Art Radar speaks to the director and curator of Post Vidai collection of Vietnamese art.
On the occasion of the latest exhibition of works drawn from Post Vidai, Director and Curator of the collection Arlette Quynh-Anh Tran talks about the collection, contemporary Vietnamese art, photography and the art of collecting.
Post Vidai is the largest existing collection of contemporary Vietnamese art today, based in Ho Chi Minh City. This summer it is holding a unique exhibition entitled “The Picture Will Still Exist”, running at Dia/Projects’s space until 22 August 2017, showcasing works selected from the collection. The title comes from a phrase quoted from the first chapter “In Plato’s Cave” from Susan Sontag’s book On Photography. The show brings together photographs, paintings and video works by eight established and emerging Vietnamese artists and collectives, including Dinh Q. Lê, Hoang Duong Cam, Howard Henry Chen, Le Quy Tong, Ngoc Nau, Nguyen Phuong Linh, The Propeller Group and Vo An Khanh.
The exhibition is curated by Director and Curator of Post Vidai, Arlette Quynh-Anh Tran, who took the time to talk to Art Radar in more depth about the collection, art and photography in Vietnam, and the art of collecting.
Post Vidai is a collection of contemporary Vietnamese art, and apparently the largest one existing today. Could you give me a brief history of its beginnings and development to this day?
Yes, it is, as far as I know. Established in 1994, Post Vidai is a unique collection that focuses on the development of Vietnamese contemporary art. It was founded by three members: Olivier Mourgue d’Algue, Tran Thanh Ha and Daniel Howald. ‘Vidai’ in Vietnamese means ‘great’ or ‘monumental’, which was used widely in propaganda slogans and posters. The use of this term is a playful way of collecting the artistic gestures after the establishment of ‘Doi Moi’, Vietnam’s ‘great’ economic reforms of the late 1980s. Post Vidai is a title that provokes questions of ambition, to imagine a space and time inspired by the past but looking towards a prosperous future in Vietnam. It is also a phrase that reflects the focus of the collection – the post-Doi Moi generation, when contemporary art started its practice and discourse in Vietnam.
You are the second director and curator of the collection, after Zoe Butt. Could you tell me what the challenges are for you in this position working in the collection? What do you envisage for the future of the collection?
I came to the collection 6 years after Zoe Butt’s post. I have known Post Vidai for a long time, yet the collection was inaccessible to the public for many years. So my challenges are educating myself with the copious collection, which contains unrecognised facets of Vietnamese history of art since the 1990s until now. Such process of digging into the collection is my greatest joy, however, it is also my challenge (for example, when the works were bought unarchived and not many historians have studied and written about them).
I’m trying to find various ways to let the public learn more about the collection. Let’s imagine the collection as a rhizome. You see now Vietnamese contemporary art growing dynamically. It hasn’t grown from nowhere but started from the deep rhizome in the soil, which stays esoterically waiting for archeologists to discover them. I think it’s about time for the public to be guided to the rich art history in Vietnam. Thus I see the future of Post Vidai collection as a living entity that registers from extended roots of the past to the prospects of younger emerging generations of Vietnamese artists in multiple perspectives / chronicles / approaches.
Specifically as a Vietnamese ‘born and bred’ curator (and artist), what should a collection of Vietnamese contemporary art include today to give a good picture of the art scene and the art practices born from Vietnam?
Post Vidai has been collecting quite a number of emerging new voices recently, not only established ones. And all of our three latest acquisitions were young female artists living in Hanoi, Saigon and in Europe.
This demonstrates that Post Vidai collects not just established, well-recognised artists but also invests in young seeds for their potential career, especially into the new generation of female artists, who appear more and more in Vietnam.
How do you see the inclusion of ‘diaspora’ artists in the collection? What and who can be considered as a Vietnamese artist according to you?
In Post Vidai, ‘Vietnam’ / ‘Vietnamese’ is defined loosely. It is Vietnamese artists living and working in Vietnam or abroad, Vietnamese diaspora artists – Việt kiều artists who are based in foreign countries or have returned to Vietnam – mixed and foreign artists living and practicing in Vietnam. Thus the ‘imagined communities’ of Vietnameseness can be reflected within the Vietnamese contexts inward and outward. Moreover, with several artists, Post Vidai actually acquires the works which do not discuss directly Vietnamese topics. For examples, Dinh Q. Lê’s works in the collection challenge the perceptions and media depictions of violence, terrorism and warfare not in Vietnam but in Iraq and the United States. Or Tiffany Chung’s largest installation in Post Vidai investigates the urban landscape changes in Tokyo in the early 20th century. I’m very glad to work with the collection with this open-minded vision while having a strong focus – allowing the art to be meaningful, extensive and intuitive.
Talking about Vietnam in Southeast Asia, how do you see the art scene positioned within the region? Is its development following in the footsteps of other scenes, for example, or does it have its own trajectory and what is it?
