The Ho Chi Minh Fine Arts Museum is located in a series of old buildings with aging and cracked tile and stained glass. The buildings are in poor repair especially in the inside and the exhibits are often not well displayed or preserved but nonetheless at less then $0.50 per person it is well worth a visit if you have time. The museum grounds are comprised of three art galleries and a cafe. The cafe is air-conditioned but the offerings are overpriced with poor service to match. Don’t make a trip here for the coffee, but it does make a nice rest during your tour.
The main gallary building is a remnant of the French architectural influence and includes one of the oldest working elevators I’ve ever seen! The art inside this yellow and white building with a central courtyard mostly tells the story of Vietnam since the end of the American war (aka Vietnam war, aka Second French Colonial War) in 1975. The art work is mostly paintings but there are some impressive sculptures too. Most of the art seems to have been made in 1998, perhaps as a way of filling more room in the museum. I had expected that the post-war part of the museum would attempt to tell a story or group similar artists, pieces, or subjects into an exhibit but from what I could tell of the large yellow building, there was no plan to the layout at all.
The middle building proclaimed to have modern art (as apposed to art since 1975 in the yellow building) which seems to be where the contemporary artists exhibits were held. Some of them were quite good and the art production, presentation, and exhibit organization could have been at home in a modern art museum in Los Angeles. It’s a little glimpse into the minds of young artists in Vietnam and when I was there it seemed to be filled with art telling the lives of young Vietnamese who are aware of the American War, the peculiar world of Communist Vietnam, but are far more interested in the future than the past. Most of the art held a pained optimism, as if the artists were trying to say they didn’t want to think too hard about how precarious this new and modern Vietnam really is.
There is no elevator in this building.
The final building was practically falling apart, which is a shame considering it holds art dating back almost 2,000 years and spanning numerous empires. Most of the art was only three or four hundred years old, but overall it gives the impression that Vietnam has a rich artistic and commerce history with artistic and religious influences from the middle East, India, China, and Indonesia. And that’s just what I could identify! If you like pottery, brass, bronze, stone carving, or wood working with intricate inlayed mother of pearl then this is worth the entrance fee all on its own. By far the most interesting display at the museum. There is an elevator but thankfully it is out of commission. It looks frightening.