Recognized as one of the Vietnam’s leading contemporary art galleries, the Galerie Quynh has been promoting contemporary art practice in the country for almost two decades. The gallery is known not only internationally for its consistently focused programming but also for its educational initiatives. In keeping with its mission to develop a sustainable ecosystem for the arts in Vietnam, the gallery collaborates with artists, curators, museums and art spaces locally and internationally to organize talks and lectures as well as to produce publications in English and Vietnamese. A new chapter began in December 2017 as Galerie Quynh unveils its new, 600 sqm location in Dakao, District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City more than ever ready to play a vital role in the Saigonese cultural community.
Interview with Celine Alexandre, Associate Director of the Galerie, just before the opening today Tuesday, February 6, of their new exhibition ‘Alluvium’ featuring the work of eleven of the gallery’s artists.
Bliss Saigon: The Galerie Quynh has just reopened on Nguyễn Văn Thủ Street in HCMC District 1, Why choosing this new facility?
Céline Alexandre: Actually, for several years now, we had been looking for a large space that would allow for more ambitious programming. We really wanted to stay in District One and Dakao is the perfect fit for us. It is a very lively area that reflects the pulsing, dynamic nature of Saigon. Our locally-based collectors really like this area and we know that international collectors will find it convenient and love it as well.
BS: The gallery existed for almost 20 years now in Vietnam. What made it famous? At what level do you differ from the other galleries?
Céline Alexandre: The owner Quynh Pham opened the gallery 15 years ago, and was a pioneer at that time. What built Galerie Quynh’s reputation is probably the selection of artists, and the willingness to exhibit conceptual artists at a time and in a country where conceptual art was not thought about much yet in local schools and cultural spaces. Over the years, the gallery has also participated internationally in various, important art fairs in such places as Hong Kong, Paris, and Brussels that have helped to make the Galerie Quynh name more recognizable. A number of the artists we show have also got major international attention and renown, and that has only contributed to the gallery’s success.
BS: The Gallerie has since its beginnings moved towards contemporary art. A ballsy choice in the 2000s. Why contemporary art?
Céline Alexandre: The gallery has always focused on contemporary art. Quynh grew up in California, studied Art History/Criticism at university, and has worked at galleries and museums such as the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. and the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego. Contemporary art has remained her focus and passion ever since then. In 1997, when Quynh returned to Vietnam, she discovered how fertile the small local scene was, and it makes sense for her to open an art gallery that focuses on contemporary artists.
BS: How do you see the role of a gallery today?
Céline Alexandre: Being a gallery operating in a country like Vietnam, where there is a major shortage of cultural infrastructure, the role we serve is more than just a commercial representation of the artists. We are also very involved in education. The gallery collaborates with artists, curators, museums and art spaces locally and internationally to organize talks and lectures as well as produce art publications in English and Vietnamese. In May 2014 the gallery founded the non-profit, educational initiative Sao La. Spearheaded by local artists Tung Mai and Nguyen Kim To Lan, Sao La’s public programs included exhibitions, film and video screenings, and workshops and lectures that collaborated with local and international partners.
BS: You expose well-recognized artists as well than newcomers. Is this mixture important to you?
Céline Alexandre: Of course! The dialogue between the variety of these artists and their practices encourages the richer development of the art scene in Ho Chi Minh City while bringing attention to the gallery’s work as a whole. Contemporary art is focused on examining many issues from many angles, so whether this voice is coming from an emerging or recognized artist, we value it all the same.
BS: How is the art scene in Vietnam currently developing? What are the advantages and disadvantages of the Vietnamese market? What’s about the Vietnamese artists? Are they comfortable with this market?
Céline Alexandre: The art scene is definitely developing. As Vietnamese artists travel beyond Vietnam and exhibit more widely, they create interest abroad. As for the local market, it is definitely trending up. Five years ago, the majority of our clientele was based abroad. Today we have a large percentage that is local collectors. The native Vietnamese want to support the local contemporary art scene, which is a great indicator pointing to a healthy market!
BS: Do you think that the art gallery attendance is an education? Should we ‘rub’ to Contemporary Art to appreciate it?
Céline Alexandre: The gallery is to be seen by anyone who is curious about art. It’s a visual story and one that is even more revealing if we take the time to engage with it and learn how to ‘read‘ it better. Art communicates in its distinct languages, and like any foreign language, a certain level of proficiency helps us to better understand one appreciate one another. That said, you don’t need a Ph.D. to appreciate art. And whether you like or dislike the works in a show, it should nevertheless be a thoughtful, interesting experience. We are also happy that the new space is just in front of a school, and we will definitely encourage students to come and visit our exhibitions.
BS: What relationship do you have with the artists you exhibit? How do you find them at first? Do you follow their career?
Céline Alexandre: We work closely with the artists who we exhibit and represent, and our goal is always toward the bigger picture. We give them professional advice, we promote their work, and we are always in the open discussion. Like any worthwhile relationship, it involves both give and take. In terms of ‘discovery,’ it is generally through the artists themselves and their network. Artists who we show are generally very keen on the scene. They keep up with who is doing and making what, and as I mentioned, we are in constant dialogue.
BS: Do you expose artists you do not like because you want to share them anyway with a public? Or is there a real bias in the choice of artists that you expose?
Céline Alexandre: You can’t compare art to selling a car or television. We only work with artists whose practice we believe in. The commercial aspect of selling work is never the first priority.
BS: What exhibitions or projects do you have planned in the months coming?
Céline Alexandre: The current show is a group exhibition featuring the work of eleven of the gallery’s artists who are based in Vietnam. The title of the exhibition is ‘Alluvium,’ and it is highlighting works from their ongoing research and projects. The exhibition serves as a preview for forthcoming solo presentations of these artists at Galerie Quynh in the immediate and near future.
BS: How do you see your gallery in a decade?
Céline Alexandre: I hope it will be in the same building, as this is already our sixth location in 15 years! To develop a strong contemporary art scene, it is important to have continuity. In the foreseeable future, we hope the local market will be galvanized by a strong collectorship who share the same vision we do. We endeavor to not only continue being an important conduit for contemporary art in Southeast Asia but hopefully making big waves in Europe and the Americas as well.
‘Alluvium’ – February 6 – March 24, 2018
Opening: Tuesday, February 6 from 6:30 – 8:30 pm – Galerie Quynh 118 Nguyen Van Thu, Dakao, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Participating artists: Nadege David, Do Thanh Lang, Ha Manh Thang, Hoang Duong Cam, Hoang Nam Viet, Le Hoang Bich Phuong, Sandrine Llouquet, Nguyen Huy An, Nguyen Manh Hung, Nguyen Quang Huy, Trong Gia Nguyen
Alluvium, Installation views – February 2018
Images courtesy Galerie Quynh