Category Archives: art news

A Report from Vietnam’s Art Scene

NOTE: I’ve been out of commission for a few days due to laptop madness but I’m glad to report that I’m back and itching to blog.

justinsaigon01.jpgI caught up with a longtime friend and neighbor from the bodacious borough of Brooklyn, Justin B. {via Facebook} and discovered that the one time resident of Lagos, Madrid, New York, and most recently Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) has chosen to move on to Osaka to build a new nest.

A connoisseur of the creative and a subversive personality in general, I took the opportunity to email Justin and get the skinny on Vietnam’s culture scene.

Why did you choose to move to Saigon?
I must have been out of my mind or feeling nostalgic and slightly violent. I guess the RNC 2004 pushed me over the edge.

requiemforawallphanumthucha.jpgWhat were your first impressions and how have they changed?
At first I thought it was paradise, then I discovered it was Disneyland.

What is the art scene like in Saigon or Vietnam in general?
The art scene is dead, except for expat fantasies.

Who are some of the major artists in the scene?
Outsiders mostly, who come in to the playground. The major gallery had to drop “Vietnamese” from its title due to a lack of local artists. Cash, not creativity, is king in Saigon.

Tell me a little about some artworks you’ve created or been involved with, including that sleep project (Magma) that was webcast?
Magma was an effort by Sue Hadju, who along with Motoko Uda runs “A little Blah, Blah…” They are perhaps the real power house pushing creativity in Saigon but mostly by hosting foreign visiting curators and artists. I embed myself in other people’s shows, generally providing some kind of peripheral service and then hijack the implementation a little. My artistic efforts are based on interventions, situations and disruptions, mostly in an effort to force the audience to stop taking themselves so seriously and take the work seriously by recognizing they are viewers and participants, that they are part of the work.

Are there institutions that support the arts in Vietnam?
ALBB (A little Blah Blah), Gallery Quynh, and Wonderful District.

Are there any limits for artistic freedom of expression?
Oh yeah. Everything has to pass through the censor, who of course knows nothing about art.

In your opinion, what are some of the biggest obstacles the Vietnamese art world faces?
Greed, greed, greed, a complete lack of interest in creativity outside of profits. A complete lack of interest in art by the youth. A consumer culture with no interest in creative production.

Is there any local interest in the art being produced in their country? How does the media cover it? Does the government get involved?
The media is censored. Fortunately, the government has little interest in art as long as it stays in foreign circles. Because of the censorship what little art there is remains a private matter for people with means.

What is the legacy of communist social realism in Vietnam, if any?
It sells well to tourists who love to pay silly amounts for viet-kitch.

In your opinion, what is the future of the art in Vietnam?
Vietnam is developing its consumer culture and won’t have a creative/counter culture for another decade. The government remains uninterested and unconcerned. Interested artists should check back in about 10 years or focus on ethnic-chic documentation.

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Touring the late August Art Blogs

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While the galleries are empty, thankfully, the art blogs are full…

My New Banner (Second Life)

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Under the guise of my Second Life (SL) avatar, Ari Montreal, I went gallery hopping in SL for months. It was often hit or miss, but art was all around and there were some interesting things to see. My SL art experience culminated in an article about SL’s art scene for the Brooklyn Rail in April 2007.

But, after a few more months I stopped going, realizing that I didn’t have time for a three-dimensional cyber-life. Though I hope to revisit SL again…time will tell.

My new banner marks those months exploring SL’s art scene…..and it is my way of saying a special thank you to all the SL artists, critics and users that helped me find the treasures that lay within.

An Urban Hospital in Istanbul


A thesis project by Andrew Witt from Harvard. Organized around the principles of cellular growth, Witt’s hospital plan utilizes different schemes for generating architectural forms at many different scales. Currently being exhibited at Storefront for Art & Architecture.

The Armenian flavor of West Asian Photography

vanleo.jpgLast year’s YEAR OF ARMENIA in France, called “Arménie, mon amie” (Armenia, my friend), was a coup for Armenian cultural awareness in the West…well, at least in Europe.

One of the most interesting exhibits from the French festivities, and there were tons of crappy ones judging by the web, was the Armenian photography show at the Institut du Monde Arabe (IMA) in Paris.

Thankfully, the IMA (which is a great museum in an amazing Jean Nouvel building) does a great job documenting its shows and in this case, a webpage and brochure exist online for posterity.

bedrostarkulyan.jpgFocusing on work from North Africa (Egypt) and West Asia (Turkey, Israel/Palestine, Iraq), the show spanned 150 years of Armenian photography. Armenians had a seminal role in West Asian photography.

In places like Jerusalem, Armenians were the pioneers of the medium, while in Cairo, Baghdad, Beirut, Aleppo, Istanbul & Tehran most famous photographers were Armenian.

Admittedly, some photographers are more gifted than others and many tend to be to documentarian, but the Egyptian Armenian photographers are the exception and come across as artists—Van Leo, Angelo, and Katia Boyadjian are the crème de la crème of that creative flowering.

Perhaps one day, the other branches of Armenian photographic history (like Soviet & Anglo-American) will be given their day in the sun.

angelo.jpg lekegian.jpg yessayigarabedian.jpg zgdonatossian.jpg

While I’ve posted half a dozen images from the exhibit here, check out the original exhibit brochure for more images from the IMA show (.pdf).

Boston Common & Public Gardens, 1:47pm

Local photographers display their work during an unorthodox exhibit in the scenic public gardens of Boston Common.

Touring the Art Blogs

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Since the galleries are lame in August, I decided to tour the online art circuit instead…here’s some posts that stood out:

When she was studying at the Art Instutute of Chicago in the late 1950s Murray had what she always thought of as a crucial encounter with one of the Institute’s Cezannes, The Plate of Apples, a painting she described years later as one where “the space is all pouring out somehow at you.” At the time the painting’s main importance for her was simply that it turned her on to the joy of looking at painting. But plainly something of the canted, tilted iceflow surfaces of Cezanne’s still lifes would find its way into Murray’s work.