KVT Carries on about a Shiny, Brand New Gallery

KVT Carries on about a Shiny, Brand New Gallery

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Attractive and savvy art entrepreneurs Tien and Lien have injected a bubbly frisson into the local art scene with the opening of their clean cut, sparkly gallery RAF on the 15th floor of Creative City-next door to Nha San. And as long as Creative City keeps up its presence and RAF persists with its initial integrity, Hanoi will have another cultural jewel to add to its somewhat sparse tiara.


The expansive triptych landscape view from the gallery’s window, along the flow of the Red River, is as awe inspiring as the enthusiasm of the two gallerists


A young friend who volunteers at Nha San told me that there were some really, really big boys in the new gallery and there certainly are! And I guess that the two savvy art entrepreneurs are hoping that the excellently presented work of those ‘big boys’ will attract the attention of some of the other BIG boys, and girls, who drive out and about in million dollar Mercedes and own growling Ducatis and who have the wall space and a few hundred thousand dollars for energetic pieces such as:


The ‘big’ boy responsible for these two eye poppers is 49 year old Le Kinh Tai who, to all accounts, rarely shows his in demand work in Vietnam – which attests to the clout of our two attractive entrepreneurs.



The entrepreneurs called their first gallery exhibition ATUM ATUM– taking the name from the Helepotian creation myth where-in Atum creates himself from primordial waters (thus the window view from the gallery has symbolic potency with the myth transposed to the Song Hong from the River Nile)

In one creation account Atum created other major Egyptian deities by the process of masturbation – ‘the hand he used in this act representing the female principle inherent within him’

Loud voices of some uninformed viewers –most usually male- of abstract contemporary art works are occasionally heard bouncing masturbatory epithets and synonyms off the walls of galleries and museums like soggy tennis balls. Sometimes I nod in agreement with their opinions.

In badly considered group shows or in most ‘affordable art extravaganzas’ there are invariably a few works that reek of artistic onanism but with Atum Atum the savvy entrepreneurs have given w*nk the flick.
The oldest ‘Big boy ‘in the show is now deceased (2009) and would have been 69.


Vu Dan Tan’s full size, finned, golden Cadillac, fantastically split open -as if using a gigantic can opener- was a defining piece of art in the last decade of last century and, like the Cadillac, the artist played a pivotal role in the development of an avant garde art scene in Hanoi. He became a presence in the international art world when Vietnamese post Doi Moi artists, in dissident mood, began to be starred and feted as their work, which was monitored and censored by their government, played with and exploited ambiguous meanings.

His golden wonder, a fantasy creature, should have been part of a major art museum’s collection but sadly it now rests on blocks in front of an old stilt house near the Duong River in Ngoc Thuy, about 3km on from Long Bien Bridge. A rusting hulk just about smothered in vines and weeds


The echo of that fantasia exists in a series of prints


Some casual observers might contend that Vu Dan Tan’s artistic output was characterized by the cutting and manipulation and morphing of materials-tin, cardboard, cigarette boxes- into fantasy creatures and their surmising would be reinforced by the display of adult Lepidoptera a-swarm on fake grass


Other casual observers of the artist’s output may comment on his eye for female beauty-or a particular ideal of that sexy obsession- which they will point out is excellently represented in one of his famous bank note series


Descending the age scale of represented artists we get to 66 and meet an early (1993) mixed media work by Tran Luong who is, arguably, one of Vietnam’s most famous exponents of the exploitation of ambiguity, though a fair bit of his intellectually understated work is deemed too subversive to be viewed by local audiences.


One might assume that the above work is all about the fishing nets of ideological conformity poised to scoop up amoebic points of dissention before they proliferate and attempt to wriggle through gaps into a wider ocean of free flowing ideas.

But my assumptions, like Vu Dan Tan’s cutouts, too often prove to be fanciful representations of actual reality
If I was a teacher of art history or philosophy I’d definitely have my class along to discuss and debate and tease out the inferences and symbolisms in 53 year old Le Quang Ha’s enormously involved and politically pointed canvas


A whole and delicious semester could be entertainingly and thought provokingly spent unraveling the threads that spin out from images below that are encased, as a whole, in a southern European landscape that seeps Renaissance proprieties, steams with surrealism, and is steeped in the tonal subtleties of a Morandi landscape.




Semester two could then be spent investigating Le Quang Ha’s obese, life size female (?) embalmed (?) body in the lead lined case with the lid covered with cheap floral material sourced in China.
My interpretations may attract censorship if I continue…………..




Another famous 53 year old is Truong Tan, famous for his ambiguous work , often in lacquer, that feature tumescent male figures in provocatively themed works that aim their arrows of dissent and comment at the sacred cows and vows and wow-serisms that want to muffle individuality under lumpy quilts of conformity.

Truong Tan is represented by a nicely searing work on paper


There had to be islands of relaxed contemplation where the viewers could steady their feet before the next dive into the waves and 45 year old Nguyen Minh Thanh gave us two oases tactfully located. His beautiful, though non gender specific faces, surrounded by petals or flowering vines are essential components to the visual and mental toss and tumbling of the majority of works.



In similar vein the brightly colored sculptures of 43year old, Japanese based, Dam Dang Lai are, for me, like waving tentacles of sea anemones on a crystal clear, tropical reef

I fell in love with them!



The artists into their third decade thrust us back into the maelstrom of implied dissent and ambiguity.

37 year old Bui Thanh Tam poses a mob of crazy people together- caricatures of a Face Book bred generation, generously back grounded by precious, shiny silver, wearing and bearing the accoutrements of middle and upper class consumerist sophistry and who are sending out a bored and callow f*ck you all to the once upon a time idealism of an egalitarian society.



Thirty five year old Tuan Mami, now arting in Amsterdam and whose paintings will feature in the next show in this gallery, reprises a 2013 work that he constructed while in residence at San Art in Saigon.

It’s titled TODAY in tatty, chewed up paper and features a society of dead cockroaches, pinned out in descending order in a pespex mausoleum.

Nuff said!




The gallerists seem to have a bit of a fixation on the small works on paper by 36 year old Russian artist Leonid Tsvetkov and also featured his appealing, geometrically presented pieces at their huge Tet Art Fair-several levels below in the same building.

And, yes, the works are very more-ish and come across to me as either geological specimens or images from Google Maps




Congratulations Lien and Tien and I hope that your gallery continues to prosper.

My apologies if any of my decidedly personalized opinions don’t hit the correct spot.

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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