Cristina NualART

Tag: Art Fair

Arco-co-collage 2016

Collage is like the mind, it keeps all wanderlustered ramifications in one easy-access place, that in turn takes you on a journey. As a medium, it is one big playing field for both material and formal explorations, and for serendipitous image composition and surreal conceptualisation.

ARCO, the Madrid art fair, had an abundant amount of collaged works during its 35th edition. On paper, that doesn’t surprise me. ARCO has a high interest in art from Latin America, and that’s a region that in recent years has been producing a lot of careful work on paper, often with a retro flavour, which embeds plentiful references to times of old  i.e., political critique.). I’m thinking, for example, of the work of artists like Elena Damiani, Johanna Calle, Adriana Bustos or Luz Lizarazo. But collage, arguably, can be sculptural or photographic, as in some of the examples here which some might label ‘expanded painting’. Same idea. Take multiple pieces, preferably with some random component during the selection process, and put them all together. It can be done with home appliances, printed images, canvas-less frames, slabs of marble, feathers or photographic film negatives.


The Hong Kong – Vietnam art connection

HK-VN_WordJuly14This article was published in Word Vietnam magazine, July 2014, pp.88-90.


HK_cnualart_BuiCongKhanhBui Cong Khanh’s installation The Past Moved (2010) at Hong Kong Art Basel 2013.
Art galleries continue to invest in expensive Hong Kong floorspace to show Vietnamese artworks. Why is so much Vietnamese art shown in Hong Kong? Is it time to bring the trade back home, or is the Chinese metropolis the locus of success?

Half of the Vietnamese alive today weren’t born when all this started
For most of the 20th century, no country outside of Vietnam (and a few in the Eastern Bloc) ever saw contemporary Vietnamese art. Despite a rich 70 year tradition of painting, much art was under wraps even in Vietnam, where mistrust and censorship kept things lying low for decades. In Hanoi, art ‘collectors’ were friends of the artists, who mainly bought the artworks to help the painters survive. That changed in 1991, when a Hong Kong art gallery, Plum Blossoms, presented Uncorked Soul, a group exhibition of Vietnamese artists. ‘The exhibition had a startling effect, if not an immediate one’, says Nora Taylor, art historian at the Chicago School of Art, ‘it took a few years for galleries and museums elsewhere to notice Vietnamese contemporary art.’ But foreign collectors jumped at the opportunity.

In the early 90s, Hong Kong’s yuppies travelled to Hanoi for exotic weekends away. For investment and pleasure, they would buy ten or twelve Vietnamese paintings at a time, recalls Suzanne Lecht, an art consultant. Suzanne’s life was transformed by Vietnamese art. Graduates from the Hanoi Fine Arts University were the first generation that, from the early 1980s, could choose to paint something other than propaganda art. When Suzanne encountered the art of ‘the Gang of 5’, as five of the graduates called themselves, she was inspired to make their art her mission. With no time to waste, Suzanne moved from Japan to Hanoi in 1993, the same year that Vietnamese art was exhibited internationally for the second time, in Holland.

Plum Blossoms are not just for Tet
Plum Blossoms was the first foreign gallery to introduce Vietnamese painters abroad. Over ten artists from the north, centre and south were chosen for Uncorked Soul. Many of the artists had worked with the first government owned art gallery in Hanoi, founded in 1965. At that point, not one was known outside Vietnam.   In 1991, the Vietnamese authorities had just lifted the ban on abstract art. At the Plum Blossoms exhibition, abstract paintings shone radiantly in their newfound freedom. Figurative works had transitioned from Socialist Realist iconography into more expressive images. New artistic forces were born.   Instrumental to the Uncorked Soul show was the hardback catalogue. It wasn’t just a book to be judged by its stylish cover. Today one might say it was an effective marketing tool. But the text, by writer Jeffrey Hantover, enlightened the outside world on how modern Vietnamese painting – that obscure and exciting art – had evolved. Interviews with the artists and some historical background helped art lovers see the importance of what these artists were looking at. It probably contributed to more than one investment in art, and at high returns, no doubt.

