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HaNoi gallery boom a mixed blessing for artists

Wall-to-wall: There are now over 50 art galleries on the 36 streets of Ha Noi’s old quarter, although many target the tourist trade. — VNS Photo Viet Thanh
"Fine art has become a fashion among the rich" Tran Luong
HA NOI — Painters who attempt to make a living out of their art must surely see the recent boom in art galleries as a double-edged sword: there are plenty of markets for their work, but there is also plenty of competition.

Although it only measures 100ha, the 36 streets of HaNoi’s old quarter are now home to more than 50 art galleries of all kinds.

Most locals may only noticed these windows to the art world in passing, but many of the galleries have become successful businesses that local painters have come to rely on.

"It is possible to make a living from selling paintings today because of the rising demands of tourists, especially foreigners, for a piece of HaNoi art," says one painter who also owns an art gallery.

The artist sells his own paintings and a ‘fine’ selection of works by his contemporaries at the gallery.

"It’s sad that we create art as souvenirs for the tourist market, but it’s a good way to secure a stable income to give you the freedom to create more original pieces," he says.

He says his art-gallery business began when he rented a house in the city centre, decked it out like a gallery and employed an attractive, English-speaking attendant.

"It isn’t difficult to set up and run a business like this," he says. "The key is its location and finding the right works."

Big galleries have the big names and a rich supply. The owner of a popular gallery on Hang Bong Street revealed she has 60 painters and art collectors providing her with paintings.

"We sell about 20 paintings every month," she says. "The biggest sellers are mainly small, portable lacquer paintings."

Prices for these paintings, which are mostly made by unknown artists, fluctuate between US$50 and $300.

For more famous painters, such as Thanh Chuong, Cong Quoc Ha and Le Thiet Cuong, the prices can climb into the thousands.

Better-known artists usually only hang their works in a small number of famous galleries.

The owner of a small gallery on Hang Trong Street says, "We opened the gallery with the aim of selling artworks and handicrafts to foreign tourists.

"Though the art is not high quality, most of our customers are happy to return home with an example of Vietnamese fine art at a price they can afford."

Many painters will leave their paintings for sale in a number of different galleries, which means that prices vary and replicas are common.

Galleries sometimes receive complaints from customers who buy the work of a local artist and then find another work in a similar style can be purchased at a lower price somewhere else.

Although Vietnamese people are new to idea of decorating their homes with paintings, the number of private art collectors is on the rise.

Tran Luong, a local painter who also heads up the HaNoi-based Contemporary Fine Arts Centre, says, "Fine art has become a fashion among the rich. True art demands that its enthusiasts have taste."

Fine art provides the spiritual food people crave when their demands for basic needs such as food and shelter have been met, he explains.

"The fine art of Viet Nam still occupies a modest position compared to the art of other Asian countries," Luong says.

"Most internationally renowned Vietnamese artists are from the previous generation, such as Bui Xuan Phai, To Ngoc Van and Duong Bich Lien. We need to make an effort to make our contemporary artists known overseas."

Luong is concerned that the boom in souvenir-style paintings will obscure genuine Vietnamese fine art, and cause the outside world to see local art as second-class.

"Some of the more serious galleries have launched websites to market their products, by providing information about Vietnamese artists and their art, and hopefully this will reverse the damage that’s being done to our artists’ reputation," he says. — VNS

Reprinted with permission from VietNam News Agency


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