Vietnamese art has a rich history and it is growing into a vibrant and diverse network. Nowadays, Vietnamese artists are also increasingly exhibiting abroad in major international events and institutions. They are recognized for their poignant artistic practices and unique scene. This is a list of best Vietnamese artists to watch.
1. Dinh Q. Le
Dinh Q. Lê (1968) was born in Ha Tien, Vietnam, and escaped with his family by boat to the USA at an early age. He has exhibited in important institutions such as MoMA in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Whitechapel Gallery in London and dOCUMENTA(13) in Kassel, among others. In 2015, the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo will hold his retrospective. He now lives and works in Ho Chi Minh City, where he co-founded the non-profit artist-initiated contemporary art space Sàn Art in October 2007.
Lê’s work draws from his personal history and its context, rooted in Vietnam’s recent history of war. Through multimedia installations and photo-weavings, the artist explores issues of personal and collective memory, bathed in political and historical references, such as in Erasure (2011).
His practice digs into the past to uncover what has been lost or forgotten, bringing back the memory of what has been denied, covered up or abandoned throughout history and with Vietnam’s rapid race towards economic development. In his recent body of work, which was on show at PPOW Gallery in New York, Lê veered away from his previous work’s exploration of personal history, focusing instead on his artistic practice and testing the boundaries of photography.
2. Tiffany Chung
Tiffany Chung (b. 1969) was born in Danang and currently lives and works in Ho Chi Minh City. She graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara with a BFA in Photography in 1988 and an MFA in Studio Art in 2000. Her works have been part of influential exhibitions and have been shown in institutions worldwide, including the most recent Disrupted Choreographies exhibition at the Musée d’Art Contemporain Nîmes and My Voice Would Reach You at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas. In 2013, she was invited to participate in the Sharjah Biennale, curated by Yuko Hasegawa, chief curator at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo.
Chung’s practice blurs the boundaries between anthropology, sociology and art. Her work is also reminiscent of an archaeologist, the archaeology project for future remembrance shown at Galerie Quynh. Her work is deeply rooted in the research and study of urban progress and transformation in relation to history and cultural memories; it carefully examines the shifts in the geographical landscape of places and their growth and decline due to migration, deindustrialization, natural disaster, extreme climate impact, and human destruction.
3. Nguyen Manh Hung
Nguyen Manh Hung (b. 1976) was born in Hanoi and is currently lives in Ho Chi Minh City. In recent years, he has gained international attention and has participated in various important institutional exhibitions, such as the 2012 Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art at the Queensland Art Gallery in Brisbane. He is also the resident in 2014 at the Musée d’Art Contemporain du Val-de-Marne (MAC/VAL) where he has exhibited alongside the other invited resident artist Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba.
Working with a range of media, including installation, painting and sculpture, Hung addresses concern of contemporary Vietnamese life as well as aspects of the culture and history of Vietnam. Charged with social criticism subtly conveyed through visual symbolism, his approach is strongly influenced by surrealist practice. The son of a fighter jet pilot, he has often depicted fighter jets in his work, giving them a humanised appearance such as in his sculptural installation Go to Market (2013).
Nguyen Manh Hung, Until the lake is full, 2014, oil paint on found painting, 30.5 x 40.5 cm
4. Danh Vo
Danh Vo (b 1975) was born in Ba Ria, Vietnam. He left the country at a young age to settle in Denmark and now based in Berlin. Vo is one of the most internationally well-known Vietnamese artists whose work has been shown in institutions worldwide, including Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, the National Gallery of Denmark and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. In 2012, he was awarded the prestigious Hugo Boss art prize, with a subsequent solo exhibition at the Guggenheim – New York.
Vo creates conceptual installations that engage with issues of identity and belonging, influenced by his Vietnamese heritage. Taking old documents, photographs, other artists’ works, antique and ancient objects, Vo constructs artworks charged with historical and personal significance. The USA features heavily in his latest works, which explore the mutual involvement between the nation and his native Vietnam.
For his recent We The People (2010-2012), he recast sections of the Statue of Liberty and shipped different parts to 15 different countries around the world. His solo show at Marian Goodman in New York (2013) focused on the personal affects of US Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara, the ‘architect’ of the Vietnam War, create a dialogue between shared and private histories.
