Saigon for Art Lovers
The Vietnamese are artistic souls and, as a nation, Vietnam has a long and rich history of creating beautiful works of art. Going right back to the stone age, the people residing on the strip of land known as modern-day Vietnam have an eye for the visually-arresting and over the years the country has developed into one of Asia’s most significant artistic centres. The influence of early ruling powers such as the Cham Kingdom, Khhmer Empire and various Chinese Dynasties made their mark on Vietnam and influenced the country’s art, encouraging an eclectic mixture of mediums and styles. Vietnamese history, both ancient and contemporary has created inspiration for countless artists right up to modern day. For art-lovers, Saigon is a playground of historical and contemporary practice. Here are some of the best places to experience art in Saigon.
Saigon Fine Arts Museum
Saigon Fine Arts Museum
Housed in a flamboyantly French 1929 colonial building, the Ho Chi Minh City Fine Art Museum is an unmissable item on your Saigon itinerary. The building is replete with period fixtures such as original tiled floors, stained glass windows, spiral staircase and ancient wooden shutters and an attraction in itself. I would suggest making your way to the top floor of the building, using one of the oldest lifts in Saigon if it’s in action, and working your way down the museum a floor at a time. The third floor of this art museum houses ancient or ‘early’ art pieces from the 7th to the 20th century that will be of interest to archeology enthusiasts or anyone interested in early, religious iconography. The second floor moves on to modern and contemporary artwork by Vietnamese artists and includes some truly sumptuous lacquer art as well as sculpture, propaganda art and many war-inspired artworks. The ground floor hosts changing exhibitions and more work from contemporary Vietnamese artists with a focus on political figures. The impressive courtyard and surrounding rooms are home to various independent art galleries and studios and worth a stroll if you’re interested in making a purchase. This is a museum you could spend days in so I’d advise spending the best part of a day here or even making multiple trips.
Craig Thomas Gallery
The Craig Thomas Gallery has become a hotspot for contemporary art in Saigon in recent years. Showcasing the work of up and coming and established contemporary Vietnamese artists, the Craig Thomas Gallery has recently celebrated its fifth anniversary. Located in the outskirts of District One, Ho Chi Minh City, this gallery works hard to promote Vietnamese artists on the global art scene and encourage young artists to develop their work. Keep your eyes open for one of the regular exhibition launch parties which offer an affordable night out that’s a little out of the ordinary.
Selling art on the streets of Saigon
Dong Khoi Street
Art is everywhere in Saigon and you can pick up cheap reproductions of famous paintings on almost every street and market in town. But if you are interested in buying original art during your time in Saigon, Dong Khoi Street is the place to go. Many of the studios located on this short street sell authentic and original works of art including paintings and sculpture and prices are almost always up for negotiation. There are over a dozen art galleries on Dong Khoi, which is not far from the Notre Dame cathedral. The galleries vary in terms of size, reputation and the price of works for sale but a few places are well established, professional businesses who often sell work from some of Vietnam’s most famous working artists.
Apricot Gallery is one such business. This three-floor art gallery is renowned for selling high-quality artwork often with a substantial price tag. The layout of the space is similar to a museum, with the art work evenly displayed on well-lit, white walls. Worth a look even if you’re not buying. Lotus Gallery is another gallery on this street you won’t want to miss but for a slightly different reason. Unlike the perfectly presented artwork on display in Apricot Gallery, Lotus is a haphazard place chock-full of propaganda artwork. Everything is for sale and there is a real mixture of artwork available so don’t let the high prices on display put you off.
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