An evenful year for Vietnamese fine arts

Friday, 2016-12-23 08:00:56
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The stone sculpture entitled “The Fruit of Victory” by Luu Danh Thanh at the Quang Tri Ancient Citadel.
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NDO—2016 was an eventful year for Vietnamese fine arts, as it saw efforts by artists and managers to create and build a healthy and professional fine arts market despite numerous limitations and difficulties.

Fake paintings cause difficulties for the fine arts market

The year 2016 saw a great shock for the country’s fine arts when fake paintings were found at the Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts Museum for the first time. The exhibition, themed “Paintings Come Back from Europe,” displayed seventeen works of art by the “legendary foursome” of Vietnamese fine arts—Nguyen Tu Nghiem, Duong Bich Lien, Nguyen Sang and Bui Xuan Phai—as well as some well-known painters from Dong Duong Fine Arts University (1925-1945). Receiving complaints from visitors that most exhibits were forgeries, the exhibition’s Examination Council checked and concluded that fifteen of them had not been painted by the undersigned artists by themselves and two others had impersonated signatures.

In addition, at an arts auction to raise money for the Fund “Thien Nhan and Friends” in Ho Chi Minh City, an oil painting on Hanoi’s Old Quarter by Bui Xuan Phai was auctioned at the price of US$102,000. However, after the event, many experts and the painter’s family voiced doubt about the authenticity of the painting.

For a long time, the counterfeit paintings have been a “great calamity” in Vietnamese fine arts. Since the 1990s, the trend of copying works by famous painters, such as Bui Xuan Phai and Nguyen Phan Chanh, has been blooming. In addition, best-sellers by young painters have been copied and faked.

This situation has affected the reputation of the artists and discredited the Vietnamese fine arts market. Artists with prize-winning artwork at exhibitions have had awards revoked; however, most fake paintings on the market have not been strictly controlled and treated.

The presence of forgeries at the exhibition “Paintings Come Back from Europe” at a prestigious fine arts museum has sounded warning bells over the preponderance of fake paintings and urged the relevant agencies to take drastic measures to clean up the country's fine arts market.

Auctions—Optimism and Corollary

There have been numerous auctions of fine artwork for a long time, mostly for charitable and social purposes, such as to support the Muong Cultural Space Museum in Hoa Binh and raise funds for the project on building flood controlling houses in the central region. In 2016, commercial fine arts auctions were officially launched, initially attracting public attention, including the auction held by Lac Viet Auction Joint Stock Company in Hanoi with a number of works sold at high prices.

In addition to public auctions, online auctions appeared, including the one initiated by painter Pham An Hai and operated by the Vietnam Art Space forum. The event received an enthusiastic response from numerous painters, selling more than 50 paintings within two days and opening more channels for the sale of paintings.

It can be seen that in the context of the popularisation of fake and copied paintings and obstacles in management, the initial results of commercial fine arts auctions are a good sign. However, relevant agencies should pay more attention to their corollaries. For example, the successful bidder at the auction held by Lac Viet company did not purchase the auctioned painting; therefore, it is very essential for organisers to set out close provisions and legal regulations, such as increasing the deposit rate for winning bidders. In addition, artwork is not subject to the Law on Property Auctions; therefore, amendments to the law are expected to create a more fully worked-out legal basis to support the fine arts auction.

Meanwhile, artwork auctioned online is vulnerable to being copied and faked, so relevant agencies need to find appropriate management solutions and sanctions related to the protection of copyright to avoid unfortunate incidents. Moreover, the organising boards of auctions should have professional consultants and auctioneers to ensure their quality and efficiency.

Imprints and expectations

Vietnam hosted the ASEAN graphic arts contest and exhibition for the first time in 2012. In 2016, the country continued to organise the regional-level contest and exhibition. The event offered an opportunity for Vietnamese painters to exchange with and gain experience from foreign artists as well as contribute to improving the position of Vietnamese graphic arts in the region. Following only Thailand, with one second and two consolation prizes, Vietnamese artists demonstrated their capacity and potential in this art form.

Regarding lacquer arts, the Government has tasked the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism with collaborating with the Republic of Korea, Japan and China to prepare a multinational bid seeking UNESCO recognition of the lacquer craft as a part of the world’s cultural heritage. Unlike in other countries, Vietnamese lacquer has been widely used not only for decorative and religious purposes as seen in handicraft items and objects of worship, but also as a material for paintings.

In recent years, Vietnam has made efforts to introduce lacquer paintings to foreign countries including the UK, France, Italy, Germany and China. UNESCO’s honouring of world cultural heritage is expected to create more opportunities for Vietnamese lacquer arts to further develop.

In addition to big events, numerous activities in different forms and on different scales have been held across the country, contributing to creating a vivid colour gamut for Vietnamese fine arts such as the sculpture camp and outdoor exhibition in Flamingo Dai Lai eco-tourism zone in Vinh Phuc, stone sculpture camp at the Quang Tri Ancient Citadel in the province of the same name, and the exhibition “Today” in Hanoi introducing prominent young artists.

It is necessary to build a professional and transparent fine arts market, towards domestic customers. The status of Vietnamese fine arts poses pressing issues such as urgently setting out legal mechanisms and framework for copyright protection, finding output for artwork, improving the aesthetics of the public and building the development strategy for the coming period. These missions are the responsibility of not only the fine arts world but also the whole society in the context of the modernisation and integration process.

NGUYEN PHUONG LIEN
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