Art is sold almost everywhere in Saigon, but much of what you will find is paint-by-the-number reproductions. If you want to see quality original pieces by local artists, there are a few places to go besides the Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts Museum; to see the latest and greatest in local art, take a walk down Dong Khoi.
Dong Khoi, a short street that runs from the Notre Dame Cathedral to the Thu Thiem ferry, is where to head for a stroll if you want to browse art galleries. More than a dozen galleries sit right off the street, most of which are small single-roomed shops with their walls and floors crammed with original works. Walking into some of these hole-in-the-wall galleries you may be treated to the sight of an actual artist painting. Prices, sizes and quality vary in these shops and they are notorious for having high starting prices, however they can be good spots to buy small souvenirs if you’re willing to try your hand at bargaining.
Not all the galleries on the street are small; in fact, a few are large, professional businesses housing art from Vietnam’s most established artists. On the corner of Dong Khoi and Ly Tu Trong and across the street from Vincom Centre, through a dark hallway and up a flight of stairs, Le Xuan Art Gallery is one such location; it’s not a giant shop, but has a handful of tightly packed rooms featuring modestly sized works from various local artists. This is one of the better spots on the street to visit if you’re actually looking to buy art. Since their pieces are on the smaller side, prices are more affordable. The staff are friendly and if you’re there just to look at art they also have a beauty salon and internet cafe that you can use.
Perhaps the nicest art gallery in the city is also in Dong Khoi; Apricot Gallery is definitely worth a visit if you’re looking to see high quality local art. From the outside the gallery seems small, but walking inside you’ll find an impressive space, with three floors filled with art. Unlike most of the other galleries that sell art, here you won’t find overly filled walls and paintings stacked on the floor; instead, you’ll find well-lit halls of evenly spaced art in a museum quality setting. This may be the most impressive collection of art in town; most of the pieces here are big with asking prices in the thousands of dollars. Their displays truly rival that of the Fine Arts Museum — if you want to see or buy high quality local art this should be one of your first stops.
Toward the end of the street you’ll find Lotus Gallery, one of the city’s more unique galleries. Instead of original works by current artists, this is one of the only places in the city, besides the museums, that displays older works; even more interestingly, all the art in this shop is propaganda. The gallery is small but that doesn’t stop them from packing it from top to bottom. Displayed propaganda covers a wide range of topics, from wartime pieces to works urging pig farmers to maintain their pigs. And all the propaganda can be yours for the right price — though none of the prices are marked. If quoted prices are too high to handle their gallery also sells smaller pieces.
Le Xuan Art Gallery
1st floor, 26 Ly Tu Trong, District 1,
T: (09) 0824 6420
52 Dong Khoi, District 1
T: (08) 3822 7962
25 Dong Khoi, District 1
By Max Murta
Last updated on 2nd October, 2014.