KVT – Beliefs Colorful and Otherwise at Dong Phong

KVT – Beliefs Colorful and Otherwise at Dong Phong

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KVT 2014


(Vietnamese version available – Đã có bản tiếng Việt)

KVT ponders beliefs and disbeliefs with Vuong Van Thao and Ly Hung Anh ….and reminds readers that his colorful imagination often runs away with him

Kvt - beliefs colorful and otherwise at Dong Phong 1

Dong Phong gallery has done it again!


They’ve curated an exceptional exhibition by two artists in a very small space that most would decorate like a dog’s breakfast

For me it’s an exhibition tinged with, on one hand, feelings of personal isolation and melancholy, and on the other with regret and at our ability to be sold down the river by propaganda and patriotism

The themes of the exhibition are universal and definitely relate to the place I’d philosophically and politically sometimes rather not call home!


Readers who read some of my opinionated bits realize that I’m a head over heels fan of Vuong Van Thao’s art work and whenever I get a whiff of a series of new ‘living fossils’ by him, you can’t keep me away.

But first fast forward to the black and white image on the PR! As soon as I saw it I whispered Georgio Morandi! ….who is an all time favorite of mine and whose still lifes are just about the best around even though he’s been dead for 50 years….see here for a collection of his work and below for a distinctive example

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So I just had to hop along to Dong Phong and see the real thing by Ly Hung Anh….and at about $300 it’s a real steal

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Ly Hung Anh is well known for his monochromatic grey paintings and the ones on show are a lovely and involving mixed bag.

When you look at some you may reference other well known or famous works of art and this play on our belief systems about copying art or other artists concepts is clever

It’s a nice matching game to play as you view the works.

There are landscapes that make me want to wander into them and see where I’ll end up on a lone adventure…..that aloneness is an appealing but eventually revealing feature of the artist’s work



A favorite with most viewers has been a sentimental canvas that is imbued with a personification (or dogification) of that aloneness and melancholic watchfulness. Perhaps the sentimentality is misplaced! For all we know, the dog may be shuddering back from an owner advancing to belt the living daylights out of it. It took me back to the Prado and Goya’s Dog

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That’s what I really like about this selection of Ly Hung Anh’s paintings….for me, their ambiguity, their double entendre


When I was asked for my favorite I couldn’t go past the end gable and classically friezed air vent of one of those fast disappearing Red River houses.


Not that Ly Hung Anh always works in B/W/shades of grey.

The Affordable Art Show at Dong Phong earlier this year featured two excellent, whimsical color pieces that were sensibly snapped up. They, too, were winning and appealing because of their spaciousness and suggested narratives

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And what I call Anh’s wrought iron bits on paper are also appealing….like this Birds and Nude…..totemic stuff!

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Now I get not a little cross with people who disparage Vuong Van Thao’s preoccupation with his preoccupation to preserve cultural icons in resin blocks… invariably most of these ‘living fossils’ turn out to be considered social comments.

In this show at Dong Phong it’s best to start of with Thao’s two little manikin water puppet figures with movable arms and who are shouldering rifles, and in one case the ubiquitous farmer’s sickle as they act out their role as society’s affable clowns

Even though it has decreased in importance and popularity as a major adult entertainment medium water puppetry has long been used as a medium by its manipulators to tease, poke fun at and satirize the foibles of the establishment while it was fulfilling its main role as an important tool to foster nationalism and create and solidify a cultural identity and remind people of their proud agrarian past.

Vuong Van Thao fuses the above beautifully with a naughtiness that delights and, as well, has a tinge of menace and foreboding as he hints at manipulated and real threats that impinge on national security





Then we progress to similar puppets fossilized by Thao for perpetuity….Thao’s process is slow and painstaking. The puppets are sculpted, painted, and then put in a cube mould with resin poured to the top. A chemical is added causing the finished fossil to have irregular, and uncontrolled cracks in its resin surround. Thus some fossils are fit for exhibition and many have to be discarded.




I really like the bawdy twins with their red rifles. They could indicate a unification of North and South against a common enemy (shades here of the real twins in Hue, the Le brothers who produce video art on the same theme)


And an extra special fossil has the armed puppet standing alongside a concrete pole mounted loud speaker announcing, perhaps a call to stand up and be counted in the face of external menace


The title of the exhibition is very apt when Thao’s fossils enter the equation. With Ly Hung Anh’s work I get that feeling that belief is a very delicate, melancholy thing, easily shattered; while Vuong Van Thao bounces back with strong hints that beliefs are too easily externally manufactured and manipulated into whatever colors suit the intended modus operandi of the powerful

With the present quivering and posturing going on in the East Sea by all countries who circumference its mineral wealth, Thao’s puppets belong in a scenario that is as scary as it is satirical

Another unfossilized sculpture, that may necessarily need ideological fossilizing in the future, is the one featuring two personified agricultural hoe heads in an embrace with a penile like sickle perhaps enjoining them in copulation


To round off and complement Thao’s puppetry figures are two really beautiful Buddha heads….one with green tears that could represent a map of Vietnam and another with red that could represent a map of the country dissolving into blood…..but then, I’ve always been accused of having a too active imagination.

When placed on either side of the twins the intended statement is powerful.




Both heads are superbly collectable

The Buddha, blood red and disintegrating, is part of the same story?


As I said before, a VERY nice exhibition indeed and one that has been most delicately presented


OK OK. I warned you at the beginning that I’ve got a vivid imagination that too often veers out of control.

Kiem Van Tim is a keen observer of life in general and the Hanoi cultural scene in particular and offers some of these observations to the Grapevine. KVT insists that these observations and opinion pieces are not critical reviews. Please see our Comment Guidelines / Moderation Policy and add your thoughts in the comment field below.


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