NguyenTrung_UncorkedSoulNguyen Trung featured in the Uncorked Soul exhibition catalogue.
Nguyen Trung’s uncorked soul
Mekong Delta artist Nguyen Trung, now in his seventies, was one of the artists whose work first made it to Hong Kong. In his youth, wanting to see French art at its best, Nguyen Trung had tried to escape to Paris in the 1960s. His plan failed the first time, but the painter did get to Paris 30 years later. Many of the paintings he made in his year Paris in 1990 were exhibited in Uncorked Soul. In Hong Kong, Trung also had the opportunity to discover powerful artworks by Chinese artists, and this made an impression on his eager soul.

Other Vietnamese artists were also excited to visit what was then a British territory. In 1997, Suzanne Lecht organised another exhibition in Hong Kong, The Changing Face of Hanoi, taking all five exhibiting artists with her. For most of them, it was their first trip outside of Vietnam. This show was smaller in scale and scope than the exhibition at Plum Blossoms gallery a few years earlier, but it kept Vietnamese art from slipping back into invisibility during the transformative Doi Moi decade.

Hong Kong makes Hanoi look up and Hanoi makes Hong Kong look around
Vietnam transformed in all directions. A Hong Kong company in 1995 had built the first high rise in Hanoi, the Central Building (31 Hai Ba Trung). Suzanne had assisted the developer, a supporter of Vietnamese art, to procure two large bronze statues by sculptor Le Cong Thanh for the building’s entrance. Hong Kong investors gave Hanoi something to look up to.

Another First
Whilst the Uncorked Soul exhibition was a phenomenal promotion for Vietnamese art, international fairs are the best publicity. The people milling about at art fairs, dealers, collectors, museum curators and general art lovers are the first ones to notice changes and new developments in the art world. The first Vietnamese gallery to participate in an international art fair was Galerie Quynh. From 2010 to 2012, Quynh had a yearly booth at Art Hong Kong, the original Hong Kong art fair. ‘In those 3 years we saw very few Vietnamese visitors’, laments Quynh. But she did sell to a small number of Vietnamese from the diaspora, and, of course, to foreigners. Now in their tenth year of operation, the gallery is working hard in Vietnam to build trust with affluent locals, who are increasingly keen to learn about art.  

HKArtFair11_HoangDuongCam_cnualart_GQLightning in U Minh Forest  by Hoang Duong Cam. Galerie Quynh, Hong Kong Art Fair 2011.

VN art in the noughties
From the nineties to the noughties Vietnam got richer. Not evenly or consistently, but abundantly enough to energise the country with buying buzz. Expensive handbags, however, are higher up the Vietnamese shopping list than paintings, comments Shyevin, owner of Vin Gallery in HCMC.

Like most other gallerists, Shyevin, although based in Vietnam, knows that sales will often be better elsewhere. She has done art fairs in Korea, Singapore and, of course, Hong Kong.  Hers was the only Vietnamese art gallery in the luxury Hong Kong hotel that hosted the Asia Contemporary Art Fair in May this year. Vin Gallery received visits from a few Vietnamese who live in Hong Kong. ‘They were very happy to see our gallery there, and came to say hello,’ Shyevin is pleased to say. But they don’t buy, she notes, ‘they think is cheaper back home’. Foreign visitors were curious about Vietnamese art, surprised to actually see some. Lots of questions were asked, especially about lacquer painting. Sales were made, with Hanoi landscapes making it to the bestseller list omeprazole dosage. Vin Gallery had competition at the fair. A number of Hong Kong galleries who deal in Vietnamese art were also exhibiting at Asia Contemporary.

Another Saigon-based professional, Craig Thomas, knows this. The Craig Thomas gallery, which shows Vietnamese art exclusively, participated in the Affordable Art Fair in Hong Kong this year, and will be returning next year. The well-organised fair, he said, attracted a large number of buyers from China.

Decades after the Plum Blossoms success, artist Nguyen Trung’s work is still shipped to Hong Kong. His latest abstract canvases and new sculptures were admired merely weeks ago, in Art Basel. Cuc Gallery from Hanoi was the only Vietnamese gallery to participate in one of 2014’s most prestigious art fairs worldwide.  Asian collectors, savvy about the cultural and historical value of Trung’s work, took out their credit cards.

HK_cnualart_CucCuc at her booth, surrounded by Nguyen Trung’s artworks in Hong Kong Art Basel 2014.

