Vietnamese Contemporary Art Arrives in Los Angeles

Running until mid-October, this exhibition puts 15 Vietnamese artists in the spotlight — some of them for the first time in the country — to explore the relationships between this new generation, the country’s history and ideas of a homeland

Trương Công Tùng, When the virtual becomes the actual and the actual become the virtual, 2018, Iron, keyboard keys, canvas, time, weather, 51.2 x 55.1 x 11.8 inches. Image courtesy of the artist, Galerie Quynh, Ho Chi Minh City, and The Mistake Room, Los Angeles.

Trương Công Tùng, When the virtual becomes the actual and the actual become the virtual, 2018, Iron, keyboard keys, canvas, time, weather, 51.2 x 55.1 x 11.8 inches. Image courtesy of the artist, Galerie Quynh, Ho Chi Minh City, and The Mistake Room, Los Angeles.

‘We’ve been having conversations for some time now with several Vietnamese artists who lived in L.A. and went back to Vietnam some years ago,’ says César García-Alvarez, executive and artistic director of The Mistake Room — a Los Angeles-based nonprofit contemporary art space that aims to be a global platform for culture and ideas. ‘As we learned about both the challenges and opportunities that comprise the context in which they work, we knew that we needed to organise an exhibition.’ 

This is how the exhibition Where the Sea Remembers was born. Taking its title from a song (by poet and musician Trịnh Công Sơn) about the exile of the Vietnamese who left their home country after the end of the war in 1975, the show explores notions of identity, nationalism and cultural heritage through new eyes. The exhibition is also heavily influenced by the events of 2007, when Vietnam joined the World Trade Organization and the socialist-oriented economy encouraged foreign-raised Vietnamese refugees to return to their country. 

‘Southern California has one of the largest Vietnamese-American populations in the nation and we believe it’s important that the programmess of art institutions reflect the realities of their audiences, so that was one of the motivating factors’, García-Alvarez explains. ‘From a curatorial perspective, as we conducted research, we were quite shocked to see that while local curators and a few international scholars had committed their work to the artists and artistic scene in Vietnam, there was still so much more visibility necessary. So that was the final determining factor in our staging this show. This is by no means a comprehensive exhibition, but it does attempt to introduce various artists and the interests they’re exploring with their work.’

Where the Sea Remembers doesn’t focus solely on the past, but aims to create links between history and the present by delving into the artists’ reflections on topics such as the role of technology and media in the economy, the reinterpretation of history through the construction of personal mythologies, and the body and performativity. 

‘Our hope is that this exhibition will instigate additional institutional support and opportunities for these artists in Los Angeles as well as around the world’, García-Alvarez concludes.

Text / Karine Monié


Where the Sea Remembers is runs until October 12, 2019, at The Mistake Room, Los Angeles. 

Nguyễn Văn Đủ, Slaughterhouse #7, 2016, Paint on paper mounted on canvas, 63.4 x 83.8 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and The Mistake Room, Los Angeles.

Nguyễn Văn Đủ, Slaughterhouse #7, 2016, Paint on paper mounted on canvas, 63.4 x 83.8 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and The Mistake Room, Los Angeles.

Phan Quang, Re/cover no. 2, 2013, Digital C-print, 39.3 x 66.9 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and The Mistake Room, Los Angeles.

Phan Quang, Re/cover no. 2, 2013, Digital C-print, 39.3 x 66.9 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and The Mistake Room, Los Angeles.

Trong Gia Nguyen, The Leavers, 2014, Oil pastel on canvas, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of the artist and Galerie Quynh, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Trong Gia Nguyen, The Leavers, 2014, Oil pastel on canvas, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of the artist and Galerie Quynh, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Võ Trân Châu, Blue, 2018, Used clothes, thread, 93.3 x 60.2 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Galerie Quynh, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Võ Trân Châu, Blue, 2018, Used clothes, thread, 93.3 x 60.2 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Galerie Quynh, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.