Nurturing young talents is key to Vietnam’s fine arts development
The Viet Art Today 2016 contest, jointly held by The V Art and Young Artists’ Club of the HCMC Fine Arts Association and sponsored by Galerie Nguyen, is a meaningful and interesting program to help establish a professional art market for local young artists. Talents who emerge at the contest will be given the best conditions to expose their ability and contribution to the fine arts industry in Vietnam and to have an opportunity to enter art markets in the world. On the occasion, The Saigon Times Daily has an interview with Don Lam, CEO of VinaCapital and chairman of VinaCapital Foundation. Don Lam is a consultant for the contest to help define a long-term and professional development for young artists. Hereunder are excerpts from the interview.

Don Lam, CEO of VinaCapital and chairman of VinaCapital Foundation

You have been known for efforts to promote the country’s image in attracting investment into the country. And now, in another sphere, why is it import to promote Vietnam’s fine arts?

Don Lam: As my major job is related to investment, I haven’t had many opportunities to exchange opinions about Vietnam’s culture to international partners. However, I agree that fine arts play such an important role in a country’s culture and valuable artworks would help attract the attention of people in the world to Vietnam’s culture in particular and other aspects of the country in general. 

As economic development is a current priority to Vietnam, we haven’t paid much attention to the promotion of fine arts as part of the country’s branding. But I do believe that the development of the economy would lead to more interest from local and foreign people towards Vietnam’s contemporary cultural achievements, and the need to own paintings, sculptures and craft products for their beauty as well as investment values. At the moment, I appreciate great efforts of local artists and art galleries and sponsors who have had passion to promote the fine arts of Vietnam, one of the most prominent art industries in Indochina in the previous century.

You have spent time traveling around the world, so maybe you are knowledgeable about the weaknesses of Vietnam’s arts. Can the situation be better if we put more efforts, and if yes, where should we start and what is the method?

- To promote the development and prestige of local fine arts, it’s recommended to establish a professional market where a connection of supply and demand is built based on clear regulations. I myself think that Vietnam’s fine arts market hasn’t exposed its best potentials like other countries in the region. Fine arts have specific characteristics that are based on fixed rules but different tastes of collectors. Thus, it is hard to apply general standards for the whole market.

To help build a market for local fine arts, it requires the cooperation of many related people. Artists need to be professional in creating and selling their artworks while collectors need to prepare funds for investment. Intermediary organizations and sponsors need to have professional and prestigious operations.

Is that the reason of your participation and support for the upcoming contest Viet Art Today 2016 for young and professional artists? Or are there any other reasons?

- I myself have a big esteem for Vietnam, my homeland and the place I have been close to for the past 20 years. My great ambition is to support young Vietnamese generations in different fields to help them bring into play their best potentials to later develop the community. The V Art is aimed at young artists and I wish to share my knowledge of investment to help young art enthusiasts to define their long-term orientation and help increase the value and fascination of local artworks.

Furthermore, the organizing committee of The V Art consists of long-term partners of VinaCapital Foundation for years via the sponsorship of paintings for auctions to raise funds for children as heart-disease patients. A painting auction named Art for Hearts at the end of 2015 was an unforgettable success to all of us as we helped raise over VND5 billion to save more than 200 children. I’d like to pay tribute to that amazing support.

A professional art market must consist of basic elements of professional artists, galleries, auction houses/art fairs, evaluation/assessment centers, collectors, banking/finance organizations, and critics and scholars. What are the similarities between a young artist and a young start-up businessman? What are your advices for young artists to manage all the works by themselves or sharing works with co-workers to enter a market?

- Old people said that diligence is the mother of good fortune. Anyone who wants to be a master in his/her field needs to be diligent in learning and earning experience through years. A young start-up man in IT or a budding investment consultant or a young artist needs to start from basic things. I don’t know much about daily works of artists. However, I think the key to success of people in all fields of business is a great determination to pursuit their best works and incessantly improve their knowledge and experience.

Besides, there are mentors who have had more experience and achievements to help instruct and consult young talents to have better and further progress in their jobs. I believe that there is a similar concept for young artists. They need veteran managers who have knowledge in painting evaluation and market analysis and helpful consultancy for their development.

Finally, success only comes to those who are professional, prestigious and respectful.

Young artists face many difficulties in their life, especially daily necessities such as accommodation, meals and materials for creating artworks. From your own experience, what are the advices for them to overcome those difficulties?

- Difficulties always come to people at the beginning. And I think that during this very first time, the most important thing is to have stable income to help covering our essential needs of daily life. Young artists should find a gallery to have more time focusing on creating paintings and improving their knowledge. Although this trend is not popular in Vietnam, I believe it will be gradually developed in Vietnam in the future. 

Participating artists at The V Art will receive support from the organizing committee and galleries in five years. If the concept is applied successfully, other organizations can see it as a case study to learn from.

With the guarantee of a professional gallery, do you think that artists are able to approach loans or investment funds?

- In my understanding, the funding for artists and art projects is popular in developed art markets in the UK, the U.S. and Canada. It is doable in Vietnam if a sponsor has prestige and an exclusive labor contract with an artist. On the other hand, an artist needs to prove his/her ability to create artworks with high values.

Vietnam’s fine arts have not been highly evaluated in the region for its low-price artworks. Nobody knows how to correctly appraise works and increase the prices. What are your suggestions?

- I have humble knowledge about artwork evaluation. However, my friends who are experts in the art field all have the same opinions about the talent of local artists and high values of local art pieces. Additionally, the average income of Vietnamese people can’t compare with Thai or Singaporean people and prices of many products, inclusive of artworks in Vietnam are much lower than standard prices.

However, there is a potential to increase the artwork’s value in the country in the future when the economy is more developed and people have better living conditions to be able to afford high-value art pieces. I think that those who love Vietnam’s art should be optimistic about the future.

Do you think that Vietnam’s fine arts create a good channel for investment?

- I think that this is a very interesting investment channel. About ten years ago, I advised one of my friends who was an owner of Galerie Nguyen to open an antique store as there would be a tendency to collect and exchange rare and precious antique items of Vietnam. And fine arts are the same. Good paintings will have more values after time. I believe that art lovers should have basic steps professionally to have a leading market for investment.

Reported by Hoang Vy