Evidently, art collectors are interested in Vietnamese art. But all the gallerists mentioned here agree on one thing, that the collectors of Vietnamese art are rarely Vietnamese.‘Hong Kong is the biggest banking centre in the world. It’s a good market’, says Suzanne Lecht, ‘Vietnam is a small market’. She compares the situation to Japan in the 1980s. Rich Japanese would only buy artworks by Mattisse or other famous names because the worth would be known. ‘It’s the same in Vietnam now’, she says. Like Shyevin, she sees that the shopping priorities of wealthy Vietnamese are geared towards status symbols. The solution to keeping the best Vietnamese art in Vietnam, then, must be to brand Vietnamese art as an object of desire on a global scale.

HK_cnualart_PropTalkSan Art curator Zoe Butt and The Propeller Group talking at Hong Kong Art Basel 2014.


Text and photos (2011-2014) by Cristina Nualart


We Are Asia – Art Stage Singapore 2014

This article was cross-posted on the Hanoi Grapevine.

<span style="line-height: 1 read here.5em;”>marinabaysandssilouhette_cnualart‘We Are Asia’ was the title of the 4th edition of Art Stage. Of the many art fairs mushrooming all over Asia, Art Stage Singapore has probably chosen the most glamorous venue: Marina Bay Sands. Yet the 4th edition of this fair tried to counteract the elitism that the artworld sometimes lounges in.

Art Stage attempted to bridge the gap between high-brow collectors and the general public. For a commercial art fair, it offered more tours than many museums. Art stage organisers planned a strong educational programme to attract a middle class audience that might otherwise shy away from all the glitz and price tags with lots of zeros.

Many of the scheduled tours focused on the regional platforms, as they termed 8 mini-exhibitions on Southeast Asia, India, China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Australia and Central Asia. Commissioned to specialist curators, the platforms were a commercial venture (all the works were for sale) but with a clear aim to highlight regional characteristics of the art from each area.


The platforms served also as a welcome respite from the aisles of eye-catching but barren works that populate art fairs: quirky sculptures, embroidered canvases, Manga style figures, gloss and glitter. Below is a selection of the more intellectually captivating artworks from these platforms.

From China, artist Qiu Zhijie presents a multi-artist project on fantasy sculptures, and this ink drawing:  The Politics of Laughing (detail), 2013, 145 x 220 cm. Take a moment to read some locations and wonder at the real places you would give each name to.

Korean photographer Seung-Woo Back has done an analogue remix in Utopia, a wall-to-wall photograph framed in strips. Each strip was developed in a different country, which explains the colour variations. The cityscape of monolithic, sterile buildings is of North Korea. The cold colours and lack of people add a fearsome tint to the massive skyscrapers.

The Australian Platform was the weakest, with inconsistent topics, quality and approaches. The only remarkable piece was this video installation called Syria. This timely piece by Lebanese-Australian Khaled Sabsabi is a remix of Damascus footage cut to move in neverending islamic patterns.

From the Philippines, Mark Justiniani recreates traditional wooden boats, inventing a low-tech way to create optical illusions of baffling perspective and depth.

Singaporean artist Donna Ong uses hand cut pictures from old books in her commissioned furniture lightboxes titled And We Were Like Those Who Dream. Patient handcrafting gives the objects a magical appearance that is really heart warming. The pieces work as little treasure troves, like Orhan Pamuk’s memorabilia in the Museum of Innocence.

Taiwanese artist Tu Wei-Cheng supports in vintage furniture his optical illusions. The Emperor’s Chest is the story of how forgotten Victorian toys and other antique devices become alive again in cabinets and dressing tables. Like in The Nutcracker, once the toys are alive, they become real. The people are contemporary dancers in a multilayered cityscape, a theatre of the absurd. artstage2014_cnualart_tuweicheng

FX Harsono, from Indonesia, authored one of the most powerful artworks in the whole fair. He also uses furniture, but combines multiple message channels in the installation: from the artist’s own poetry, to LED light displays, to book covers. The Raining Bed splashes political commentary in a direct, clever and visually evocative way. The books asleep on the bed have titles like ‘The Smug General’, ‘The Rise and fall of the Great Powers’, or ‘The History of Malaysia’. The poem scrolling on the wall can be read in Indonesian and English. It says ‘In my sleep I entangled the past, at the tip of the pen history is predicted, at the tip of the gun history is deceived, at the end of the fountain history washed away.’

