Betty Bui, who do you think she is?

Publié le par sandrine

(l'interview de Betty que j'ai realisee en Avril dernier, publie dans Noi That)

Nowadays, Hanoi gathers a handful of organizations whose mission is to support contemporary Vietnamese creation (foreign foundations and cultural centers, artists run spaces…) Their assignment is to allocate subventions and artist’s grants, to organize exhibitions in Vietnam and abroad, residencies, lectures or workshops… but there is one assignment just as important but that no one has so far  succeeded in undertaking: connecting the local scene to the international art market in a sustainable way.

That is the challenge taken up by The Bui Gallery, a new contemporary art gallery which opened in Hanoi on April 7th with a group show titled “Who Do You Think We Are?”. Here is an interview with its young director, the French-Vietnamese Betty Bui.

You’re 31 years old and you have just opened your gallery but you were already working as an art dealer before. For how long have you been doing this job?

I have been working in the art field for four years. I have always been an art lover, but before it was more as a collector. Yet I never thought that one day contemporary art could offer me a job.

When meeting people doing this job, I started to be interested in doing it also. And then I ended up at Christie’s, then I worked with Enrico Navarra (1) and he really showed me that it was possible. I understood that this job reflected my aspirations.

A lot of art dealers have also started like me, but then each one does his job in a different way; there are galleries which are more like art centers than galleries, and there are others which are only commercial. I would like to be in-between. It is not realistic to open a gallery and to work like in a cultural center.

Could you explain to us what is Christie’s and what you did there?
It is the biggest art auction company in the world, based in London. I went to the school of Christie’s in Paris. In this school, you take lessons and at the same time you work as a trainee in all the departments.

Is it through Christie’s that you met Enrico Navarra?
No, I met him before. I met him when I was just an art lover, as I was at the contemporary art sales in New York. At this time, I was looking at his world with a distance because I was not interested in that. But during my scholarship at Christie’s, Enrico kept repeating to me: “You should come and work with me to see a little bit how it really works.” That’s true, at school you learn the minimum but it has nothing to do with the reality of an art dealer's job, so I accepted.

Thanks to him I started to appreciate art differently and meet a lot of art dealers and collectors.

During summer, Enrico always invites a lot of artists, art dealers, gallerists, collectors… in his house in the south of France. It is much better than to look at previsions on artnet (2); you will meet art dealers who will not fight against each other but will share ideas, opinions on artists - on rising artists in particular…

And Enrico’s house is not at all like a gallery, the relation with art works is completely different; it is like being in a perfect museum. There are Basquiat’s paintings, experimental pavillons by Prouvé…

Why choose Vietnam, except for the fact you have Vietnamese origins?
I think things happen in Asia now. Not only in art, but for a lot of people. I think Vietnam can be a platform and I think I can always make people come either here or somewhere else.

It is not obvious for people to think it is possible to buy international contemporary art in Vietnam, but then again, why not? If you show them works they like, collectors will move out, either to Paris, New York or anywhere else.

How did you discover Vietnamese contemporary art?
A very good friend of mine started to look at contemporary Vietnamese art. Someone suggested to him art pieces by Dinh Q Le and he bought a lot of them. From there, we started to reconsider a little more Vietnamese contemporary art and we discovered that there wasn’t currently a very important art scene. There are a few contemporary artists I like in Vietnam and I see they produce very very slowly. I think being here can allow me to push a little bit the local art scene.

Do you feel there are Vietnamese collectors who are interested in contemporary art?

Yes, I have met them. But when you are not used to seeing contemporary art works, it is not easy, even in Western countries.

Contemporary art often shocks, can provoke abhorrence, at first it doesn’t give you the desire to buy it… But I think that if I can provoke this kind of reaction first with the Vietnamese collectors, I would be happy.

When you look at Vietnamese contemporary art, what are your judgment criterias?

First and last, I follow my taste. And with my experience of collector and art dealer, I know also roughly what can be sold.

Collectors select an art dealer because they believe in his taste. Relationship between an artist and his art dealer is a bit the same as between an art dealer and a collector: they have to understand each other to make things work.

Do you have career plans for artists you want to represent?

There are emerging artists and established artists. For the latter, I am part of a whole ; I didn’t make their careers. For the former, of course, I have ideas of career plans but I can’t work alone.

Other art dealers who are interested in Vietnamese art say that they don’t want to represent an emerging artist if there is not a gallery they know who did the initial work. It is very exhausting to represent an emerging artist, you have to organize his exhibitions, to show his work in art fairs… Often, art dealers prefer taking care of artists in the middle of their careers.

What would be for you the best aftermath of this first exhibition – apart from the sale of the art works of course…
I’d like local collectors to appreciate the show, or at least I’d like them to react, not to stay puzzled. I’d like them to get a taste for coming regularly to my gallery; I’d like the gallery to integrate their landscape.

Because contemporary art spaces are lacking in Vietnam, do you feel you have responsibilities with young artists, art students and local audience in general?

We are here anyway, so I would be happy if students can come and see the exhibitions, speak or read magazines and art books we have at the gallery.

I think also it is important for students to see how a gallery works and to see exhibitions of foreign artists because there are unfortunately few exhibitions like this here.

What will be the next exhibitions of foreign artists you’ve programmed in Hanoi?

There is Fabien Verschaere, the Brazilian artist Tunga and also a group exhibition by Brazilian contemporary artists. Later, with Enrico Navarra, I’d like also to do a show of Basquiat.

In the long term, what could a gallery like yours bring to Vietnam?

Maybe, also, a gallery can step by step give to collectors, sponsors and people from the government the desire to have big contemporary art exhibitions here. By associating the financial support of the ones with efforts of the others, exhibitions worthy of the biggest contemporary art museums may appear in Vietnam…

More information on The Bui Gallery on

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