The Story of Contemporary Vietnamese Art

The Story of Modern and Contemporary Vietnamese Art is that of a relentlessly vibrant and optimistic culture struggling to articulate its identity through the upheavals of colonization, globalization and war. It is a story that is dramatically underrepresented in contemporary artistic criticism and largely overlooked by major curatorial platforms.

Artist’s Proof is proud to unveil a  compilation of Contemporary Vietnamese art to be exhibited starting June 15th in conjunction with the upcoming 20th anniversary of the normalization of Vietnam-US relations. The show’s artists have been carefully selected to represent the evolution of Vietnamese artistic styles over the past few decades. These include artists like the elder statesmen, Tran Luu Hau who paint in the broad Impressionistic tradition imported from France during colonial rule, alongside artists like Pham Thanh Van, a much younger Vietnam University lecturer whose bright vistas and transitions between smooth and dramatic textures reflect the countries’ deep Buddhist values.

To decode the subtleties of the Modern Vietnamese tradition, Artist’s Proof is honored to host Catharin Dalpino, a world expert on Southeast Asian politics and culture, to deliver a talk on Wednesday June 24th at 6:00pm. In addition to teaching at Johns Hopkins, George Washington, Seton Hall and directing the Thai Studies department at Georgetown University, Catharin served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State from 1993 to 1997. She has been a fellow at the Brookings Institute, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Atlantic Council. She also established the Aspen Institute’s Program on Agent Orange in Vietnam. Her talk will link the transition from traditional to Contemporary Vietnamese artistic practices with the socio-political history of the region.

Part of Vietnamese art’s relative anonymity on the global stage is a result of the widely held perception that Vietnamese art is derivative of the cultural crosswinds that have swept through the region for centuries. China and India in particular have long held direct and indirect influence over Vietnam’s cultural identity. In the late 19th century and early 20th century, Vietnam was a French colony. The French left a lasting impression by founding the École des Beaux-Arts de l’Indochine in 1925.  Now the Vietnam University of Fine Arts, the school left a lasting foundation in Classical European styles that has been essential to the flourishing of Vietnamese modern art. Since the school’s establishment, exploring and resolving the tension between East and West has become a fixture of native Vietnamese art.

The end of French rule did not bring peace or serenity to Vietnam. Underlying ideological tensions between Buddhists and Catholics, and Communists and Nationalists, were only exacerbated by the heavy-handed American intervention in the 1950’s, 1960’s and early 1970’s. Following the War, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam relatively quickly moved towards a series of reforms, referred to collectively as the Doi Moi. These reforms not only introduced a market economy to the country, but also allowed space for a revitalization of experimental artistic expression. By the 1990’s Vietnam has returned to prominence as a verifiable nexus of culture, East and West, ancient and modern, where traditional lacquer- making techniques coexist with transgressive performance and conceptual art.

The works that have been selected specifically speak to the crux of the Vietnamese people’s aesthetic. Despite decades of warfare and uneasiness, Vietnamese artists harbor a deep strain of optimism that pushes them to look forward through the darkness and unflinchingly at the unparalleled beauty present in their lush verdant landscape.