While one of my courses is an art history seminar, we do not study art history in the traditional sense of understanding. We study contemporary artists who are very much alive and even active. One of these artists that we studied was Dinh Q. Le. On my second day in Vietnam, our Art history class actually got to meet Dinh Q. Le as a part of our field class, as well as visit several galleries in Ho Chi Minh. This was very cool because Dinh was an artist that we were studying in class, and now we were meeting him. How often is it that the things you see on paper actually manifest in front of you.
Dinh’s Home and Studio
Dinh lived in a very large house in Ho Chi Minh that doubled as his studio. Upon entering we were welcomed by a grand wooden antique sculpture that was a part of his collection. Dinh is a big antique collector and he would later give us a tour of his collection after speaking to us about his work. First though, we squeezed in to his studio area where he had a PowerPoint prepared for us that contained a slide show of his various pieces. Dinh is well-known for his weave works, but he showed us number of his other projects that contained many different mediums. One of these pieces includes a project where he tried to publicly address the genetic birth effects that still persist as a result of agent orange during the American war. In this project, he developed items such as dolls that had two heads and children’s clothing with four pants legs and two head holes.
In class, we understood Dinh as an artist that explored the many different perspectives of the American war. Of course, we had the idea that Dinh’s portfolio extended much beyond that, but in class our focus was targeted. So, I came to know Dinh Q. Le as an artist who questions the way the American perspective has dominated the worlds image of the Vietnam war, as someone who questions the different perspectives in modern Vietnam, and who even questions the perspective of those in Cambodia. But during our visit, Dinh said that he had kind of already moved passed that work. Some of the things he is now doing is a project in Japan and has work that focuses on the concept of time and memory.
After visiting Dinh Q. Le, we headed out for lunch. Some time after the bus circled the city about five times in order to stall, we ended up at a place called Quan Ngon 138 near the Independence Palace. I expected the meal to be already set like it was on my Abnormal Psych field class, but it wasn’t. They literally handed us the menu and said to choose whatever we want. So of course, we treated ourselves to a nice buffet of food.
The Grand Art Tour
After eating so much food, I was ready to pass out and sleep. However, in our itinerary there were still three art galleries that we were scheduled to visit. We started at the Ho Chi Minh Fine Arts Museum which was a yellow colonial looking building. Almost all the work in the building was naturally lit, with only one room I recall being artificially lit. It was so atmospherically beautiful and relaxing.
I think a lot of us were pretty much done after the fine arts museum, but we still had two galleries to visit. We hopped on the bus and drove a short distance to our next location. I don’t remember what this particular gallery was called, but it was small and tucked in to the back of an alley. Our guide actually had trouble finding it and walked in to the wrong place at first.
The artwork featured here was very different from the work we saw at the Ho Chi Minh Fine Arts Museum. There was definitely a lot of art work at the Fine Arts museum that focused on the war. One whole room was actually sketches from Vietnamese soldiers while serving. However, here at this gallery, the work was much more dreamy and surreal. There were definitely more imaginative and experimental works that matched the type of art that I am used to seeing in my current generation. It was a very interesting contrast from what we had seen a few moments prior.
After finishing up at this gallery, we headed to our third and final gallery. The problem was, once again, our guide had trouble finding the location. We waited at the corner of an intersection as she scouted down the place. As I said, we all were pretty much very tired and were secretly hoping that she never found it. Time was getting short anyway so we finally voiced our unanimous thoughts, it was okay if we didn’t see this gallery. When we started to get back in the bus, the guide returned and told us she had found the gallery just a little ways further down. We told her that we had all decided to head back and would take note of the location in the chance that we wanted to visit the gallery on our own. I think she thought it was her fault because she tried really hard to convince us to go see the gallery for a few minutes, but we were all honestly just beyond tired.
Unfortunately I never went to see this third gallery, but I did have a delicious bowl of pho for dinner later that evening.