For artists, getting back works intact from exhibitions a lottery

By Kieu Anh   December 11, 2020 | 04:46 am PT
Artists sending their works to exhibitions have to run the gauntlet of vandals, unprofessional handling by organizers and even thieves.

Occasional damage is an inherent risk artists are reconciled to when sending their works to art galleries and exhibitions.

But recent occurrences at the Vietnam Fine Art Exhibition have been beyond the pale.

On November 30, artist Le Thanh Binh, who was informed that his works had been vandalized, rushed to the gallery to discover that some 10 of his pieces were badly damaged. Frames were broken, paintings were scratched or, worse still, pierced right through the center, some had blobs of white paint on them, and one sculpture was destroyed.

"This is outrageous," Binh said.

"A major exhibition held once every five years just lets these unprofessional things happen. Artists do not only have to suffer financial losses but also inconsolable grief by damage that is beyond repair."

A scratch on Dia Linh Nhan Kiet (Sacred Lands and Extraordinary People) painting by Nguyen Quoc Huy. Photo courtesy of Nguyen Quoc Huy.

A scratch on Nguyen Quoc Huy’s "Dia Linh Nhan Kiet" (Sacred Lands and Extraordinary People) painting. Photo courtesy of Nguyen Quoc Huy.

Another artist, Nguyen Quoc Huy, said he would file a claim for damages against the event organizers since one of his paintings had five long scratches on it.

The Fine Arts, Photography and Exhibition Department under the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism has admitted at least five works were ruined and it would check surveillance videos to identify the vandals.

The two artists withdrew their works immediately from the exhibition.

Some others demanded that the organizers must find their lost artworks as "compensation alone is not enough," painter Hung Anh said. His work, 'ThoiGian' (Time), estimated to be worthv$12,000, had "vanished mysteriously" after being sent to the Vietnam Fine Arts Exhibition.

Hung Anh had been excited on the opening day of the exhibition on December 1 because his work was finally chosen to be displayed. But he arrived at the Van Ho Exhibition Center to find out the painting was nowhere to be seen.

The Vietnam Fine Art Exhibition in Hanoi introduces 497 works from  483 domestic artists. Photo by VnExpress/Khieu Minh.

Vietnam Fine Art Exhibition in Hanoi introduces 497 works from 483 domestic artists. Photo by VnExpress/Khieu Minh.

He said: "I called the person in charge. They said their people were looking for the painting, but there was no progress so far."

Trieu Ngoc Thach sent seven sculptures on the theme of mothers, but one had lost a hand. He said: "These sculptures are a collection, and a defect in one could mean the entire collection could lose its value, which could be hundreds of millions of dong."

Ma The Anh, deputy head of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism's Fine Arts, Photography and Exhibition Department, head of the organizing committee of the Vietnam Fine Art Exhibition, said artworks from across the country were shipped to Hanoi for selection, and there were mistakes in the delivery process.

But artworks being ruined at exhibitions was not something new, according to art critic Phan Cam Thuong.

"Artworks at exhibitions have been tampered with, vandalized or stolen since the 1960s. However, no one complains and the situation might probably continue if no one takes action."

At the last event in 2015 sculptor Tran Nghia had a sculpture returned "incomplete" after the exhibition ended. Despite his fight for compensation, he only managed to elicit VND4 million (US$172) from the organizers and that too without any official admission of lapses.

Who is to blame?

Talking about ruined artworks at the Vietnam Fine Arts Exhibition, Ma The Anh admitted it was the fault of the organizing committee that had led to this accident, and people in charge had called up the artists to express regret.

Echoing Anh's opinion, Thuong said it is partly due to the lack of professional shipping companies and gallery staff, and artworks could thus be damaged during the packaging and shipping process when broken glass could easily pierce through paper or canvas.

And then at the exhibition, unprofessional art activities, sloppy maintenance and lack of protective measures all take a toll, he said.

The unprofessionalism extends to the artists, who usually do not insure their works.

Anh expressed sympathy for the artists whose works were ruined or lost, saying organizers would learn from the experience and be more careful in future.

But first, to deal with the recent accident, the organizers must ensure the works are safe and pay compensation in case of damages unless stated otherwise, said lawyer Truong Anh Tu.

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