Explore golden age of South Vietnamese modern art at Wende Museum

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Binh Danh, “Operation Rolling Thunder, Immortality: The Remnants of the Vietnam and American War” series, 2005, chlorophyll print and resin. Photo courtesy of the artist.

The rich Vietnamese artistic tradition that emerged in the wake of the Vietnam War is often overshadowed by narratives of socio-political unrest that have come to define that time. But an exhibition at Culver City’s Wende Museum aims to shed light on that post-war modern art.  

Open through October 22, “Vietnam in Transition, 1976–Present” shows contemporary works from more than a dozen artists, alongside historical artifacts and documents from everyday life. And on August 19, art historian Thuy N.D. Tran will offer a lecture on the golden age of South Vietnamese artistic modernism. 

Tran says her research aims to fill in the “art historical gap” that exists in the era just before the end of the war, when a growing “optimism for decolonization” led to an explosion in creativity in literature, visual arts, poetry, and music. 

“The French had just withdrawn from Vietnam, there was this new optimism for nation building,” she says. “So the cultural life in South Vietnam was this vision of hope and really a renewed creativity that is referred to as this golden age of contemporary Vietnamese culture.”

Binh Danh, “Holding #1, Immortality: The Remnants of the Vietnam and American War” series, 2009, chlorophyll print and resin Courtesy of the artist. 

This era helped set the stage for new progressive modernism, celebrated in the current exhibition. Tran finds the work of Binh Danh, known for his chlorophyll prints on leaves, particularly compelling. 

“The images are of people, their portraits, or scenes of the Vietnam War soldiers in the rice paddies. And then they become like an altarpiece, in a way,” she says. 

Tran says she hopes her work will help reconnect members of the Vietnamese diaspora — many of whom live in Southern California — with some of this lost history. 

“It's this collective memory that I'm trying to piece together … to give the time period the spotlight that it deserves.”