Việt Nam is an emerging fine arts market in Southeast Asia, says curator

July, 13/2022 - 09:40
Sotheby’s first exhibition in Việt Nam, 'Timeless Souls: Beyond the Voyage – Hồn Xưa Bến Lạ' is currently taking place at Park Hyatt Saigon. Thể Thao Văn Hóa (Culture & Sports) reporter Văn Bảy spoke to the exhibition's co-curator Ace Lê about the organisation of the event.
Independent researcher Ace Lê.

Sotheby’s first exhibition in Việt Nam, 'Timeless Souls: Beyond the Voyage – Hồn Xưa Bến Lạ' is currently taking place at Park Hyatt Saigon. Independent researcher Ace Lê.

The exhibition displays 56 paintings by four artists: Lê Thị Lựu; Lê Phổ; Mai Trung Thứ and Vũ Cao Đàm. They all graduated from the École des Beaux-Arts de l'Indochine before migrating to France in the early 20th century.

Thể Thao Văn Hóa (Culture & Sports) reporter Văn Bảy spoke to the exhibition's co-curator Ace Lê about the organisation of the event.

Why has Sotheby's first exhibition in Việt Nam featured these artists?

In terms of both history and art history, the works of these artists return to the root and their works represent Indochina's fine arts. Their creativity shows a combination of east and west with western techniques and Việt Nam's typical cultural characteristics.

Their works are a record in Việt Nam. Vietnamese fine art lovers know about these artists but they rarely can see the works directly.

Almost all of the works are kept in private collections. This exhibition gives people a chance to get closer to these artists.

Could you tell me about the exhibition curation process?

This is a thorough selection and appraisal process. In the beginning, I contacted the collectors to borrow works. It is difficult to convince them to let their work go on display. I discussed with Sotheby's experts to select 56 works from the list of 200.

This is also the first time that Sotheby's engages a Vietnamese curator. I contact several researchers for advice during the selection process. I would like to thank Ngô Kim Khôi, Phạm Long, Phạm Quốc Đạt, Lý Đợi and others.

The selected paintings are milestones of the artists' careers in the 1930-70 period. Many of the works are masterpieces showing their ideology and their skillful technique.

Two Girls by Vũ Cao Đàm.

As an independent curator, does the exhibition satisfy you?

The most important part is non-profit support from the community for the exhibition. The experts are always ready to provide information whilst we receive financial support from many anonymous sponsors and help from volunteers.

However, there are challenges. This is the first exhibition held by Sotheby's in Việt Nam. I hope that it will become a standard model for Việt Nam. Presently, local services do not meet the demand of the organisers.

Việt Nam doesn't have a painting insurance service. Sotheby's hires a Singaporean logistics team for the exhibition organisation.

The greatest satisfaction is also the greatest challenge. It is to receive the public. I did not expect the exhibition to receive such great attention.

Less than a week after the exhibition announcement, the organisers receive 140 per cent more registrations to visit than expected.

It is a problem with security insurance. We have to hire a security force and closed-circuit television day and night. Plus, some 50 volunteers are coordinating the exhibition but there is still an inevitable shortcoming. I wish the exhibition goers will feel sympathy with the organisers and have good behaviour at the exhibition.

What do you think about Sotheby's development strategy in Việt Nam through its first exhibition in Việt Nam?

International statistics show that Việt Nam is the best-growing art market in Southeast Asia. Even though Sotheby's does not have branches in the country while they have branches in Indonesia,Thailand and Singapore.

This exhibition is its strategic investment into Việt Nam. I think it is a good sign. The Việt Nam exhibition is the first non-selling exhibition of Vietnamese art in Sotheby's history. It is meaningful and strategic to express Sotheby's respect for the Vietnamese public and market.

The exhibition is held to pay tribute to fine art history and Vietnamese collectors and fine arts lovers. It is also the fruit of my work.

I hope that the exhibition will contribute to opening the door for international auction houses. They will recognise the benefit of cooperation with Vietnamese experts to develop the Vietnamese painting market. — VNS

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