Another exciting piece uses old books from the artist’s personal childhood library. Crammed with nostalgia, Haslin Ismail’s Book Land is an imaginative jungle of landscapes, adventurous people and mysterious territories waiting for a reader to discover them. The artwork appears to be a carved and folded homage to the pleasure of literature. The Malay artist, however, confesses that he hates reading, but is in awe of the power of books to fill the mind with stories and knowledge. By making books more tactile and sculptural, he controls the worry experienced by reticent readers.

Soe Naing, from Myanmar, locked himself in a large glass box, inside which he hung daily sketches. In reference to the censorship that has vetoed so much art in his country, the viewer can barely see the sketches, as the glass is painted black. The artist, from the inside, scratches away at the black paint, from which squinting onlookers try to see the drawings. The piece is called Intermission on Stage, and it does what it says.

The Southeast Asian platform was the largest and richest, not surprisingly since the hosting country is at the heart of the vivacious region. What was surprising was the lack of Vietnamese artists. It would be very difficult to curate a representative show that included every country, and token presences would be detrimental, but one has to wonder why no Vietnamese artist made it to the final selection.

However, Cuc gallery from Hanoi was the first Vietnamese gallery to participate in Art Stage. The booth featured abstracts by Nguyen Trung and Duong Thuy Lieu and figure paintings by Do Hoang Tuong and Ly Tran Quynh Giang.


Another Vietnamese artist, Nguyen The Dung, is represented by Hong Kong based AP gallery.

Mylyn Nguyen is an Australian artist of Vietnamese heritage. She filled the Brenda May gallery booth with environmental concerns, buzzing around in an installation of minute paper bees, some with micro houses on their backs.


Photography had a strong presence across many of the booths in Art Stage. Photographs with manipulated, collaged or threaded interventions are testament of the medium’s evolution in the Fine Art sphere, and amongst art buyers in Asia.

In all, the fair was a successful event for the participants, and a welcome art experience for the general public. It was not packed with striking new discoveries, but it offered sufficient new ideas to keep regular art fair goers on their toes. And the mission to engage a wider audience with thematic tours is something more in the art establishment should consider doing.



Art trends at Hong Kong Art Basel 2013

After 5 years of rapid growth the Hong Kong Art Fair this year was rebranded Hong Kong Art Basel. The space is the same, but the price of the entrance ticket has gone up – that’s what branding does. The art fair, a commercial initiative that showcases artwork from Western and Eastern galleries in equal measure, has expanded its reach with additional talks and city-wide events.

Intelligence Squared sparked off ideas with a debate on the value of art. Matthew Collings did a great job as a speaker, and the moderator was excellent, but the best contribution came from the man in the audience who told panelist Amy Capellazzo that her arguments for the market being the best judge of art had ruined, for him, the magic of the wonderful art in the fair!

Hong Kong’s art fair is popular in every sense of the word. Weaving one’s way between $20-a-glass champagne stalls and children’s buggies, some themes seemed to resurface intermittently amongst the 2 floors of world galleries. Here is an illustrated overview:

That thinking machine of ours is probably making a frequent appearance to remind us not to leave all intellectual activity to the automated machines.

HK_tabaimo_cnualartShow Through I by Tabaimo
Lithography, gampi papers, nylon thread on teak frame, 2009.

HK_MarbleBrain_cnualartGisant (the Silk Spun in the Brain) by Jan Fabre
Marble sculpture, 2012.

Roman Standard by Tracey Emin
Patinated bronze and wood, 2007.

In 2008, as all things craft were exploding in popularity, a contemporary tapestry exhibition in England led some of the world’s best known artists back to this technique which had been almost forgotten after the Renaissance. A number of examples of the thread weaving art dotted the Asian art fair.

HK_detail_KikiSmith_tapestry_cnualartDetail of a large tapestry by Kiki Smith.

hk_kimsooja_cnualartDetail of a tapestry by Kimsooja.

