Cristina NualART

ART REVIEWS, ARTICLES & ESSAYS

THE MADWOMAN, a poem by Hoang Hung

THE MADWOMAN

Carrying a broken stick on her head
she walks and sings
Evening comes gradually at the end of the street

She walks and sings
Fragments of a tranquil song
break in my heart

Alas, the madness of tile and brick
Please sing and sing again
of all the destruction
you carry in your head

 

In:
Black dog, black night: Contemporary Vietnamese Poetry.
Edited and translated by Nguyen Do and Paul Hoover.

(Permission was sought from editor to post this poem, but after a year no answer was received. Please note that copyright lies with publisher and poet. This poem is not covered by this site’s Creative Commons license.)

My artwork censored for critiquing destruction of HCMC historical building

This drawing I finished in 2014 was not allowed to be featured in a Vietnamese publication on artworks on urban Vietnam. The editor told me that the local censorship board apparently felt that this drawing shows a lack of respect to Saigon, for showing the sentence ‘Saigon is beautiful’ upside down.

How ironic that the censors missed the point completely. The upside down sentence on the artwork makes -quite clearly, I feel- a reference to the destruction of Ho Chi Minh City’s old buildings. Demolishing historical architecture does not make a city more beautiful. And Vietnam does not have much left in terms of historical architecture.

To find out more on this drawing and the now disappearead Cho Van Thanh market depicted in it see The Ghost of Cho Van Thanh

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Rubble Mural featured in Word magazine

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The rubble mural I made for the LIN community centre in Saigon is featured in the August 2014 issue of Word Vietnam magazine, pages 83 to 87.

25 Years of Freedom – A Vietnamese Gallery’s Vision

ArtRadar_article_screenshot_webThis article was published on Art Radar on 1 August 2014.

 

From the postwar to Vietnam’s economic boom, Tu Do Gallery has been running successfully for a quarter of a century in Ho Chi Minh City.

Over a decade after the unification of Vietnam, the regime’s Doi Moi reforms allowed private enterprises to be formed. One of the first of these enterprises was Tu Do art gallery. 25 years later, it continues to operate from its base in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon).

I asked the owner Mr Dang Son, who is now 78, the same question that many of his friends had asked him when he started out: how could an art gallery survive in a country with so many pressing needs? ‘Luckily’, he smiles.

In the late 80s, husband and wife Son and Ha reunited after his return from a re-education camp. The couple lived in a house on the centrally located Dong Khoi street (formerly Tu Do, meaning freedom), which they renovated to turn into a shop. When Nguyen Tuan Khanh, the artist better known as Rung, suggested that he exhibit his paintings in their house, the would-be shop became the first private gallery in South Vietnam.

There was no artistic activity in the city, the gallery owner explains, because there were virtually no public or private art spaces in fresh-faced Vietnam.

Read the full article on Art Radar here.

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Text and photos (2010-2014) by Cristina Nualart

 

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

 

Art with rubble: the eviction zone mural

After researching why many of the houses on the east of the Saigon river were destroyed, it seemed appropriate to make an artwork with the rubble, as a way of keeping together some fragments of the community that was dispersing. The image is a Saigon landscape, with the Thu Thiem area fading in the distance.

It took 100 kilos of cement, and six months of weekends to stick large quantities (3 taxis full) of rubble onto a wall. The mural is in the LIN centre for community development. The mural is made from pieces of brick, cement, mirror, floor tiles and walls collected from various demolished residences in Thu Thiem, District 2, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

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The Thu Thiem New Urban Zone plan was approved in 1998. The first evictions started in 2002, and by 2010, when I first visited, some houses were still standing, but most of the area had been cleared. Many residents have moved far away, but when the mural was finished in May 2014, some people were still living amongst the rubble. The pieces in this mural were taken away from their original site, and have been mixed up and rearranged on this wall. We hope that all the families that relocated will likewise create strong bonds in their new communities.

Saigon’s Galerie Quynh: a decade of get up and go

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This article was published in 
Word Vietnam magazine, June 2014, pp.84-87.

