Museums struggle to acquire modern art

By Kieu Anh   January 12, 2021 | 02:00 am PT
Acquiring contemporary art has become hard for museums since they lack both resources and the knowledge to spot quality works.
A painting exhibition in Hanoi. Photo Courtesy of LEspace Hanoi.

A painting exhibition in Hanoi. Photo courtesy of L'Espace Hanoi.

Most museums and art galleries lack the resources to buy outstanding artworks.

Nguyen Anh Minh, director of the Vietnam National Fine Arts Museum, said: "We have deep interest in contemporary art but our budget is tight. There are many famous artists with quality works there but we cannot afford them."

Museums, including his, are not equipped to store or handle artworks either, he confessed.

"For example, installation or video art projects could face difficulties because of limited spaces to display them. Modern art requires modern spaces and modern technologies. Some installation involves illumination and sound."

Luong Xuan Doan, Chairman of the Vietnam Fine Arts Association, said not a lot of money is allotted for acquiring new paintings collection, while the works of modern artists are usually expensive.

"I have been looking for art from the 90s during the Doi Moi (Reform) period in HCMC but in vain. I think the number of contemporary works in museum is always small, and the space for exhibition since spots are reserved for existing artworks. Some paintings are brought from storage to be put on display occasionally. Most pieces are fixed."

The paradox is when artists want to sell their works but museums and galleries are hesitant because they lack the capability to assess their quality.

Independent curator and visual artist Tran Luong believes that museums’ inability to get many contemporary works is a result of their lack of knowledge.

When his paintings were fetching low prices, museum personnel were afraid that the paintings did not have the classic French strokes like French painter Monet’s or Vietnamese painter Bui Xuan Phai’s and hence refused to buy them, he said.

His paintings were later acclaimed by collectors and museums broad, his price tag went through the roof, and museums could no longer afford him.

Some international museums are preserving Vietnamese art. A few years ago a part of Luong’s 2001 work ‘Mao Khe Coal Mine Project’ was converted into digital prints by the Singapore Art Museum.

Despite its financial difficulties, the Vietnam National Fine Arts Museum is making an effort to collect and introduce modern art to the public.

Minh said: "The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism is planning to create additional exhibition space at the Vietnam National Fine Arts Museum. Storage is also a concern. There should have been more space for modern art."

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