Vietnam’s Fake Art Legacy

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A Legacy of War: Fake Art in Vietnam
by Seth Mydans
The New York Times
July 31, 2009

Hanoi, Vietnam - Even the director of the Vietnam Fine Arts Museum here doesn't know how many of the artworks and artifacts under his care are genuine and how many are extremely skillful copies. But he says he is going to try to find out.

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There are nearly 20,000 of these mystery objects, on the walls and in storage, including paintings, sculpture, lacquerware, pottery, ancient statues and traditional crafts.

"We are making efforts to have a comprehensive review of items on display and in our warehouse," said the director, Truong Quoc Binh. "After we evaluate the whole exhibit, we will try to label them all to show if they are original or not."

Mr. Binh has been addressing questions about authenticity a lot lately. Curators and artists have been aware of the issue for years, but it became a matter of public discussion only in April, when it was raised at a conference on copyright in Danang.

In large part, the confusion is a legacy of the war with the United States, which ended in 1975, and to a lesser extent of a brief border war fought with China in 1979.

In the late 1960s, fearing that the United States would bomb Hanoi, then the capital of North Vietnam, museum officials removed hundreds of important artworks for safekeeping in the countryside.

To replace them on the museum walls, it commissioned copies: some by the original artists, some by the artists' apprentices, some by skilled copyists in the museum's restoration department. They were brilliant reproductions - or variants, as the Vietnamese called those paintings copied by the original artists.

But now "it's a disaster," said Bui Thanh Phuong, the son of Bui Xuan Phai, a prominent painter. "Viewers can't be sure if what they are looking at is genuine or fake." Mr. Phuong said he does not know which of the museum's seven paintings attributed to his father, who died in 1988, are real.

Read the rest of this article here.