HK_mohair_cnualartSelf Portrait as a Coffee Pot III by William Kentridge and Marguerite Stephens
Mohair tapestry, 2012. 

Glitter, beading, rhinestones and other bling
Was it the rise of new money, the influence of different cultures on the global catwalk or a defiance of austerity? Whatever the reason, bling has been giving a shine to the art market in the last decade.

HK_RakibShaw_cnualartDetail from The Disambiguation of the Myth of the last Shinobi by Raqib Shaw
Oil, acrylic, enamel, glitter and rhinestones on birch wood, 2011-12.

HK_KengoKito_cnualartCosmic Dust Gold by Kengo Kito
Oil and glitter on canvas, 2013.

HK_FarhadModshiri_cnualartBird Girl by Farhad Moshiri
Glass bead embroidery on canvas, 2013.

HK_CarBonnet_cnualartAn Old Breeze 13-3-2 by Whang Inkie
Car bonnet with pearly rhinestones.

Along with action painting, collage seems to be one of those inexhaustibly inspiring 20th century inventions.

HK_detail_PietroRuffo_cnualartPietro Ruffo’s photographic collage of an islamic patterned globe is captivating because of the 3D effect achieved by using pins to hold each shape in place.

HK_bindis_cnualartMaths by Bharti Kher
Bindis on panel, 2012.

Pictures of Magazine 2: Vase of Flowers after Claude Monet by Vik Muniz
C-print, 2013

Even some sculptures are a collage, such as the shopping trolley full of scrap metal, Wagon (miles and miles), by Ida Ekblad, or the porcelain pieces by Francesca DiMattio below:


Juicy Abstract paintings
Polyester resin (that glass-like chemical substance that Vietnamese tourist shops pass off as ‘lacquer’) or thickly dripped enamel make for a candy-gloss surface.

HK_IvanLam_cnualartI have hated you too much to be grateful of the day (part of a dyptich) by Ivan Lam
House paint, resin and model submarine on canvas, 2013

HK_resin_cnualartPeter Zimmerman pours thick layers of coloured resin over large canvases.

HK_strawberry_cnualartVanilla, Strawberry by Kenjiro Okazaki
Acrylic on canvas, 2000.

HK_Grosse_cnualartKatharina Grosse plays with enamel paint.

HK_metallic_cnualartTiang #2 by Handiwirman Saputra
C-print  and acrylic coating on metallic paper, 2012

But the artwork that made most people smile was not in the exhibition centre, it floated happily in Hong Kong bay: Florentijn Hofman’s Rubber Duck

no images were found

Hong Kong Art Fair 2011

After a year of getting to know the fairly limited Vietnamese art scene, I jumped across the water to expand my horizons. Two days getting myself a good old hit of solid art did me wonders. Artworks new and old, commercial and less so filled two floors of the Hong Kong Convention Centre. It’s only in it’s 4th year, but this art fair is soaring in popularity, and many European galleries joined this year.

I sauntered lots, took photos to keep records that will help me revisit the virtual telephone directory of artists’ names that I wish to commit to memory, and chatted to visitors, artists and gallerists. Through coincidence or due to good business tactics, I was most impressed by 3 female gallery owners from London.

debbieI’ve known Debbie Carslaw since she opened Madder 139 near Hoxton about 4 years ago. The gallery then moved to Vyner street, and now again back to Hoxton. The artists she selects usually offer highly tempered skills, in either sculpture, drawing or painting. Representing a good proportion of female artists, and increasingly appearing in many international art fairs, this gallerist has achieved much in a short time, and looks set to be well entrenched in London’s future art market. Showing  miniature pencils drawings by Paul Chiappe, Debbie proves that detailed, crafted and retro-styled imagery is the next big thing in the making of the European art tradition.

Lucy Newman Cleeve of Man&Eve gallery was keen to share with me ideas about East-West art fluxes.  She represents Michael Whittle, an English artist currently completing a research project in Japan, so the interest is backed by experience. His work is beautifully simple yet geometrically bound.

And the friendly gallerist of Elms Lesters Painting Rooms shared with me a love of colour and surprise, seen in the 2D/3D work of Adam Neate.
adam neate

Unless otherwise specified, text and images © 2017 Cristina Nualart

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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