by Thu Anh
Gallery owner opens minds
Many Vietnamese are indifferent to the gallery business because they find it hard to balance art and profit-making. But Tran Thi Thu Ha, one of HCM City's few female gallery owners, has devoted her life to combining art and making money.
A skilled painter and collector, Ha has worked for her family's Tu Do Gallery in District 1 and collaborated with many State-owned and private museums and collectors at home and abroad.
Her ambition is to introduce Viet Nam's contemporary fine arts to local and foreign art lovers. Most veteran and young artists agree that if Ha is involved, a show's quality and its profits are guaranteed.
"Viet Nam needs more professionals in private galleries that can play an important role in showcasing our art to the world," said Ha, who has spent more than 20 years in the business.
Opening her gallery in 1989, Ha and her staff have organised more than 200 exhibitions, including dozens of exhibits in Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Sweden, Belgium, and the US.
Through Tu Do Gallery, more than 3,600 artworks have been introduced to the public.
"I'm doing business but I think my job is about art and culture, not just profit. Life and people would be nothing without art. A beautiful painting can improve the viewers' minds and knowledge," she said.
In 2003, she opened Tudo Art Inc within a gallery in Houston, Texas. Since 2007, Tudo Art Inc, managed by her children in San Francisco, sells works online.
"I'm lucky because my family and my colleagues, including veteran and young artists, collectors and gallery owners with whom I have worked, are skilled and passionate. All of us share a love for painting," she said.
After becoming involved in the gallery business, she said she decided to begin painting herself.
Her first work was in oil, called Hoa (Flower). Seven years later, her first solo exhibition opened at the H&S Gallery in Brussels, Belgium, receiving support from viewers.
She has organised 11 solo and group exhibitions in HCM City and abroad. She has painted more than 400 works in different media, selling 300 works.
"I think only your love for painting and the fine arts in general can help you develop your work. Many art lovers enjoy my work and share my success. That's quite enough for me," said the 62-year-old.
More demand for fake paintings
For many foreigners visiting or living in HCM City, buying a copy of a masterwork by well-known artists like Van Gogh is quite easy. Many galleries downtown employ young artists, mostly from fine arts schools, who can earn VND5 million ($250) a month reproducing copies of famous paintings.
"I spent only $25 for a Monet copy sold by a gallery on Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street. It's beautiful. I will hang it in my room," said Philip Tan, a Chinese-Australian, during a recent trip to HCM City.
The owner of Van Hien Gallery, which churns out copies, said demand had increased in the last few years.
Most of the copies are of Western masterworks by Picasso, Degas, Leonardo da Vinci, Monet and Gauguin. Paintings by Vietnamese artists Bui Xuan Phai, To Ngoc Van, Nguyen Tu Nghiem and Le Van De are also popular.
Many of the copies are bought by hotels, restaurants and offices for an average of VND2 million (US$100) per sq.m.
Painter-sculptor Pham Do Dong, a member of the city's Fine Arts Association, defended the practice of copying masterworks. "It allows the public to be touched by art in a different way." — VNS