Talking about art, we cannot avoid its broader interrelation to the global and regional politics and economics. Since the focus on Southeast Asia has been rapidly increasing in the last decade, thanks to the economic rise in Asia, thus shifting political power, the soft power – art & culture – of the region has gained great interest from international circles and within the neighbouring countries. We see consecutively and simultaneously many major art institutions and events such as Guggenheim in New York, Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum, CCA Warsaw, Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin, Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Singapore Biennale, CIMAM, etc. gearing their programme towards Southeast Asia.
Following this tendency commenced by big institutions, different alternative platforms are initiated for varied independent debates and discourses. Vietnam has positioned itself in the flux, and consequently receives more exposure internationally. However, the art scene here and its activities have been ‘present’ – meaning the artists have opportunities to experiment, create and showcase their works (of course there are difficulties here and there due to the lack of financial support or censorship); yet they don’t have the infrastructure to continue the legacy of the works once the works have been exhibited.
What I mean by ‘legacy’ here is the life of the works when the exhibition takes place and more importantly, finishes. Who will remember the works? How can the artist’s practice be understood comparably in his time and in the art history in Vietnam, in Southeast Asia and in the world? Where do the artworks stay, in artists’ studio, foreign museum’s storage or a villa abroad? Lacking platforms for art criticism, art history and an art market, the lifespan of artistic creation in Vietnam depends wholly on narrations from the outside. I do hope in the very near future, this rising demand will be answered by both state and private sectors, by both academic and alternative practitioners of the scene.
Now focusing on the current show from the collection, could you tell me a bit more about the concept and idea behind it? What are you presenting to the public with the choice of artworks on show?
One of the reasons to make this exhibition, “The Picture Will Still Exist”, is to ‘warm up’ the image of Post Vidai to the local and international publics. Post Vidai has been collecting for two decades, possessing a great amount of important works by established and emerging artists, yet not so many people know about it. We have launched our website and created a series of artist interviews to attract more attention via the Internet. However, you cannot fully appreciate art virtually, the local public deserves to see artworks in real life – be physically overwhelmed by their aesthetics and conceptually intrigued when encountering the form and the meaning of the art pieces. We also hope to raise more awareness to other wealthy Vietnamese about collecting contemporary art: how fun, how significant and how valuable the act and process of artwork acquisition can be.
Thus, I chose photography as a starting point – a very relatable medium. With rapid technological development, photography becomes too common to be appreciated without questioning: is it art? I love challenging the viewers, especially newcomers to the art. They will be confronted with something familiar like Vo An Khanh’s war photographs, but have to wonder why they look staged; with the stunning painting by Le Quy Tong and wonder why it is here in a ‘photography’ show; or with the humorous quirk in Hoang Duong Cam’s fat-free museum looking deliberately forthright Photoshopped.
Seeing ‘photography’ attributes in different artworks, no matter if their medium is photography or not is an intriguing maze that I envisaged for the exhibition. Through connecting these dots, I hope the viewers will realise that art is multi-faceted, varied and magical and will see this quality conspicuously in Post Vidai Collection.
What is the relevance of photography in Vietnam’s contemporary art practice today? Are young artists embracing the medium?
I think photography and video remain favoured among Vietnamese artists. It is experimenting thanks to technology. It is universal thanks to its accessibility and absence of any link to any particular culture. It is existential thanks to its intermediacy. It is poetic thanks to its personalisation. And as demonstrated in “The Picture Will Still Exist”, its relevance can play in its usage as the main medium or in the research and production process as supporting resources [to create an artwork].
Finally, for a collector interested in collecting emerging Vietnamese artists, are there any that you would point out as potential interests?
I cannot list here any specific artists as each collector will have their own taste and interest. I can only give basic yet very crucial advices: start with your own interest and personality as it will make your collection unique. Find a trustworthy consultant and listen to them, but remember to do your own research.
C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia
- “Departures: Intersecting Modern Vietnamese Art with Richard Streitmatter-Tran” at de Sarthe Gallery, Hong Kong – artist interview – June 2017 – the exhibition, co-presented by de Sarthe Gallery and Art Agenda, S.E.A., features major new work by Richard Streitmatter-Tran
- AIA Vietnam Eye: Vietnamese contemporary artists in focus – in pictures – December 2016 – Parallel Contemporary Art and the Saatchi Gallery team up with AIA Vietnam Life Insurance to present this major exhibition and a book on contemporary Vietnamese art
- “An Atlas of Mirrors”: 10 highlights from Singapore Biennale 2016 – November 2016 – Art Radar highlights 10 artists and their work at the fifth edition of the Singapore Biennale 2016
- Life, Guns, Death and Reincarnation: Vietnam’s art collective The Propeller Group – artist profile – November 2016 – Vietnamese art collective merges artistic and commercial practice to unveil the shadows of capitalism, communism, consumerism, and shared cultural histories
- Living ‘day by day’ between Cambodia and Vietnam: Nguyen Thi Thanh Mai – interview – April 2015 – Art Radar caught up with Sovereign Asian Art Prize 2015 finalist Nguyen Thi Thanh Mai to hear about her latest project in the Vietnamese migrant communities
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