What you get is a very one-of-a-kind tour of Hanoi that is not just for art lovers but for all those who want to gain a deeper understanding of Vietnam’s modern and contemporary history.
Then and Now
It’s 9am on a Saturday morning; I meet Fabiola at Tret Cosmo Café on Khuc Hao. I am the last one to arrive, and meet the four other members of our group: Jane and William are Australians in their 50s; Karla is 30 years old and works at the cultural programme of the Goethe Institute; Lucy, a 21-year-old American student, is doing a research programme on urban planning. It’s a small group, as the tour can only accommodate up to 10 people.
The tour is very well thought out and for US$55 (VND1.2 million) it includes refreshments at the two cafés, entrance tickets, a minibus to bring us from the museum to the galleries, and a very passionate and knowledgeable guide.
While I am sipping on a café latte, Fabiola introduces the tour and the schedule. Sophie’s Art Tour takes us on a journey in time and space, from the French colonial era, through the Indochina wars, and the post-war era, to Hanoi’s contemporary art scene; four chapters that will give us an insightful understanding of Vietnam’s art through the major changes of its recent history.
The first leg brings us to The Vietnam Fine Art Museum where we explore the first two chapters of our visit. With love and passion Fabiola shares with us her extensive knowledge, the result of seven months of intensive research, extensive reading and interviews with collectors and artists.
I discover for the first time the elegant and subtle works of To Ngoc Van and the silk paintings of Nguyen Phan Chanh at the Ecole des Beaux Arts de l’Indochine. We see the transition of Vietnamese art towards revolutionary romanticism and communist objectivism, to war propaganda and how the artists responded to the shift in politics. In 1975, as the country reunified, artists took on new challenges and a new group of artists emerged.
It’s the end of our tour in the museum; we get back on the minibus to visit Suzanne Lecht’s beautiful Art Vietnam Gallery.
Food for Discussion
We are lucky enough to be greeted by our host, who has been working on the local art scene for more than 20 years. At the end of the 1980s, Vietnam’s art market flourished, avant-garde artists arose and collectives started to form, developing a creative thrust in the community, but they still face many challenges. Thanks to their great personal ties to current artists, Fabiola and Bill are able to connect us to the contemporary art scene in Hanoi with exclusive anecdotes.
After a privileged sneak peek of Nha San’s newest exhibition, we finish the tour at Manzi Art Space with a presentation of the most progressive and alternative art produced in the past 15 years. This is followed by a thriving discussion among the group.
This was a brilliant tour, the best introduction you will get to Vietnam art. It’s relevant whether you are visiting the city or living here. Definitely recommended. — Julie Vola