A street sweeper pauses his broom in the middle of the night. From the shadows of the empty asphalt, he looks at two people sleeping in a glowing-red shop window. A ceiling of crimson roses and red velvet walls cradle the sleepers nested in vermillion satin. One night, 500 people gathered to see the softly lit, red bed. How many of the passers-by would be just as surprised to hear that the sleeping beauties were making art?

The 12 night-long performance was the first street-view art exhibition of its kind in Vietnam. The artist Sue Hadju created Magma: we’re not counting sheep in 2006, and it is one of the highlights of Galerie Quynh’s first decade of existence. The project is testament to the gallery’s mission: to bring innovative art to the Vietnamese public. ‘We didn’t get sponsorship, we had nothing for sale’, says Quynh, the gallery founder. ‘We wanted to support it. We never really thought about sales.’

Naturally, the event did not generate any revenue, but it did put Galerie Quynh on the international radar. Publications like Art In America, or the London-based Contemporary magazine, featured it.

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Another milestone was being able to exhibit the work of Japanese-American artist Bruce Yonemoto. Getting famous international artists to come and show in Vietnam is about as easy as getting Madonna to sing at your wedding.

Worldwide, Galerie Quynh is still probably the best known, if not the only known, Vietnamese gallery. Art historian Quynh Pham left her job in a well-known museum in California to return to her Asian homeland to found it. In 2003, when the gallery opened, Vietnam had very little in terms of an art scene.

In the 1990s, Salon Natasha and Nhasan studio, two artist-run spaces established in Hanoi, had opened the doors to contemporary art in Vietnam. At the turn of the millenium, international backing provided more cultural spaces in Hanoi, such as the Goethe Institute, the Ford Foundation, Alliance Francaise’s L’Espace, the British Council and the Danish Cultural Development and Exchange Foundation. Private galleries started popping up on Vietnam’s high streets, but most were just shops that sold paintings. They were not galleries that worked with artists to develop their careers and raise public awareness of contemporary practices.

Many commercial painting shops remain, but a lot of the important galleries have now closed. Blue Space, Ryllega, Bui gallery…

‘We’ve been knocked down so many times. It’s easy to give up’, Quynh comments, revealing her steely resolution to keep working hard to make her project mature. Disaster moments include the all-too-common having to move location, for the second time, because after renovating the venue, the landlord wants it back. Grit, and plenty of hard work, can solve most problems. ‘We all know that success does not come overnight’, Hoang Duong Cam, one of the gallery artists confirms, ‘we, together, shed a lot of sweat and tears to get to where we are right now.’

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When things seem hard, they usually get worse. The financial crisis slowed down global business even in buzzing Vietnam. ‘2009, 2010 were very hard years for us’, Quynh comments. Her clients, many of them Westerners, mostly live outside of Vietnam. Most gallerists in Vietnam are working hard to develop a collector base among the local population, and Quynh is no exception in trying to build relationships with wealthy Vietnamese businesspeople, who, for now, show little interest in art as a monetary and cultural investment.

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It’s not easy for a gallery to survive in a country where the majority of people don’t even think of looking at art, let alone buying it. ‘For the longest time’, Quynh recalls, ‘I would say for about 8 years, it was running like an art centre.’ Not quite like a non-profit, she clarifies, but only just managing to sell enough to continue their programming and fund their exhibition catalogues. Galerie Quynh has printed over a dozen publications on their artists.

The biggest challenge happened very recently. Contemporary art takes many forms and mediums, and as any cinema-goer knows, screen size, quality and resolution change the viewing experience. Hanging an exhibition for Tiffany Chung, an artist of worldwide fame, led to near breakdown on all sides. Tiffany’s multichannel video art requires sophisticated technology. ‘We don’t have the infrastructure here in Vietnam’, says a disappointed Quynh, ‘in future we will have to hire specialist people and bring in certain equipment.’

