By: Winyan Soo Hoo
The Lac Viet Gallery has every reason to celebrate this month. To start, the internationally-acclaimed Vietnamese artist Dinh Cuong showcased more than 150 paintings in the Arlingtongallery, bringing an assortment of new visitors. The special exhibit marks Cuong’s biggest presentation, as well as the gallery’s 5th anniversary in November. Sitting between weathered shops and ethnic grocers, the gallery caters to the taste of the cultured few. On the inside, the space is small but spectacular, and holds a variety of contemporary Vietnamese art; it even displays owner Duc Nguyen’s work. Nguyen, also a prize-winning artist, is often recognized by local art societies for his modern and Picasso-inspired pieces. Beyond the paintings, the gallery contains other marvels, including a handful of intricate sculptures, antique-style furniture, needlework and crafts.
Cuong’s new exhibit adds a touch of elegance to Nguyen’s already impressive collection. One painting, titled “Avalokiteshvara,” mixes deep oranges and browns for a blurred image of a Buddhist god; it sold for $10,000. His other paintings are more muted in tone and reveal the
Virginia-based artist’s penchant for soft brush strokes and depictions of Vietnamese landscape, female figures and profiles of other famous Vietnamese artists. The portraits pay homage to artists who have contributed to the country’s thriving art scene.
Virginia resident Hiep Nguyen visited the Lac Viet Gallery with his wife to connect with his favorite artist.
“His compositions and choice of colors intrigue my imagination,” said Nguyen, a former architect. “I really appreciate Dinh Cuong’s art, and all art. Even though art is not exactly essential to life, it makes me more relaxed and helps me appreciate everything more — it’s the radiance of life. Without it, life would be really plain.”
Asian Fortune recently spoke with Lac Viet Gallery’s manager and Duc Nguyen’s sister, Ly, for her thoughts about the gallery’s growing influence in the neighborhood and their future goals.
1. Why did you start your gallery?
Lac Viet Gallery opened it’s doors on top of Pham’s Car shop on Washington Boulevard inArlington, Virginia in 2001. Owner Duc Tan Nguyen is an artist and art collector that wanted to have a space that could showcase his art collection of paintings from his many artist friends fromVietnam. Duc Tan Nguyen went to art school as a youngster and befriended many of the well known and budding artist from Hanoi, Vietnam. (Dinh Quan, Vu Thang, Hoang Ha Tung)
When Duc Nguyen came to the states, he studied art at the Corcoran and kept himself busy by immersing himself in all of the local art communities. Gaining much respect and winning awards from local art shows in the area. In 1998, Duc Nguyen was the first Asian American to win ‘Best in Show’ with his piece ‘Mother and Child’ at the Vienna Arts Society. Other notable strides are articles written about our gallery in the Washington Post, Arlington Connection, Arlington
Journal, and Arlington newsletters. The most recent publication on Lac Viet Gallery was written in ‘Art Business News’, a national publication. Duc Nguyen’s piece was featured on the cover with a five page article on the importance of Asian Art and why it’s a growing trend.
From Duc’s continuing art studies and involvement in the art community, he came to have a greater understanding and appreciation for the meaning of Vietnamese art. Starting Lac Viet Gallery for Duc Nguyen, has been a dream come true. It is place for us to share the beauty of our culture through the arts and also an inspirational studio space so that we can practice our art. (Duc Nguyen is a very active artist, who is constantly creating and painting).
2. What are some of the strides you have made in the past?
Lac Viet Gallery started out as a place for family and friends to come view our vast art collection. Through this process, we learned to build a loyal following of clients that know we stand by our art. Not only do we represent our artists, but we have a personal interest and relationship with each of our artists. As a result, Lac Viet Gallery slowly turned into a growing family business for us. The more clients we accumulated, the more we began to understand their needs.
We first added framing to our business when we expanded to our new location on Lee Highway, still in Arlington in 2003. We wanted to have a framing section that would compete with many of the big frame shops and also allow us to consult with our art buying customers. Then we began to add accessories and furniture to our gallery in order to meet our client’s needs. But we always let people know that we are first and foremost, an art gallery.
We are the premier Asian art gallery in this area and attribute our gallery to the Vietnamese community’s rising awareness of art and culture and the need to buy/own art as an investment. We are also very active in the art community and keep up to date with growing art trends by attending lots of shows, going to art expos, and constantly trying to make contact with other artists.
In 2004, Lac Viet Gallery invited renowned Chinese artist Jia Lu to exhibit her work at our gallery. It was her first gallery exhibition on the East Coast, and earned us the rights to be her official East Coast dealer. We hold most of her collection at our gallery of about 40 pieces. In 2006 we had the first father and daughter exhibit for Jia Lu and Enyi Lu at our gallery. It was the first time Jia Lu had ever exhibited with her father, a master Chinese artist. Through our relationships with many of our artists, we have succeeded in forming a continuing friendship that is long lasting and goes beyond a business relationship.
We also shared our space to allow various associations to hold events at our gallery. In 2001, we had a Vietnamese photo contest at our gallery and earlier this year, together with the Vietnamese Mutual Association, held a fund raising auction.
3. Why did you choose Dinh Cuong for this year’s featured artist?
We choose artist Dinh Coung for our special exhibit because he is the most well-known Vietnamese artist living in the states and has a very extensive body of work that we felt was important and could come together as an exhibit.
Dinh Coung is also very well-known in the Vietnamese community and has been a part of many exhibitions here in the states and aboard. He was born in 1939 in Thu Dau Mot, Vietnam. Study art in Vietnam and has been exhibiting since 1962. He is a very successful living artist with a
definite unique style that has become his signature.
Dinh Cuong’s abstract pieces are interestingly dark and mysterious and evokes much discussion on whether or not it is an abstraction of shapes or of landscapes depicting a story. Dinh Coung also depicts women in his paintings wearing mostly traditional Vietnamese gowns ‘ao dai’ often with a somber expression on their faces. As a part of our 5th anniversary, Dinh Coung has shared with us his collection of sketches of famous Vietnamese figures in the arts. These wonderful
sketches are truly what make this an event to remember as we will also pay homage to the many outstanding figures in the arts who have passed.
4. What do you want people to come away with after viewing Vietnamese art?
Whether you are an Asian-American or not, we want everyone to come away with a good feeling that they were just a part of something special. Art can mean a lot of different things for people, but as long as everyone can appreciate that this is our culture and art is a way of preserving it, we succeeded in telling our story to others. It is important for Asian- Americans to understand that art is an integral part of our culture, and these depictions through the arts is essentially who we are.
5. Why is Vietnamese art important to you and others?
Vietnamese art is very important to us because we are first and foremost artists ourselves. We live and breathe art, having a gallery is ultimately a place for us to be able to educate others and to share our love of art to others. This gallery was started on a dream that we could somehow have a place to allow Vietnamese artists a place to express themselves and show their work, we have since expanded to include Chinese and Korean artists.
Since we opened our doors in 2001, we have noticed a growing interest in Vietnamese and Asian art. For a long time, the Vietnamese community took art for granted; it was regarded as a poor man’s job. No one really took much notice to all of the talented artists in Vietnam. Hopefully we can be a venue for people to come see something interesting and beautiful. Maybe it will evoke a conversation or spark an interest, but as long as we keep people talking, we know we’ve made