Tuesday, July 6, 2010

History Museum versus Ho Chi Minh Fine Arts Museum

Art is an invention of aesthetics, which in turn is an invention of philosophers... What we call art is a game.
Octavio Paz 

Art is a reflection of the society that generated it.  Depending upon time, place, people, and the paradigm of the society, art is often a mirror of the obsessions of a society.  It is easier to examine the art of another country and culture and to be objective.  An American may have predetermined biases when they try to critique their own art.  In fact, art in the United States is a strange form of market driven economy.  I've been to several of my friend's Los Angeles Downtown Gallery Row Art Walks.  Art is generated to be sold.  In terms of Vietnam, I would say that it is an attempt to fulfill Walter Benjamin's ideas about art as evident in his major text called The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Production.  In that text he states:
The transformation of the superstructure, which takes place far more slowly than that of the substructure, has taken more than half a century to manifest in all areas of culture the change in the conditions of production. Only today can it be indicated what form this has taken. Certain prognostic requirements should be met by these statements. However, theses about the art of the proletariat after its assumption of power or about the art of a classless society would have less bearing on these demands than theses about the developmental tendencies of art under present conditions of production. Their dialectic is no less noticeable in the superstructure than in the economy. It would therefore be wrong to underestimate the value of such theses as a weapon. They brush aside a number of outmoded concepts, such as creativity and genius, eternal value and mystery – concepts whose uncontrolled (and at present almost uncontrollable) application would lead to a processing of data in the Fascist sense. The concepts which are introduced into the theory of art in what follows differ from the more familiar terms in that they are completely useless for the purposes of Fascism. They are, on the other hand, useful for the formulation of revolutionary demands in the politics of art.      
 The fact is that there is class in Vietnam.  There has always been class.  As long as human beings gather in collectives, there will be class.  Communism, or Socialism or Capitalism are ideas and constructs.  Whether or not you accept them is up to the society that uses those constructs to govern.  Unlike Benjamin, "creativity and genius, eternal value and mystery" are not negative concepts.  Communism is based on a utopian idea about humans being essentially good.  I am of the opposite feeling.  We are more like Hobbes's hoard.  We are inherently flawed.  You need the creative artist to show the population a mirror of what they are.  This is why when issues of control are present, you either eliminate the artist, or you control the artist, or you make the artist a curiosity and irrelevant.  

Art is a political act.  The creation of art is a spiritual act for the artist.  Art is the mirror from which a person can offer their own reflections.  The photograph is of the entrance into the Museum of History.  It is not a natural history museum or like a cultural museum like the Autry Museum in Los Angeles.  It is more like the Getty Villa.  Art and items from the pre-revolutionary days are displayed here.  It reveals different priorities than the contemporary 20th/21st Century artist of Vietnam.  The contrasts can give you an insight into the focus of the society at the time.  To analyze the world, you must step back and see things.  The goal of any instructor is to train a student to see things from multiple perspectives and to recognize new patterns in the chaos that is the refuse of the human mind.  So what were people thinking about prior to Vietnam War?


A very Chinese Bell

Artifacts of Viet Muong



These are exactly what you think they are.  Hindu in origin, they are called lingam.    

Uncle Ho still watches over things. 

Most of the early art focuses on religion.  The question is how does that compare to lets say contemporary art in Vietnam.  What is the focal point of the contemporary world of Vietnam?  It seems the American War is still a big part of it. 

The Ho Chi Minh Fine Arts Museum

The Museum is housed in the former home of a very affluent Chinese man.  In some ways, the building has some interesting colonial elements to it.  What's in it? 

There are some religious items.  Again Buddha.  But the majority of the museum is devoted towards the modern and contemporary era.  

Obviously, this is not a religious piece.  It is however very interesting.

The sculptures often focus on the American War.  Soldiers are often portrayed as heroes.

Paintings also do the same thing.  This depicts a deployment of soldiers. 

Uncle Ho talks to the Ethnic Minorities.  This piece I think exemplifies some of the aspects of art in Vietnam. The other issue is what is allowed and not allowed.  Visual arts.  Who controls the visual arts?  In America, we will automatically declare that things are censored and controlled.  On the other hand, who controls what?    

Consider this question.  Is America free of political agendas as far as the production of art?

Consider this as well.  Arts funding has been in steady decline since the 1980s in the USA.  Why?  It appears that Vietnam does finance artists, but only with the idea that they will produce work in support of their government's agenda.  What is the purpose of art?