Technology is not the only obstacle. Try visiting the printing press because the looming deadline for a catalogue is not met, and leave at 3am covered in ink. ‘Always in Vietnam we have lots of production issues. Everything just takes time’, the gallery owner reveals. She employs a highly skilled carpenter to frame the artworks, but it has been known to happen that a picture is framed the wrong way up just before another deadline. Art, serious art, must be of the best quality. ‘We don’t have archival materials in Vietnam, so we have to bring them over from the United States or elsewhere’, Quynh notes, somehow with no exasperation in her voice.

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Despite all this, ‘we’ve never had a meltdown’, she smiles. ‘The key to our success is the relationship we have with our artists.’ Passion for art is Galerie Quynh’s driving force. ‘I don’t have an MBA. I come from an art history, theoretical background’, which the artists respect. Instead of giving guidelines on how artists can make their work more sellable, Quynh critiques their work (very bluntly, she admits) and motivates them to push their ideas further, ‘I really care about them as professional artists.’

In turn, the artists stood by Galerie Quynh, even during the low points. International sources have commented that galleries are wary to taking on Vietnamese artists, because they sell their art behind the gallery’s back, after the gallery has invested heavily in promoting them. Quynh is rightly proud to say that her gallery has only lost 2 artists in all of these years. ‘We’ve worked with 17 artists on different projects.’ The younger generation artists have built strong careers thanks to that partnership.

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Not that the gallery accepts any artist that knocks on the door. ‘A lot of artists have come to me and I’ve declined them.’ Quynh explains that art has to resonate with her. As a curator, her career depends on making choices she can defend with heart and soul. ‘I do feel that we are the leading gallery in the nation. We have solid programming. We have vision.’

The aim is not just to sell, but to make contemporary art from Vietnam more visible to the general public. Galerie Quynh has endorsed events and artists talks, and worked with organizations such as A little blah blah, Wonderful District, San Art, Zero Station and Dia Projects. International collaborations with various museums and artistic projects are significant. The gallery supported a fundraising event for Japan’s Red Cross, following the 2011 tsunami. From 2010 to 2012 Galerie Quynh was the first and only gallery from Vietnam invited to participate in the prestigious Art Hong Kong fair.

Galerie Quynh expanded in 2013 now has two exceptional art spaces in HCMC. Future world domination on the scale of Gagosian? Unlikely, given that Vietnam is still far from being a global art centre. But for that precise reason, because art experts from all corners are looking this way to see what they have missed, Quynh is networking more vigorously, ‘we need to start a dialogue with museums.’

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Not only that. More challenges are in the making. In the courtyard of the Fine Arts museum, a new space has just been renovated. Sao La, Galerie Quynh’s newest initiative, is not going to be a commercial space. There are plans for something a bit more experimental. Educational programs and opportunities for some of the emerging artists who may feel somewhat intimidated by the other local art establishments, with their shows planned at least a year in advance. One thing seems certain, failure will not be a deterrent to make it work. ‘I’m really excited about our future’, glows Quynh.

 

What the Artists Say

GQ10_CN2French artist Thierry Bernard-Gotteland seems quite blasé about exhibiting his artwork. He works as a lecturer and would make the art anyway, he shrugs. Since his focus is on sound art, it costs him nothing to create it on his computer, and he doesn’t need a physical place to store it. Yet he has chosen to work with Galerie Quynh because it keeps him in contact with other art professionals. It has also allowed him to expand his creative practice into, in his own words, more ‘traditional’ materials. Leather sofas in chains and self-playing music machines may not be your idea of traditional art, but he assures us, with solid philosophic reasoning, that it is.

Any artist that titles his work Square Eggs and Things Under Shells is going to either fail instantly or ooze enough creativity for at least two lifetimes. Hoang Duong Cam, one of Vietnam’s most playful artists, began his career in Hanoi, where ‘square eggs’ was projected at the Goethe Institute in 2001. Ten years later, in Galerie Quynh, which represents him since he moved to Saigon, Cam hung his favourite show to date.  Ideal Fall, 2011, was a big challenge for him and the gallery. Preparation took nearly 3 years of labour. The work included activities such as throwing sculptures off rooftops and shredding worker’s uniforms to make a hanging upside down monument.

