Interview the Owner of Thanh Uy Fine Art Collection: Collecting Art in...

Interview the Owner of Thanh Uy Fine Art Collection: Collecting Art in Vietnam – the Hidden Waves

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On the occasion of the exhibition “Grapevine Selection – Volume 2”, which aims to promote young artists and contribute to develop a domestic art market in Vietnam, we would like to introduce a series of articles on the topic of domestic art market by journalist / author Dao Mai Trang under her pen name “Phong Van”.

Article 3: Interview the Owner of Thanh Uy Fine Art Collection: Collecting Art in Vietnam – the Hidden Waves

Bộ sưu tập Thanh Uy: Lê Huy Tiếp, "Mực khô và những đồng tiền", in độc bản, 65 x 80 cm, 2004
(Thanh Uy Collection) Le Huy Tiep, “Dry squids and money notes”, mono print, 65 x 80 cm, 2004

Collecting artworks is a field which art communities everywhere always look forward to and have big expectations. However, in Vietnam the fact is that this task has faced many obstacles due to the lack of a local market as well as confidence in the art world. Phong Van and Hanoi Grapevine has conducted an exclusive interview with the owner of Thanh Uy fine art collection, which specializes in Vietnamese printmaking and sculptural works. This is also the first time the collector officially introduces his collection.

Can you tell us the reason why you decided to collect artworks in Vietnam and specialize in print works?

I love the arts and always want to learn and discover what is expressed through each art work. I collect artworks and of course I want to collect artworks from Vietnam because it’s the art of our country, so it’s easier to feel and understand. In addition, I live here so I have many chances to meet and make contact directly with artists to be able to collect works.

About the collecting of printmaking works, including prints and the original woodblocks, as well as other print works, I have three main reasons. First, I feel intuitively that this kind of artwork is quite suitable for me. I cannot explain further the reason (laughing). Secondly, print works are reasonably priced, which suits my financial ability. Thirdly, as far as I know, there is no one in Vietnam specializing in collecting print works at the moment.

Bộ sưu tập Thanh Uy, Trần Nguyên Đán, "Làng Nhị Khê", khắc gỗ, 42 x 185 cm, 1979
(Thanh Uy Collection) Tran Nguyen Dan, “Nhi Khe Village”, wood print, 42 x 185 cm, 1979

So I understand that budget is an important factor for you to consider before starting this collection. What are some basic criteria for an artwork evaluation that you want to own in your collection?

First, and normally the buyer has to base on the market price, but the local art market in Vietnam doesn’t exist yet, so I only have two basic criteria which are based on the most recent price at the Fine Arts Museum of the time that I was buying and at the same time I agree on the price directly with the artists.

I feel that the criteria of working “directly with the artists” can sometimes be confusing, for example, how can you come to an agreement when the normal psychology is that the buyer wants to pay less and the seller wants to get more. In the process of buying an art work, it requires a certain sensitivity and subtlety in bidding for the works. I am very curious – have you ever got into any troublesome situation like that? If so, how can you escape it?

This kind of question actually is troublesome for me! (Laugh). The pricing of a painting directly with an artist is always a very sensitive matter because I could hurt the artist’s pride or they will doubt my knowledge. I must say this kind of work makes me most confused and hesitant but it is one of the most important parts in the collecting process. Have I ever gotten in any situations like that? Of course! But luckily, it only ended at the stage of my personal feeling and there have been nothing such as conflicts with the artists at all. I have experienced certain things in life so that I know how to continue the story with the artist. There are some cases, in order to meet the artist I have to spend lots of time persuading and waiting for them to see my sincerity. Then again, it takes many stories to finally come to a specific discussion about some art pieces that I want to purchase… It’s easy to understand because most of the time, the artist didn’t know who I was, or what I was like, while they are normally famous artists.

Are there any other factors making you confused as well in this collecting work?

There are two more factors. First, there is the condition (when I first began to collect) I didn’t know where to start and how to proceed with the work. I didn’t know who to ask or where to find information. There was no one to share and give guidance in the beginning; sometimes I felt that I was a road detector. Then the time factor sometimes gave me as well headaches because I felt like I was consumed by my own collecting and learning process and at times forgot that I had to do many other things to secure myself financially to continue collecting works. That how it goes!

How many artworks are there in your collection so far?

Approximate 1,200 artworks including prints, gouache drawings and sculptures from 60 Vietnamese artists and sculptors. I tried to choose representative works of each artist from different periods of Vietnamese art as well as techniques and artistic styles.

Bộ sưu tập Thanh Uy, Nguyệt Nga, "Phong cảnh Hòa Bình", khắc gỗ màu, 40 x 50 cm, 1975
(Thanh Uy Collection) Nguyet Nga, “The landscape of Hoa Binh”, color wood print, 40 x 50 cm, 1975

What are your thoughts on the exchange between different collections and have you ever had the intention to exchange?

This is a very good idea but really difficult to implement. I have never done that before despite my wish. Like other commodities, the work exchange can only happen when there’s a market, which publicly announces the price as we’ve just discussed. The market doesn’t exist in Vietnam yet. On the other hand, the number of people selling and buying paintings is big but collecting systematically is still very rare. The tastes and types are quite varied so there’s no mutual voice to share the experience as well as exchange the art collection. Previously, I sometimes shared my collecting work with Le Thai Son and also learned from him. Sadly he passed away two years ago. At the moment, the selling and buying of artworks are still in silence, not so public; therefore, private collectors don’t know each other and there’s no chance to meet and share experience.

What is your family’s reaction with your collecting work? Don’t they think that you are “throwing the money out the window”?

(Laugh) People often wonder why I don’t know how to paint but I know many artists. I work on this quite independently and my family has almost nothing to do with it. I try to arrange the work so that it won’t interfere with my family.

What is your hope for this collection?

I hope in the near future I can organize thematic exhibitions of the collections, publish books for each exhibition and finally have a space to showcase those works frequently so that the audience can come to enjoy and learn more. I believe that there are more and more people loving and wanting to learn more about Vietnamese art.

Thank you very much!

Phong Van

(Translated by Do Tuong Linh)

In the same series:

Article 1: The Importance of the Local Art Market
Article 2: A Hope for Vietnamese People to Collect Vietnamese Art

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  1. May area of interest is in the Dong Ho woodcuts and prints! I want to collect as many triptychs of large woodcuts, custom made according to my choosing! I would like to get a complete set of these (there are a couple hundred of them) over time at a rate close to $1500-2000USD each! They are, to me, beautiful and represent the deep past of woodcuts and printing. Yes, I also want to collect all of the prints as well. However, the money is a bit much overall! Any ideas anyone! I am asking Master Chi to do these individually and they take a lot of time! He is such a great artist and his craftsmanship is superb!

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