Dr. Phil. Art Historian Ildegarda E. Scheidegger: ““In Vietnam there are skilled and gifted artists”

Town (oil on canvas, 120cm x 160cm, 2014), by contestant Hoang Dang Khanh

As having mentioned in our earlier issues, Vietart Today 2016 has first, second and third prizes which are worth over VND 2.6 billion, VND 1.5 billion and VND 1 billion respectively and it is now drawing to an end. The competition is jointly organized by The V Art and Young Artists’ Club (Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts Association) and sponsored by Galerie Nguyen (HCMC). More details can be found at: 


The judging panel members of Vietart Today 2016 include Ildegarda E. Scheidegger, Ph.D. of Art (Switzerland; Thanh Kieu Moeller (Singapore), Curator; Julie Lam (Canada), Collector; Oliver Do Ngoc (Luxembourg), Collector and Tran Thanh Canh, Artist (Chairperson of the Young Artists’ Club). Dr. Ildegarda E. Scheidegger, a former Director of Asian Fine Art of Sotheby’s Auction House, is a highly experienced expert on Asian fine art. She is the author of a famous book about Bui Xuan Phai – Nguyen Tu Nghiem.


And here is our interview with her.


*The concept of “Vietnamese Professional Young Artists” organised by Viet Art Today2016 is not a simple and easy to be judged as participating artists are “young” but must be “professional” as their mind and expected artworks might not be compatible. Please let us know your point of view and criteria to fit in with the concept of “young” and “professional”.

- I am comfortable with this topic. An artist defines himself or herself through his art work. His or her art work must exert an impact, an emotion, a fundamental thought on the viewer. With “Young” you probably mean that the artist is not yet prominently known or visible in public. Viet Art Today 2016 is on the outset to change that.

* Based on those criteria and through initial information about the competition, what are your thoughts about the young artist force in Vietnam today?

-In Vietnam there are skilled and gifted artists, and it is the jury’s responsibility to identify them, recognize their talent and support their further development. The competition offers various kinds of support to the winners, such as public exposure, professional market access and network.

Based on my experience in working with artists and looking at art works and the art market for many years, I am confident that I can contribute to identify outstanding art works in high visual and formal quality that transport a strong message and represent uniqueness. We should however be aware, that we cannot predict a future success since success depends on the artist’s personal development, the gallery’s performance, and not least on the financial markets, among other factors. I am looking forward to collaborate with my colleague judges for a constructive and fruitful exchange

Dr. Phil. Art Historian Ildegarda E. Scheidegger


* What does it make you to accept the invitation to be one of the judges for such an emergent art competition?

-The invitation to be a judge of the first Viet Art Today 2016 Competition is a great honor for me. I am professionally active in the Asian Arts since more than 30 years, and having a background also in Western art, worked with artists and collectors on both continents. As the responsible for Asian art at Sotheby’s Switzerland, I had insight into and was part of the auction world, working at the art hubs New York, Paris and Hong Kong. My interest in Vietnamese contemporary art developed over time and was triggered actively when I worked on a portfolio of a collector who was interested in Vietnam. This was followed by a trip with Mrs. Kieu Moeller to HCMC in 2015 which was revealing.

Already during my studies of Asian art at the University of Zurich more than three decades ago, I admired the beauty of Dong Son ceramics and bronzes. I have seen thereof influenced artworks in other countries in Southeast Asia and East Asia as well. I acknowledge the Vietnamese contemporary artists on the international platform who deserve great esteem for their talent and efforts to position Vietnam in the global art scene. Vietnam has a vast potential in artistic creativity which has been built on tradition.

* On the global art scene, young artists usually attach themselves to contemporary art in which there are variety of forms besides paintings, such as performing art, installation art, multimedia, video art … Mostly, young artists of Vietnam is still create their works in form of paintings which were very popular in the first half of 20th century (paintings were a fertile field for modernism). What benefits and difficulties do you anticipate about this competition?

-The term “contemporary art” refers to living artists working on individual themes in a formal expression they choose among a vast array of creative possibilities. Painting, which stretches from abstract to figurative and uses all kinds of materials from traditional to mixed media, is still the most common medium as it enables the artist to express his or her thoughts in a visually comprehensible and perceivable manner.

With paintings, more than with other art forms, the actual skill of the artist can be appraised. A painting can and should create direct impact and emotion. I think therefore, that painting is the legitimate and appropriate focus for the first competition. It can be debated, whether the competition should broaden to include other forms of art.


“Going to Market” (Silk, 60cm x 80cm, 2016) by contestant Ho Huy Hung


* Once an artwork is brought out to the art market, it would send back more or less signals, sometimes these signals would make big impact on the artist to change the his way of thinking and his technique of creation. How does an artist do in order to avoid that?

The artist is the patron of his or her art, not of the art market. I know from several artists that the search for his or her art form which convincingly transports their thoughts was a great challenge and burden for them. May be this is the biggest hurdle an artist must overcome, a hurdle which may take years to overcome. A fertile collaboration with the gallery and the collectors can and should bring the market recognition without the artist being distracted too much. Finding their form of expression and getting a favorable market response helps building self‐confidence. This is essential for the creation of strong art work able to resist critical trust, and tensions must be addressed and resolved quickly. It is a assessments. To support this development, the relation of the artist with the gallery must be built on mutual question of business ethics to share risks and profits. Artistic as well as financial success is the result of teamwork.

* Usually, galleries want artists to create artworks which are easy for the galleries to sell but artists have tendency to create their own works; therefore, conflicts of interest arise. Which reasonable model of relationship should they build on for their long lasting cooperation?

-This conflict of interest is an ongoing issue. Again, the artist alone is the creator, he or she develops an idea and translates it into art work. Artists may consider art work for different purpose:

a) a specific artwork for an exhibition, a show, a commission etc.

b) major art work for important private collectors and museums

c) minor art work for collecting, oftentimes, paper works, drawings, prints, editions, etc.

I think it is legitimate that galleries demand from artists to cover those aspects. Influential galleries can promote artists over many years until the breakthrough happens. But it may also never happen, leaving the gallery and the artist disappointed.

“Le” (oil on canvas, 150cm x 130cm, 2016) by contestant Nguyen Cong Hoai 

* After the completion of your project regarding your book on Bui Xuan Phai – Nguyen Tu Nghiem and after the contribution of your work on this competition, what is your near future works related to Vietnamese fine arts?

One of my projects, which is at the phase of brainstorming with a group of international experts, is the creation of a multinational platform presenting and promoting contemporary art from Southeast Asia. The plan is to start with Vietnamese art in Switzerland. This project would be expected to exert an impact on Vietnamese arts, depending also on interest and funding. I do hope that artists’ venues such as The V Art and Galerie Nguyen (HCMC) will participate.


By Nhu Ha