When I first visited Duong Tuong’s home, I felt as if I had stumbled into a 19th century French salon. Every square inch of wall was covered with paintings, and many more lay propped up waiting to be hung. In one corner, an artist was busy in front of his easel, two others were absorbed in a book of Picasso’s works. Artists, playwrights, poets and friends came and went as if everything had been minutely choreographed. Many of the oil paintings were portraits of Duong Tuong, his wife, his children, displaying an extraordinary warmth and love between artist and subject. As a foreigner, I felt uniquely privileged to witness this scene. On Saturday December 4, that opportunity was available to all, Duong Tuong’s wife Nguyen Thi Trinh and their daughter Tran Phuong Mai realized their dream to open a gallery in their home at 3b Phan Huy Chu Alley, choosing the easy-to-remember name MAI GALLERY, which is also a play on words. Word quickly spread that an authentic venue for Vietnams top artists had arrived, the first private gallery in the city. I was lucky enough to attend the opening of Mai Gallery that December, and share in the excitement. At the end of the two hour party, several of the paintings had orange dots affixed to them. It was an auspicious beginning, and the gallery has never looked back.Mai, like so many of her compatriots, quickly demonstrated a natural flair for enterprise, and the gallery had several successful exhibitions, and was one of the first galleries to organizeone-manshows. Mai Gallery features works by Bui Xuan Phai and Nguyen Tu Nghiem,who are considered the pioneers of Contemporary Vietnamese Art and its best examples.
But says Duong Tuong, “ We promote those who have already achieve recognition as well as promising young painters who are still subject to controversy.”Particularly well represented are the works of the so-called Hanoi Gang of Five, including Dang Xuan Hoa, Hong Viet Dung, Ha Tri Hieu, Tran Luong, Pham Quang Vinh, works of the Hanoi Five New Faces such as Nguyen Quoc Hoi, Dinh Quan... as well as the works of young generation : Nguyen Quang Minh, Tran Quang Minh, Dinh Thi Tham Poong...Mai Gallery’s biggest problem is location. The gallery is tucked into a narrow alley of Phan Huy Chu’s street in central of Hanoi, but word among foreign journalists and art lovers is spreading fast. Also its name can be found in any guide book of Vietnam. And I’m sure people never miss the chance to visit Mai Gallery – The real place for art lovers.
Over the past few years, many of Hanoi’s best art galleries have taken on a new lease of life by modernizing their facilities. Mai Gallery, which was established in 1993 at 3b Phan Huy Chu Alley, was the first private gallery in Hanoi. Though the old gallery continues as an art space and exhibition organizer, with the recent expansion and development in the new location, at 183 Hang Bong Street, the new Mai Gallery has become at thoroughly modern space, with a staff of six and three brightly lit, carpeted floors of 110 square-meters each, showing the works of some 40 artists.
The decision to move was made after long and careful consideration. “We have relations with many artists and the old gallery was just too small for their work. The public can now see more of the artists’ works. The artists are pleased and feel that the gallery is doing the right thing. Since we moved, many more artists have applied to show their works with us. But we will only take the best. Another of our plans is to have more sculpture in the gallery. Sculpture is not as popular as painting at the moment in Vietnam, but there are a number of good sculptors who need to be shown, “says Tran Phuong Mai, the owner, who is the daughter of the poet and translator Duong Tuong, a revered member of Hanoi’s independent intellectual tradition. “ Also it was quite difficult for people to find the old place, which still exists and is a link with the art history of Hanoi".
Mai Gallery’s link with the development of Hanoi’s art world over the past decade has been a strong one. As Vietnam opened up to the world in the late 1980s, artists such as Dang Xuan Hoa, Nguyen Quan, Ha Tri Hieu, and Hong Viet Dung, along with many others, began to see their place in the art world change quickly.
The range of styles and ideas, from the abstract and realist, from landscape to figurative, began to achieve a broader base. At the same time, there was a growing curiosity among foreigners about the state of art around Vietnam, not just in Hanoi. The early successes of a number of established names encouraged new, younger artists to come together, to form into groups or simply work individually. At the heart of these changes among younger artists, Mai Gallery established itself as a haven for new ideas and ristaking. The gallery currently has eight artists – Tran Quang Minh, Lam Duc Manh, Tran Huu Dung, Nguyen Bao Ha, Nguyen Cong Cu, Nguyen Van Duc, Tran Thi Tuyen and Phan Thu Trang – under exclusive contract.
There is also a Focus room in which the works of individual artists are shown over a two month period. The work can either be experimental or more traditional.The Focus room will become an important place for young artists. Until the end of September 2004, we are showing gouache works of the master Nguyen Tu Nghiem and pencil drawings from the 40s by the late To Ngoc Van, who died in 1954,” Mai says.
With the new space, come new opportunities not only for local artists but also foreign artists. Mai’s plans to increase the presence of foreign artists through exchanges and residencies is something which she has been planning for some time.
“We have a fourth floor which we would like to turn into an art exchange center”, she says. This will open things up for local artists, too. Hanoi artists need to communicate with others.
For those interested in the galleries and its activities, Mai can be contacted through the e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or by letter to Mai Gallery- 3B Phan Huy Chu or 113 Hang Bong Street, Hanoi. To view the gallery and its work please visit http://maigallery-vietnam.com/