Drawings of bandaged heads, fat cats, dead birds and evil sheep could mislead you into thinking that Stephen King has taken up art. Sandrine Llouquet’s works are disquieting renderings of human turmoil, with characters from childhood nightmares. Surprisingly captivating, though, because of the freshness of the line and watercolour strokes. Sandrine has worked with Galerie Quynh since moving to Vietnam in 2005. She has been very active with collaborative projects that have shaken up HCMC’s sleepy art world. She occasionally works as a VJ.

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Galerie Quynh has two spaces: 65 De Tham, and the third floor of 151/3 Dong Khoi,
both in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

 

Text and photos by Cristina Nualart

 

How is lacquer painting evolving in the 21st century?

TuDo_Word_April14_cnualartThis article was published in Word Vietnam magazine, April 2014, p.166.

 

“MEMORIES”, lacquer exhibition by 5 artists,
Tu Do gallery, 53 Ho Tung Mau, D1, HCMC, Vietnam.
Until 30 March 2014.

 

Imagine inspecting molten asphalt that has been poured like lava over Pompeii. Tu Do’s group exhibition of lacquer paintings should be looked at close up. Forget what the shapes may represent. Get close enough to smell the oily vapours of the medium.

 

One must put aside dismissive prejudices about subject matter to see how lacquer painting is evolving. Bear in mind that even the Le brothers, the Hue duo of rising art stars who recently participated in the Singapore Biennale, make brightly coloured lacquers that on first impressions look a lot like shop-ready commercial art, whilst simultaneously creating stunning video work and metaphorically rich performance art.

TuDoLacquer1_cnualartThe mid to late 90s in Vietnam were still a time in which experimental artworks were uncommon. That art was made at all during those difficult times should be celebrated. For this reason Phunam’s conventional lacquers are, for the period, not to be dismissed. His are the oldest works in this exhibition. Works made a decade later are understandably richer in new techniques, but Phunam’s large depiction of a tribal musical performance should be admired for the complimentary colour contrast beating all over the picture. The faces, too, are unusual in their balaklava-like synthesis.

TuDoLacquer2_cnualartTradition demands that a lacquer painting should be sanded and rubbed until all brushstrokes have been bulldozed into a perfectly flat image. Xuan Chieu is the artist in this show who best represents that esteemed practice. Inlays of eggshell and mother of pearl have been finely grinded. Patches of gold leaf gleam amongst the original powdered mineral colours that tradition calls for: three shades of red, and ocres. Geometric forms in indigo blue and forest green are rarer in first generation lacquer paintings, so enjoy their Sapa-like coolness.

TuDoLacquer3_cnualartThe pastel colours in Duong Tuan Kiet’s paintings indicate that they contain little natural lacquer, a treacle too dark to permit sugar pinks and mint greens, when used as art schools teach. His pieces look like oil panting on canvas, whereas lacquer is always painted on smooth wooden surfaces. Kiet does cover the blank canvas in gold leaf before he paints, a technique used in lacquer to give glow to the painting. These canvases propose another innovation in lacquer’s evolution: its inclusion into the vast collection of ‘mixed media’ paintings.

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TuDoLacquer5_cnualartVo Xuan Huy is an art lecturer from Hue who tries to take lacquer painting to the third dimension. Thick impasto, deep cracks, puddles of honeyed glass and ripples formed by fast evaporation are the geography of his abstracts. Lotus flowers, Chi circles and other easy symbols stamped into the pigmented mud do seem to cheapen the visual experience from afar, but I have not come across another artist who is so keen to sabotage the polished surface of traditional lacquer.

TuDoLacquer6_cnualartNguyen Xuan Anh moves from urban depictions to experimental abstracts. The latter are very interesting. The two large ones in this show are vigourous expressionistic exercises, with texture reminiscent of Tapies and graphic power as strong as Franz Kline’s. Anh collages sack cloth and drips colour onto otherwise traditionally crafted lacquers abundant in polished eggshell.