5. Nguyen Trinh Thi
Nguyen Trinh Thi (b. 1973) is lived in Hanoi. She is an American-educated independent filmmaker and video artist and is the founder and director of DOCLAB (an independent centre for documentary film and video art). Her work has been screened in institutions and festivals worldwide, including Fukuoka Asia Art Museum, ZKM Karlsruhe, the Tate Modern in London and the Bangkok Experimental Film Festival,…
She examines the role of an artist in contemporary Vietnamese society and explores memory in order to uncover hidden, displaced or misinterpreted histories. In her latest film-Jo Ha Kyu (2012), the artist follows the essential concept of the narrative structure in Japanese temporal arts, and explores the filmmaker’s personal and subjective experience of Tokyo in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake, presenting a conflict and co-existence of concrete and abstract worlds.
6. Tran Luong
Tran Luong (b. 1960) is a pioneer of performance art in Vietnam, but he also works in painting and installation. This Hanoi-based artist came to international prominence as part of the Gang of Five and led the development of contemporary art in Vietnam in the 1980s and 1990s. He is now highly regarded for his art experience and his work has been exhibited worldwide.
Tran Luong’s work explores themes of history, politics, personal and collective memory and symbols such as the red scarf or rice to develop his personal narrative. In Lap Loe – Welts, he uses a red scarf, worn by primary and secondary school pupils in Vietnam, a historical and political symbol associated with Communism. This artist wanted to experience the pain of the small scars and wounds inflicted by the game as well as the pain inflicted by outside forces during that politically troubled era.
Trang Luong, Lập Loè / Welts, 2008, Performance, three channel video installation, Guggenheim UBS Map Global Art Initiative.
7. The Propeller Group
Phunam Thuc Ha (b. 1974, Ho Chi Minh City), Tuan Andrew Nguyen (b. 1976, Ho Chi Minh City) and Matt Lucero (b. 1976, California) are the establishers of The Propeller Group (TPG) in 2006. With a varied background in visual art, film and video, they met on common ground to create the collective with the aim of making large-scale productions. TPG’s work has been part of many worldwide exhibitions, including the Guggenheim UBS Map Global Art Initiative’s No Country and Disrupted Choreographies at Carré d’Art – Musée d’Art Contemporain Nîme.
They focus on exploring historical, social and cultural symbols to advance criticism and examinating the state of contemporary society. The Monumental Bling (2013) recently shown in Nîmes represents the image of Lenin, the most powerful Communist leader of our times to explore the border between identity and ornamentation, the portrayal of power throughout history and the malleability of personality in the public sphere.
The Propeller Group, Chasing Inertia, 2012, (150 x 150 x 150 cm).
8. Ha Manh Thang
Ha Manh Thang (b. 1980) lives and works in Hanoi. His work has been part of international exhibitions including Reök Palace in Budapest (2011), ifa Galleries in Stuttgart and Berlin (2009) and the Singapore Art Museum (2008). He is also the only Vietnamese artist to have been profiled in Phaidon’s Painting Today (2009) alongside Gerard Richter and Peter Doig, to name a few.
This artist takes inspiration from Vietnam’s wealthy historical and cultural and juxtaposes ancient references and representations to contemporary popular culture and urban architecture. His satirical paintings examine Vietnam’s cultural and social history within the context of Doi Moi and the changes and transformations of this era.
Ha Manh Thang, Hue Citadel Landscape, no. 9, 2014, acrylic, acrylic medium, oil and charcoal on canvas, 100 x 195 cm.
9. Bui Cong Khanh
Bui Cong Khanh (b. 1972) lives and works between Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City. He graduated from Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts University with a BFA in oil painting, but soon embraced a diverse practice ranging from painting to performance, installation, sculpture and ceramics. His work has been exhibited worldwide.
The artist explores the history and contemporary Vietnamese society and examines the impact of global capital. He incorporates figurative representations in his iconic porcelain vases, which are a bridge between ancient and contemporary culture. Using a centuries-old traditional medium, Bui creates messages that are immediately recognizable in their contemporary context.
10. Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba
Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba (b. 1968) was born in Tokyo and educated in the USA. His work has been exhibited at many countries such as the Mori Art Museum (Tokyo), Museo d’Arte Contemporanea (Rome), Kunsthalle Wien, Smithsonian Freer and Sackler Gallery and Manchester Art Gallery, as well as in various biennales around the world. He lives in the USA and works between the USA and Ho Chi Minh City.
Nguyen-Hatsushiba’s multimedia works tackle issues of globalisation and internationalisation and their inherent socio-cultural changes. His past work has included references to Vietnam, such as the underwater cyclos in Memorial Project Nha Trang that internationally acclaimed in 2001. Filmed off the coast of Vietnam in Nha Trang, the video represents fishermen pulling cyclos under water, symbolising the weight of tradition and Vietnam’s historical past (the cyclo) in the country’s struggling race towards modernization.