Examining Vietnam's art

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There is a lucid simplicity in Vietnamese art.

Newfangled media - video installations, pop paintings, pickled animals - thankfully eluded this country. Oil paints are the primary media oft used.

Art galleries blossom throughout Hanoi, the seat of political power in Vietnam. It was no exaggeration that every street contain at least one gallery. The profound serenity and exquisite skill in all paintings is a delight to art lovers. One can spend time luxuriating in the copious number of skillful paintings everywhere.

Despite the bloody conflicts that erupt with alarming frequency throughout Vietnam's history, the nature of Vietnamese works remain surprisingly serene.

There are no works depicting sufferance, no bold smear of red across pristine canvases. There are no Kahlo-esque suppressed pain or Giacometti's aching emptiness. No pain - visible or suggested - on any canvas surface. (Is this due to the Socialistic nature of Vietnam? One that suppresses dissent?)

Works celebrating Nature's beauty can be seen everywhere. Lacquer art. Oil on silk. Breathtaking.
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The woeful issue is that many of these paintings are produced for tourists. There is a sameness to artworks in different galleries. Originality is rare. One can pick up duplicate works of Botero, Picasso, Dali, Warhol at ridiculously low prices. Perhaps even bargain for them.

Gems can be found if one looks hard enough though.

Was awe-struck by some Ngo Tam's paintings. Really bold and fresh use of colours. The image below really don't do justice to his works; one must really see the original to appreciate it.


Harmonious use of vibrant colours. Layers of textures, rich and satisfyingly delicious.
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Paintings of Vietnamese ladies - dressed in white, wearing straw hats - or monks along the street can be brought for less than 100 USD in Hanoi. Similar paintings would fetch 3000 USD in upmarket Singapore galleries. (Simply walk into some Raffles City or Takashimaya art galleries to be astounded by the price tags.)

Used to be intoxicated by the tranquility in these works and dream of possessing them. If you ever walk into a gallery and want to get some Vietnamese paintings, keep in mind that it is probably cheaper to fly to Hanoi and buy the paintings yourself. (In fact, the frame of such peace-inducing paintings is probably more expensive than the artwork itself).
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Impression: Art commercialism is thriving. Every Vietnamese household can afford brilliantly painted works. The skillful execution of oils on canvas is commendable but the lack of creativity is lamentable.

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