In the late 1990s, after nearly a decade of growth in which Vietnamese contemporary art had become fashionable throughout the world, Việt Nam’s contemporary art market began to experience something of a recession, both economically and creatively.
May 9, 2012 By
Reasons advanced for this were numerous and included the over-saturation of commercial galleries (by that time there were estimated to be over 100 in Hà Nội and another 80 in Hồ Chí Minh City), many of which were run by business people with insufficient knowledge of art; artistic over-exposure resulting from work being placed on sale in too many different galleries at the same time; and the willingness of some artists to turn out endless copies of their most successful paintings or to tailor their art to customers’ tastes, rather than turning their hand to the creation of new and innovative work. At the same time, critics pointed out that more than a few younger artists had opted to emulate the work of their more successful peers in the hope of sharing in their success, rather than seeking to create new work of their own.
As the market began to decline, numerous galleries closed down, leaving only the larger and more well-established ones to weather the economic storm.
Since 2003, against a background of national economic development, a new trend has emerged.
Following the initial excitement surrounding the ‘discovery’ of Vietnamese art by international galleries, dealers and journals, the contemporary art scene in Việt Nam has undergone something of a consolidation.
Against a background of increasing international cultural exchange and dialogue, innovative creative developments have taken place in the fields of sculpture, installation, performance and video art, thanks largely to the adventurous programming of venues such as Đức’s House on Stilts, Ryllega Experimental Art Gallery and the Goethe-Institut in Hà Nội and Galerie Quỳnhand Mai’s Gallery in Hồ Chí Minh City.
Furthermore the appearance of various art cafés and restaurants in both Hà Nội and Hồ Chí Minh City and the transformation of leading spaces such as Galerie Vĩnh Lợi – the Art of Việt Nam and Thanh Mai Gallery into chic nightspots has provided opportunities for younger Vietnamese artists to display their work, socialise and discuss art in a more informal and relaxed setting than the traditional gallery.
The selling market is also undergoing something of a transition, as galleries which made it through the slump have adjusted to the new creative mood. Run by skilled curators, galleries such as Art Việt Nam Gallery and Mai Gallery in Hà Nội and Galerie Quỳnh and Mai’s Gallery in Hồ Chí Minh City have pioneered the representation of select groups of artists, a concept hitherto alien to Việt Nam. Other commercial spaces such as Green Palm Galleryhave begun working with foreign galleries to put together larger and more varied exhibitions.
However, such galleries remain few in number; for the most part, artists continue to place their works in dozens of different galleries, and there remains an active trade in fake paintings.
Significantly, contemporary art is still understood and appreciated by only a very small percentage of the Vietnamese community. This factor, together with the general lack of disposable income, continues to preclude the development of a domestic market for local art works, the majority of which are sold at international prices to foreign visitors and overseas collectors.
For their part the cash-strapped Vietnamese art museums have yet to develop a coherent policy with regard to the collection of contemporary art works, as a result of which many artistic treasures have already found their way into the permanent collections of private individuals or museums outside Việt Nam. A few private Vietnamese art collectors such as Trần Hậu Tuấn, Đỗ Huy Bắc and Đào Danh Anh have begun to emerge, but such individuals remained few in number.
Since there remains no infrastructure for educating the Vietnamese community about contemporary art, artists continue to have limited means of connecting with a domestic audience. Consequently, while the work of some leading artists continued to command high prices from overseas buyers, there is as yet little incentive for up-coming artists to target their work at a local public.