Just on the other side of the Troung Tran Nguyen Han roundabout from Ben Thanh market, behind the bus centre down Pho Duc Chinh, the Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts Museum sits in a flamboyantly yellow colonial building.
Established in 1987, the Museum houses works of art on three floors, each representing its own section. The first floor is home to a variety of pieces from both Vietnamese and foreign artists, most of which are small sketches or paintings of famous Communist figures. The second floor is dedicated to works of 20th century and contemporary Vietnamese artists, which besides displaying paintings, also houses a collection of modern sculpture, some examples of propaganda and an impressive collection of lacquer art. On the third and final floor you will find examples of art created from the seventh through to the 20th centuries including some pieces of Cham, Khmer and Oc Eo art. The basement of the museum, accessible through the courtyard, is home to a few galleries where everything is for sale.
You won’t find any works by renowned Western artists and you may not recognise many of the names on the wall, but you don’t have to be an art snob to enjoy the museum. Really, this is the best place to see a varied collection of works by Vietnamese artists, both historical and contemporary, in the city. Not surprisingly though, many of the works housed in the museum are war themed and the pieces as a collection serve as a way to view some of the same themes you’ll find at the War Remnants Museum without the brutal imagery.
If you’re not into art, the building itself is one of the better examples of colonial architecture in the city, and it’s completely open for a stroll. Although it could use some upkeep, the building has an eerie charm. Complete with an ancient elevator and beautiful tile work, walking down the halls it’s easy to imagine that you’re in earlier times.
The collection here isn’t huge so you don’t need to pencil out a half a day to stroll through and, since you could easily absorb a good chunk in an hour, it’s probably worth the five-minute walk from Ben Thanh market and the 10,000 VND entrance fee. The museum doesn’t get a load of visitors everyday, so there isn’t really a time of day to avoid crowds, but many of the halls are fan cooled only; the best time to visit would probably be in the morning as things will be slightly cooler.
If the museum has you inspired to view other works of art, take a 10-minute walk to Dong Khoi where many highly regarded Vietnamese artists have set up their own galleries. You’re also only a 10-minute walk from Bui Vien in the Pham Ngu Lao area where you can visit one of the many oil painting stalls where you’ll be able to browse through stacks of reproduced famous Western artworks for sale.
By Angela Schonberg
Last updated on 25th July, 2014.