HCMC museum takes a national treasure to the cleaners

By Mai Nhat    May 3, 2019 | 05:00 am PT
A precious lacquer painting suffered 30 percent damage during cleaning process due to cleaner’s lack of knowledge in art.

The painting, Vuon Xuan Trung Nam Bac (Spring Garden of Centre, South  and North), is a prominent artwork displayed in the Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts Museum.

Last year, Luu Minh Phung was tasked by the museum to clean the painting and he took it to the cleaners, seriously damaging its surface by using dishwashing liquid, a polishing powder and sandpaper.

The intent and message of the artwork has been damaged by around 30 percent, said Vi Kien Thanh, head of the Fine Arts, Photography and Exhibition Department of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

The painting lost a part of its surface paint layer and also "the smooth connection between different parts of the painting," Thanh added. Fifteen percent of the painting’s physical value has been damaged, as the gold-plated parts have worn out and the linking areas between different pieces are now revealed, so the transition lacks coherence, he said.

Thanh said that the museum had been careless in preserving the artwork. His department has recommended that works considered "national treasures" be stored and preserved in special conditions.

After being cleaned, the painting has been damaged. Photo by VnExpress/Mai Nhat

The painting that was damaged by an ill-informed cleaner. Photo by VnExpress/Mai Nhat

The department has also proposed that the HCMC Department of Culture and Sports orders the Fine Arts Museum to implement a project to restore the work and minimize damage done to the painting. The museum needs to test some areas on the painting before restoring it. It has suggested that the restoration be handed over to painter Nguyen Xuan Viet, an expert and a student of the damaged work’s original painter, Nguyen Gia Tri.

The painting Vuon Xuan Trung Nam Bac was bought and gifted to the Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts Museum in 1990. It was also recognized by the government as national treasure.

With a length of 540 centimeters and width of 200 centimeters, it was the largest painting by Tri, which he used many lacquer art techniques to create. The painting, on which he worked from 1969 to 1989, depicts young women from northern, central and southern Vietnam in traditional dresses on their way to the spring festival against the background of trees and pagodas.

Nguyen Gia Tri, born in 1908, was one of the pioneers who created a new trend in lacquer painting in Vietnam, combining traditional styles with Western painting materials and methods. In 1989, Tri was recognized by the Ministry of Culture as a contemporary painter who’s contributed a great deal to building modern Vietnamese visual art. He passed away in 1993 and was posthumously awarded the Ho Chi Minh Prize for Arts and Culture in 2012.

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