The Hanoi art scene is vibrant and exciting these days, a far cry from the slump it had fallen into after the war, and an improvement on even a decade ago. With a mixture of the Eastern techniques of woodcutting, lacquer painting and engraving and European influences such as Impressionism and Cubism, Vietnam is proving itself the centre of an emerging art market.
The Hanoi University of Fine Arts previously known as the Ecole Superieuer Beaux-Arts dIndochine was founded by the French in 1925 and has long nurtured the artistic talent of Hanoi. Although young artists still complain that the techniques they learn here are old-fashioned, it has a reputation for providing an excellent education in art basics and most of the finest artists of yesterday and the present have passed through the establishment.
Before doi moi in 1986 when the Communist government decided to allow foreign trade and private ownership all galleries were state-owned and Vietnamese art was not widely known in international circles. However now there are hundreds of ateliers and younger artists are starting to blend the traditional and modern creating a new type of art entirely.
Bui Yuan Phai died of lung cancer in 1988 and was relatively unknown outside Vietnam. Ten years ago his oil paintings, inspired by Picasso and Matisse sold for as little as US $10, but now they retail for approximately $7,000. Tran Nhat Thang does not face the same problems and at age 27 is already well known as a talented up and comer. In fact, people flock to Hanoi to buy his abstract paintings. He is watching the prices of his paintings skyrocket in his own lifetime.
Nguen Manh Duc is in his late 60s and is known as the father of experimental art in Vietnam. His Stilt House has been a salon for the avant garde art movement since the 1990s and is the setting for installations, events and performance art. He regularly invites interesting young artists who study at the University of Fine Arts to come and experiment with new techniques and guides them in their work. He is trying to close the gap between mainstream and experimental art in Hanoi.
Hanoi is now full of interesting art galleries which stock not only well regarded artists but take chances with younger, experimental artists as well. The Apricot Gallery, in Hang Bong Street is one such gallery. Itholds works by some of Vietnams preeminent artists such as the lacquer painter Dinh Quan. It exhibits 80% of the paintings by well-known artists and supports younger, newer artists with the other 20%. Bill Clinton visited and bought a landscape by Hoang Hai Anh here.
Art Vietnam Gallery which is set in the Old Quarter is another such establishment. It is run by Suzanne Lecht, a well-known, long-time expatriate who resides in Hanoi and collects and sells Vietnamese art. She is a specialist on the subject and is happy to talk to visitors. The Mai Gallery is a modern gallery owned by Phuong Mai and exhibits all the latest works by younger artists. It is definitely worth a visit if you are in Hanoi, even if only to get the flavour of the art scene as a whole.
So dont be put off by your first impressions of Hanoi as a city selling copy art in many of the small shops in streets near the main hotels. Search out the galleries and people who know their stuff and you will find art which is not only beautifully rendered, but a great investment. After all, post-impressionist works by Le Pho who died in 2001 were worth a pittance a few years ago and are now valued at upwards of US $300,000. Snapping up a bargain it still a real possibility!
Apricot Gallery: 40B Hang Bong Street, Hanoi www.apricot-artnet.com
Art Vietnam Gallery: 30 Hang Than Street, Hanoi www.artvietnamgallery.com
Mai Gallery: 113 Hang Bong Street, Hanoi www.maigallery-vietnam.com