, it has become almost impossible for artists to show their works and see how art enthusiasts light up as they move from one piece to another.
But in Vietnam, where coronavirus cases are basically under control and social distancing measures have been lifted, Vietnamese artists are now back in the spotlight.
At the opening of the two-chapter exhibition “People, Victory and Life after the War”, art pieces, including sketches, sculpture, a “vacant seat”, and a “ballistics gel” were showcased in front of students, art teachers, local and foreign art lovers, all eager to see a glimpse of the Vietnam War through the eyes of the creatives.
Curated by Gridthiya Gaweewong and the students from Renaissance International School, EMASI International School Nam Long and Van Phuc campuses, the initiative aims to use the curatorial process and exhibition-making as educational tools to engage students participation and ultimately enhance art appreciation and visual experience.
Quynh Nguyen, the founder of the Nguyen Art Foundation expressed her gratitude to all the artists and collectors who were there to celebrate the Vietnamese art. Diplomats and representatives from private sectors along with aesthetes were also present to grace the evening.
Quynh, together with her husband Tuyen Nguyen, shared how important it is for them to be able to share and introduce the Vietnamese art to the younger generation. And this is their way, as educators and lovers of art, of expressing.
Constructed in two chapters, ‘People, Victory and Life after the War’ focuses on the past, present and imagined future of Vietnamese artistic practices.
Its curator, who is based in Bangkok and is the present artistic director of the Jim Thompson Art Center in Thailand, gave a virtual message thanking all the teams involved in making this event possible. She also gave credits to the students who showed appreciation and enthusiasm in doing this project with her.
“The exhibition title was inspired by EMASI students and encapsulates the sentiments of younger generations towards Vietnamese socio-political history,” she shared. “Sketches of war, life in the war zone and landscapes are juxtaposed with works by contemporary artists reflecting their distant, abstract and spatial memories of the war and its aftermath and reexamines how people continued with their lives and their attempts to move forward.”
Some of the highlights include The Vacant Chair, an installation and video by Bàng Nhất Linh, the Adrift in Darkness, an installation and photography by Đỉnh Q. Lê. And the AK-47 vs. M16, showing fragments of AK-47 and M16 bullets in the ballistic gel through sculpture and video materials, done by The Propeller Group.
Hosted simultaneously at EMASI Nam Long and Van Phuc campuses throughout the year, chapter 1 features the following artists: Bàng Nhất Linh, Chu Thảo, Đỉnh Q. Lê, Laurent Weyl, Lê Quý Tông, Nguyễn Huy An, Nguyễn Quốc Chánh, Phạm Thanh Tâm, The Propeller Group, Trâm Carin Lương, Trương Công Tùng, Võ An Khánh and Vương Duy Khoái. While the chapter 2, hosted at the Van Phuc campus, features Bùi Duy Khánh, Cian Duggan, Doãn Hoàng Lâm, Đỗ Thị Ninh, Hà Ninh Phạm , Lê Quốc Thành, Lê Quý Tông, Nguyễn Phương Linh, Nguyễn Văn Cường, Phạm Thanh Tâm, Thảo Nguyên Phan, Trương Hiếu and Tuýp Trần.
The exhibition is on view from March 26 until December 17, from 8 am to 5 pm on weekdays.
‘I wanted the same for Vietnam’
During the opening reception of the ‘People, Victory and Life after the War’ art exhibition, Quynh shared with the audience how it all started.
“Many of you may ask how I started the collection. Well, it came very naturally. When I was still in college, that was 30 years ago, I had a classmate whose father is a well-known Vietnamese artist who offered to do a portrait of me and that piece of artwork started my collection.”
From then, wherever Quynh goes, she collects art.
In 2010, she wanted to do something for her passion. Determined to introduce the Vietnamese art to the community in Houston, Texas, she organized and started the International Modern Art Gallery to showcase the Vietnamese artworks to a new audience in the US.
She took inspiration from The Menil Collection, which is an art museum founded by John and Dominique de Menil. “They provide scholarship programs to attract, educate and inspire diverse audiences, and they also run art pavilions and residences. And I thought to myself, I wanted the same for Vietnam one day.”
And she did! In 2018, Quynh founded the Nguyen Art Foundation, under the advisory of Thanh Ha, something that doesn’t just bring pride for the Nguyen family, but for the whole Vietnamese art community.
Tuyen said their foundation focuses mainly on three groups: the artists, their fellow collectors and the audience.
Through their initiatives, they want to support and facilitate potential Vietnamese artists to work and achieve global standards and international caliber, then eventually become more sustainable and receive more exposure.
“Investing in people is the best investment”, is a statement Tuyen has kept through the years. “Don’t look for short-term and don’t look at micro-scale, go for the long-term and macro scale. The investment in art, we don’t expect a return within our lifetime, not even within our family. It goes further and beyond.”
He referred to his fellow collectors as philanthropists, hoping there would be more hands offering to help to alleviate the Vietnamese art scene.
“The most important for us, the audience,” he said. It is a fact that the majority of the Vietnamese people don’t know what art is and worse, they don’t even care.
“For the artists and the artworks that don’t have the audience to showcase it to is unfortunate.”
Fortunately and coincidentally, their school campuses help educate the next generation of Vietnamese to appreciate art and interact with it positively, and eventually, develop the love for art. So the artists and artwork can better reach the community.
The Nguyen family, through the Nguyen Art Foundation, is looking forward to more public events like this with the hopes of growing the number of both the artists and its audience.