Are local museums falling out of favour?

July 16, 2017 - 09:00

Việt Nam, specifically HCM City, should have more insightful concept museums.

Illustration by Trịnh Lập
Viet Nam News

By An Phương

It’s been a while since I last paid a visit to a museum in HCM City.

I’m not sure why I’ve come to neglect local museums. It could be because busy work has got the best of me or foreign museums have brought more excitement.

There are a few museums in HCM City that attract many tourists on a daily basis, including War Remnants Museum, Hồ Chí Minh Museum and the Fine Arts Museum, among others.

During my recent visit to the Fine Arts Museum in District 1, I found it to be a place that has preserved its cultural value. However, it didn’t inspire me as much as my first visit five years ago, perhaps because it hasn’t been upgraded.

Though I understand that museums in general have to display permanent collections, I expected more from one of the most iconic museums in HCM City.

“I love to check out museums when visiting another country since it is the fastest way to get to know a country’s culture and history,” Franstian Lo, an Indonesian tourist, said.

“The War Remnants and Fine Arts museums are cool, but they’re quite similar!” he said, adding that it was the urban legend connected to the 1920s owner of the Fine Arts Museum that really intrigued him.

Franstian’s view got me thinking about how and why Vietnamese museums haven’t thrived as well as their international counterparts.

Many museums in HCM City seem to depict a similar theme of war, which has made the experience of visiting them predictable.

Even those that sound the least war-related, like the Southern Women’s Museum or the Museum of HCM City, display bombshells and weapons inside glass boxes.

Don’t get me wrong, though. I take pride in Việt Nam’s heroism and bravery, but I honestly feel that the winning-war concept does not need to be celebrated at every museum and public exhibition.

“One great history museum would be more impactful,” Quang Nam, 26, said. “I’ve visited many museums across Europe, including the British Museum and Natural History Museum in London. Everything is aesthetically pleasing. So expectations have been formed.”

I agree with Nam that aesthetics is a crucial element that every museum must have and that the exhibition space has to be clean, bright and easy to navigate.

However, it’s not quite like that in many museums in HCM City.

“Most of the painting frames in the Fine Arts Museum are coated with dirt. Together with poor lighting and warm temperature inside, I wonder how visiting this museum would be pleasant to many people, especially non-locals,” Franstian said.

In addition to themes and aesthetics, the lack of background information on individual art pieces affect the visitors’ experience.

“So many amazing paintings here in the Fine Arts Museum! But I only know when they were painted and who painted them. More information would hold my interest longer,” Samantha Ong, a Singaporean friend of Franstian, said.

Personally, I would love to see more interactive sites in the museum where visitors could swipe touchscreens for detailed information or take random quizzes and games.

More workshops could also be opened in museums to provide visitors with chances to directly communicate with artists.

In other words, a modern touch to museums with traditional themes would encourage more people, especially the younger generation, to visit the museums.

“Yeah! We have plenty of surprising elements at Singaporean museums like the ArtScience Museum and Red Dot Museum at Marina Bay Sands,” Samantha said, adding that the two museums attract thousands of visitors every day.

To draw more visitors, the Fine Arts Museum in HCM City needs to be equipped with better lighting and background information on individual artworks. VNS Photo An Phương

Two years ago, I had a chance to visit ArtScience Museum for Dreamworks Animation: The Exhibition – Journey from Sketch to Screen, which provided me with a rare glimpse into the Dreamworks Animation’s visionary approach to animation.

It was a cool experience, which got me thinking that Việt Nam, specifically HCM City, should have more insightful concept museums, which showcase fascinating topics similar to those in Singapore and other countries.

Museums, after all, should be a destination that reflects certain topics yet brings about inspiration and, most importantly, entertainment values.

Since the City’s traditional museums lack these elements, perhaps it explains why the Fine Arts Museum drew on a recent cool Sunday afternoon only several dozens of visitors, mostly foreigners.

Recently, a few new contemporary arts centres have opened, including The Factory in District 2, which have brightened many museum lovers’ mood.

“I have higher hopes for independent art centres and museums since they can deliver messages to younger generations more effectively,” Nam said.

“The war should no longer be picked as the main theme. If it’s picked, then it should be seen in a different, more artistic light,” he added.

Ngọc Thảo, 26, shared a similar view. “I love visiting exhibition spaces like the Factory or the Vietnamese Traditional Medicine Museum since there are more to them than plain artifacts. We have other activities including fine dining and lounging where I can meet and network with people with the same passion!”

With this in mind, some action should be taken to upgrade traditional museums and create more independent art centres that would attract younger generations.

“The summer is here with many eager tourists and locals craving for great attractions to spend their time and take cool photos. I can’t wait to see what the future holds,” Nam said. — VNS