TRUC-ANH, Le Douteur, 2011–14, oil, oil pastel and copper leaves on canvas, 160 × 130 cm. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Quynh, Ho Chi Minh. 


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The ruling Communist Party has presided over a rapidly growing economy since market-oriented reforms in the late 1980s, yet social liberalization was not part of the package. Censorship of cultural and political dissent is still enforced by stringent laws. In 2014, two bloggers were jailed for online criticism of the government.

State-owned museums contend with government restrictions and limited funding. At the Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts Museum (HCMCFAM), “Venus in Vietnam” (1/11–24) juxtaposed the painted cardboard figures of emerging artist Nguyen Nghia Cuong with cardboard suits and embellished cigarette boxes by the revered Vu Dan Tan (1946–2009). 

In Hanoi, the Vietnam National Museum of Fine Arts hosted “Recovery After the Storm” (4/11–17), an international show about 2013’s Typhoon Haiyan, organized by Asia Art Link and featuring artists from the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam. Later, “Letting Go” (7/3–9) presented the distinctively eerie, amorphous oil paintings of Le Huu Hieu.

The Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Sports supports both the triennial Youth Fine Arts Festival (8/20–9/5), of artists aged 18–35 years, and the Biennale for the Young Artists, an annual show that excludes diaspora artists, organized by the HCMCFAM and the Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts University.

Vietnam’s most active nonprofit is Sàn Art in Ho Chi Minh City, established by artist Dinh Q. Lê. The cross-disciplinary show by the artists collective Art Labor, “Unconditional Belief” (2/27–4/29), saw Truong Cong Tung, Phan Thao Nguyen and Arlette Quynh-Anh Tran exploring different forms of belief. Additional Sàn Art offerings included “Disrupted Choreographies” (2/21–4/27), with Lê, Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba, Tiffany Chung and others probing issues of national consciousness.

The independent initiatives in Ho Chi Minh City are Dia/Projects, run by artist Richard Streitmatter-Tran, and ZeroStation, steered by artist-curator Nguyen Nhu Huy, who organized a solo show of Bang Duong’s photographs and sound works about changes in urban architecture (6/22–7/12). In Hue, artist-run New Space Arts Foundation displayed Ta Bach Duong’s intimate, mixed-media box works capturing daily memories (8/29–9/9). In Hanoi, the Viet Art Center offers temporary exhibitions of local work. In January, the burgeoning bohemian arts complex Zone 9, on the southeast edge of Hanoi, was closed following a deadly fire at a nearby nightclub construction site.

The Goethe-Institut in Hanoi and the Cultural Development Exchange Fund (CDEF) of the Embassy of Denmark are the sole cultural NGOs in Vietnam. The CDEF funds the artist-run Nhasan Studio space in Hanoi and supports the national Talent Prize for emerging artists. DocLab, a film- and video-making center based at the Goethe-Institut, runs a weekly program of screenings and workshops. The Goethe-Institut displayed works by eight Vietnam-based female artists, including an installation made of X-ray film strips by Nguyen Huu Tram Kha (3/7–23). 

In Hanoi, Art Vietnam showcased whimsical self-portrait paintings by Ha Tri Hieu (5/16–6/16) and in December moved to a new space in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. French-owned Bui Gallery closed for relocation. 

Ho Chi Minh City’s primary commercial space is Galerie Quynh, where Truc-Anh displayed his multilayered narrative paintings (5/22–7/19), and conceptual artist Nguyen Huy An posed poetic questions about change and modernity in “78 Rhythms” (10/31–11/22). Galerie Quynh launched the nonprofit initiative Sao La, with “Out of Nowhere” (5/30–7/27), featuring the diverse approaches of ten local artists.

The private Post Vidai Collection occasionally hosts temporary exhibitions; the Dogma Collection displays historical propaganda posters.

Elsewhere in Asia, the Guggenheim touring group exhibition “No Country: Contemporary Art for South and Southeast Asia” (5/10–7/20), at the Centre for Contemporary Art in Singapore, included Tran Luong and Tuan Andrew Nguyen. Video artist Nguyen Trinh Thi was a finalist in Singapore’s Signature Art Prize. At the Malaysian National Visual Arts Gallery in Kuala Lumpur, Dinh Q. Lê was one of eight regional artists featured in “Immaterial Frontiers 2.0” (7/18–10/15), an exploration of the meaning and impact of borders. The sculptor collective New Form, comprising Pham Thai Binh and Khong Do Tuyen, exhibited experimental works with recycled found materials in a historic Japanese house in Longtan, Taiwan (6/28–7/9). Nguyen Hong Ngoc participated in “The Mirror and Monitor of Democracy in Asia” (8/22–9/28) at the Gwangju Museum of Art. In Japan, the fifth Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale (9/6–11/30) featured Nguyen Trinh Thi and photographer Phan Quang. 

In Europe, “Disrupted Choreographies” (2/21–4/27), co-curated by Zoe Butt of Sàn Art, traveled to Carré d’Art, in Nîmes. In Amsterdam, Canvas Gallery presented 11 Vietnamese artists in “Vietnam Now: Changing Society” (6/7–7/31). Arter – Space for Art, in Istanbul, hosted the southeast Asia show “The Roving Eye” (9/18–1/4/15), which included Dinh Q. Lê, Bui Cong Khanh, Luong Hue Trinh & Nguyen Xuan Son, Nguyen Van Cuong and Vu Dan Tan.

In the United States, Dinh Q. Lê’s solo show, “Crossing the Farther Shore” (4/10–8/28), at the Rice University Art Gallery, Houston, featured hundreds of photos taken prior to the Vietnam War, stitched together into a hanging net installation 

In 2015, solo exhibitions will include Trong Gia Nguyen at Galerie Quynh in February, and Dinh Q. Lê’s first in Tokyo, at the Mori Art Museum in July.