Hanoi offers an array of art galleries, from commercial ones pumping out appealing art and copies for the masses through to higher-end spaces, where you might pick up an original $5,000 piece from one of Vietnam's in-demand artists.
Lovely independent contemporary art centre Manzi, set in a colonial-era two-storey building, has a small but carefully curated collection of works by emerging artists upstairs, and a relaxed cafe/bar downstairs. When we last passed through they were showing a beautiful temporary exhibition of works by 1986-born Vo Tran Chau, the highlight of which was a long con, or an emperor's ritual garment, sewed together from pieces of fabric handed down by her ancestors.
Founded by Suzanne Lecht in Hanoi in 2002, Art Vietnam is open by appointment only. It presents emerging and well established Vietnamese and foreign artists and while we haven't yet checked it out, Suzanne is extremely well regarded in Vietnam's art circles and would be an important contact for anyone interested in more serious pieces. Art Vietnam's website gives you a good idea of the kinds of work Vietnamese artists are producing and what you can expect to see.
It's no longer an official gallery, but you might find the door open at Salon Natasha, the Old Quarter home of Russian art expert and dealer Natasha Kraevskaia, who was married to the late provocative avant garde artist Vu Dan Tan. The shopfront remains scattered with artworks, and Natasha is passionate about Vietnamese art.
Sumptuous Apricot Gallery offers commercially popular art downstairs, and as you head upstairs floor after floor the collection become more expensive; this is one of Hanoi's more extensive art galleries. You could easily lose an hour or two here immersed in the stunning paintings.
54 Traditions Gallery, housed in a nondescript building on Hang Bun Street, north of Old Quarter, is the only gallery focusing seriously on antiques. From the front it looks just like the frosted-glass entrance to a small office but inside it opens up into a five-storey treasure trove, full of antiquities from the ethnic minorities of Vietnam. If you have any interest in the subject of Vietnam’s ethnic minorities, then this is a must-visit. While the Museum of Ethnology is a more spacious venue and the Women’s Museum provides insight from a gendered perspective, 54 Traditions Gallery overwhelms the senses with antiques, artefacts and art crowding every surface. Galleries include tribal textiles, tribal tools, Shamanic arts paraphernalia and jewellery. All of the items on display are for sale, making for some special souvenirs. Each item comes with a detailed fact sheet, another indication of how much they understand and care about their collection. Mark, the co-owner, is often on hand to give guests an engaging tour of the collection. The gallery also conducts cultural activities, including tours of the Museum of Ethnology and the Museum of History and lectures.
Keep an eye out too for temporary exhibitions going on at various cultural institutions based in Hanoi, such as the Goethe Institut, which has been particularly supportive of Vietnam’s visual arts community, L'Espace at the French Cultural Centre and the Korean Cultural Centre, where we saw an interesting contemporary exhibit while on Sophie's Art Tour, actually run in Hanoi by the highly knowledgeable Fabiola.
Anyone with a love of art would do well to join one of her tours, where you'll explore the beautiful National Fine Arts Museum, where information on artworks is otherwise very limited. The tour is a fascinating crash course in Vietnamese art and you'll be inspired to learn more on your own—and investigate more of the many galleries dotted across the capital.
54 Traditions Gallery: 30 Hang Bun, Hanoi; T: (04) 3715 0194, (04) 3715 1569;
Apricot Gallery: 40B Hang Bong, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi; (038) 288 965; www.apricot-artvietnam.com.
Goethe Institut: 56-58 Nguyen Thai Hoc, Hanoi; T: (04) 3734 2251; www.goethe.de.
Korean Cultural Centre: 49 Nguyen Du, Hai Ba Trung; T: (04) 3944 5980; vietnam.korean-culture.org.
L'Espace: 24 Trang Tien, Hanoi; (043) 936 2164; www.institutfrancais-vietnam.com.
Manzi: 14 Phan Huy Ich; T: (04) 3716 3397; www.facebook.com/manzihanoi; open daily 08:00-22:30.
Salon Natasha: 30 Hang Bong St, Hoan Kiem; T: (04) 3826 1387.
Sophie's Art Tour: T: (0168) 796 2575; sophiesarttour.com; tours priced at $65/1.5m dong for four hours.
Samantha Brown is a reformed news reporter. She now edits most of the stuff you read on Travelfish.org, except for when you find a typo, and then that's something she wasn't allowed to look at.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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