Whilst other lacquer artists elsewhere are creating new finishes by using spray paint and glass-like polyester resin, the art in this show is innovative within the limits of possibility of natural lacquer.

The internet is 25 years old

Although we think of the internet as the biggest repository of knowledge, it is barely a young adult.

I remember exploring this strange net with my brother, on an underscore-flashing screen. I guess it was MS DOS, although I seem to remember it was white, so perhaps it was something else. Did Netscape have a search function? I can’t even remember what the computer looked like. Was it a rainbow-striped Sinclair? The details have faded. I don’t even know how old we were.

We were excited about what we’d heard about this web that was world wide. We were ready to discover all sorts of things on it. My first Internet search was for a woman artist. I wanted to know more about Georgia O’Keefee. She seemed like an interesting person. (Thinking about it now, maybe my interest in found bones came from her paintings). My first Internet search yielded zero results. Was that zero an indication of how little interest there was in art or in women artists?

I just tried the same search again now. I got over 4 and a half million results in nanoseconds. The World Wide Web is still growing up. We know it’s prodigious at storing knowledge. Let’s make it also grow wiser and more inclusive, and fill it with the stuff that matters.

From here, a humble thank you to the developers, the geeks and the net artists that have made it a good place to know.

24 hours to reflect on gender

I glazed this ceramic plate last millennium. It’s called Oppressed Woman.
Not all is bad for women on this planet, but it takes very little research to see that there is much gender inequality hindering humanity. Much of that inequality is invisible to many people who have not yet challenged how much of their own attitudes and values comes from gender biased ideologies. Whichever way you celebrate women, I hope that it brings you to a better place.

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The Ghost of Cho Van Thanh

After nearly 3 years, I finished this layered drawing. It didn’t take 2 years of work, but perhaps I needed that time to reflect on my disappointment at what I perceived to be the destruction of a cultural icon. In 2011 I witnessed the demolition of the market in Saigon known as Cho Van Thánh. I’d grown fond of the rusty old letters on what appeared to be a greyish modernist building.

In fact, the large, covered market was built in 1994, during the Doi Moi period, when Vietnam was implementing the economic reforms that would reshape its route to progress. The geometrical details that reminded me of 1960s architecture took on a poignant meaning. After the war, the country had been so isolated from the rest of the world that the designs it produced had not evolved for a whole generation, they were frozen in time.*

Diggers have become an interesting artistic subject matter for me. A Vietnamese friend told me that some people refer to them as ghosts, and that when passing in front diggers, many Vietnamese will remain silent omeprazole 20 mg. Diggers are scary. In this rapidly developing land, they can destroy ancestor’s graves, and there was a time when the Vietnamese government wouldn’t allow the relocation of graves. Ancestor worship, a popular belief system throughout the country, requires visits to ancestors tombs, to pay respect.

This subdued image pays respect to the defunct market, symbol of a faded era that has been left behind, much to the relief of many in Vietnam, who are instead embracing the introduction of a market economy.

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Cristina Nualart. The Ghost of Cho Van Thanh. 2011-2014.

Pencil, watercolour, acrylic, house paint and gold leaf on Saunders Waterford paper, 76 x 56 cm.

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* A similar thing had occurred in Spain after the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). According to Antigüedad del Castillo-Olivares (2011), Spain was left out of international developments in architecture for over 10 years, and it was only when the country’s economy started to improve, from well into the 1950s, that architecture returned to a ‘normal’ stage of progress.

Antigüedad del Castillo-Olivares, María Dolores, 2011, ‘La Arquitectura después de la Segunda Guerra Mundial’, En: Mª Dolores Antigüedad del Castillo-Olivares, Víctor Nieto Alcaide, Amparo Serrano de Haro Soriano. El arte del siglo XX : metamorfosis del arte, Madrid: Editorial Universitaria Ramón Areces, 165-205.

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.

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

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

 

 

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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