What’s your background as an artist?
I grew up in a small village with no real educational emphasis on arts or culture. Despite this, art has been important to me since I was very young. When I finished my high school education at 16, I decided to follow my passion and study art further.
How did the creativity, or lack of, in Malaysia affect your ability to develop as an artist?
I wouldn’t say that Malaysia lacks creativity; it’s just my own personal experience of where I came from at that time. The lack of opportunities, which inhibited my creative development, in fact, helped create a strong curiosity towards art. My inner curiosity eventually led me to find my path to be an artist.
Why did you decide to set up first an art space and then an art gallery? How easy or difficult was it to get off the ground?
As an artist, a studio is an absolute must! I had originally created the studio for myself but as it began to develop, I had a huge space which I thought I could share with others too, so why not? The studio business has flourished over the years, but it wasn’t enough for me to fulfil my dream of having a platform for artists to showcase their work. So then I started Vin Gallery.
I didn’t find it difficult to get the business off the ground, it emerged from my passion for showcasing other artists. I just had to be patient and persevere through the inevitable trials of setting up any new creative business.
How important have VinSpace Art Studio and VinGallery been for promoting local art?
There are lots of fantastic art spaces in Vietnam, Vin Gallery is one of the earliest established in Saigon and we’ve been promoting both local and international artists. This has created a beneficial relationship between the local and international market where each inspires the other by sharing different viewpoints and cultures.
Why rebrand the gallery?
It’s Vin Gallery’s fifth anniversary this year! I decided to rebrand the gallery in keeping with a curatorial change. We are hoping to focus on exhibiting more contemporary art.
How difficult is it to make the gallery and art space pay for itself? Is there a conflict between commercial reality and the creation of art for art’s sake?
Very difficult, as art and creative exploration are not considered an essential in life for a lot of people; it’s often a part-time hobby or neglected passion.
Therefore, running art spaces as businesses becomes harder to sustain. But on the other hand, it means I constantly meet the people who are determined to sustain their investment in art and creativity, which makes my life more fun and interesting.
It’s a real conflict between reality and creation, for gallerists, artists and collectors. As a gallerist, I constantly need to think about what sells, how I select artists to exhibit, and the balance of objective and subjective advice to give to art buyers.
Is art as much a way of life as it is a way of expression?
For me, art is both. Life needs art, and I need to express myself though art.
Vietnam has a long history of copying the work of established artists — anything from Monet to Warhol. What are your thoughts on this?
I wish I could change the history of copying artworks, but I understand that it grew this way for a reason. There is always demand and supply in the market. Emerging Vietnamese artists are now given many more opportunities to showcase their art and gain recognition. If they can survive creating their own work, they might not need to copy any more. And, of course, I am totally not a supporter for copying artwork for a living.
How is the scene for original art developing right now? Are you seeing artists from Vietnam starting to get international recognition? What about the local collectors’ market — is this starting to grow?
The young Vietnamese artists today are amazingly creative and enthusiastic. I’ve seen a lot of interesting work over the past few years and it’s definitely growing.
The late Vietnamese artist Le Pho has made a record breaking sale at Sotheby’s earlier this year with the auction of his piece Doi Song Gia Dinh (Family Life). It’s led a lot of attention back to Vietnamese art.
I don’t deal with local collectors, but from what I’ve heard, the local collectors’ market is growing.
Photo by Olga Rozenbajgier