Your Guide to the Best of Contemporary Art in Hanoi, Vietnam

The vibrant and cosmopolitan capital of Hanoi is home to one of Asia’s best contemporary art scenes. Here is where you should go.

Apr 16, 2024By Cameron Mason, MA Social Anthropology, MSc Comparative Public Policy

hanoi vietnam contemporary art


Located within the Red River Delta in Northern Vietnam, Hanoi is Vietnam’s capital. In recent years the city has undergone radical transformation. Restrictions have eased and a burgeoning arts scene has emerged, pushing boundaries in literature, music, and art. Internationally renowned, Hanoi’s contemporary art scene is an essential experience for any art enthusiast visiting the country. However, like other major capitals Hanoi may seem vast and intimidating. So, here is a guide to the best of Hanoi’s contemporary art.


The History of Contemporary Art in Vietnam

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Busy local daily life of the morning street market in Hanoi, Vietnam. Source: Istock


Vietnam is changing and it’s changing fast. Curfews have lifted and its cities hum to the sounds of well-heeled twenty-somethings roaring motorcycles up and down polychromatic neon streets. Local Vinahouse music blasts from bars and young Vietnamese gather, sitting outside on wide terraces sharing fried chicken and beer with plate-like mobile phones in one hand and technicolor vapes in the other. Sporting designer outfits and new-fangled haircuts, they huddle together on small plastic furniture, laughing, talking, and sharing stories while soaking up a balmy Hanoi evening. With nearly 60% of Vietnam’s population born after 1975 memories of war and sacrifice are fading. Global capitalism now tantalizes and excites, replacing the old conservatism with new ideals.


No longer isolated and withdrawn, Hanoi is vibrant and alive, increasingly shaped by the values and designs of its young cosmopolitans. Three decades have passed since Doi Moi unshackled Vietnam from its communist past and despite some remaining censorship, the inrush of modernism and change has been profound. As the economy has boomed so has its craving for sophistication. Minds have been liberated and as a newly educated class is joined by a returning diaspora—exiled under Ho Chi Minh—globalized trends in fashion, music, and art have taken hold.


Indochina College of Fine Arts

students hanoi vietnam
Students at Ecole des Beaux-Arts de l’Indochine, circa. 1926, by Manhhai. Source: Flickr


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But change does not happen in a vacuum and as the country rouses from a somnolent state, Vietnam’s future is still being directed by its past. While the French brought colonization, they also brought doctrines and institutions. The elegance in Vietnamese tailoring did not happen by coincidence, Vietnamese cuisine is a combination of regional simplicity and French intricacy, and the country’s art is a collision of centuries of innovation, united through the founding of the École des Beaux Arts de L’Indochine (Indochina College of Fine Arts) in 1925. While it was rooted in Western art theory and critical thinking, seeded by professors and hungry students with a thirst for impressionism, surrealism, and art history, it also provided the platform to explore finely tuned Vietnamese techniques like silk painting, lacquering, and engraving.


Woman Carrying a Water Jar by Nguyen Van Thinh, 1906. Source Christies


Fast forward a century, and the congruity of Western and Vietnamese art is as apparent as the love between two old friends at Christmas. Yes, Vietnam still has issues with censorship and free speech, and traditional conservatism dictates that nudity and depictions of Ho Chi Minh remain taboo. But revolutions like this do not happen overnight. Near half-century struggles with post-colonialism and feminism will attest to this. However, Vietnam’s unique social history has laid sturdy ideological foundations. In releasing society from the grip of the state, the deregulation of art galleries and public spaces has allowed artists to use these foundations and newfound freedoms to ponder and create and to further force outward the boundaries of expression while unleashing the innate madness of the human spirit.


Places You Should Visit

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The Hammock by Jospeh Inguimberty, 1938. Source: Sotheby’s


For an art movement that now stretches from Saigon to San Francisco and sells regularly at Christie’s, there has arguably never been a more exciting time for contemporary art in Hanoi. Its traditional focus on impressionist and post-impressionist style painting is now flanked by more avant-garde and contemporary mediums with artists less afraid of taking on the establishment. As exhibitions continue to draw attention from authorities the ensuing running battle is slowly relaxing attitudes of free expression, and with more progressive themes being incorporated into an increasing number of people’s work, Hanoi’s allure has never been more compelling. So, to help get to grips with this enthralling and dynamic contemporary art scene, here is a guide to where one can find the best of it.


1. Nha San Collective

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Work by Nha San Collective. Source: Facebook


Not so much a gallery space, but a collective of multidisciplinary artists who exhibit all over Hanoi, the Nha San Collective is one of the longest-running and most important contemporary art projects in Vietnam. Founded in 1998 by artists Nguyễn Mạnh Đức and Trần Lương, the studio would go on to influence several generations of artists and play a significant role in developing Vietnamese contemporary art. By hosting lectures and workshops, the studio became a place for artists to experiment and connect with the international art community.


The studio was closed by Vietnamese authorities in 2011, but a new generation of artists has ensured its legacy continues. In recent years they have received significant recognition for a series of guerrilla projects around Hanoi and for challenging the status quo not just in the capital, but also in the country. Officially recognized as the Nhà Sàn Collective again, it relies on volunteers, private donations, and support from various cultural institutions.


2. Manzi Art Space

Manzi Art Space. Source: Migo Travel


Located in a small alley in central Hanoi, Manzi Art Space is regarded as one of the most dynamic art spaces in Southeast Asia. Opened in 2012 by art enthusiasts Tram Vu and Bill Nguyen, Manzi has been a place of multidisciplinary-meeting-of-the-minds for over 10 years. The gallery is known for a brilliantly curated program that features visual art exhibitions, talks, workshops, and dance performances amongst other things.


It is hugely respected for its commitment to local artists and helping contemporary art in Vietnam reach new audiences. The gallery is also dedicated to discovering new talent and providing a platform to help emerging artists establish themselves. Consequently, Manzi has been responsible for launching the careers of several notable Hanoi-based contemporary artists. Also a café and gift shop, it sits within the grounds of a charming 1930s colonial French villa and provides a number of excellent excuses for a visit.


3. Work Room Four

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Work Room Four. Source: Facebook


Work Room Four is a multidisciplinary art and design studio founded in 2013. Doubling up as a gallery, it focuses on collaborations with Vietnamese and international artists. Through the curation of Claire Driscoll they offer top-class multidisciplinary exhibitions and shows. Work Room Four offers much-needed space and resources to help develop emerging talent and promote contemporary art in the city, all while staying true to the studio’s mantra of creating something new. The studios and gallery can be found in the neighborhood of Tay Ho. The place has three floors housing offices, workshops, and a gift shop. Checking their social media before visiting is recommended.


4. Green Palm Gallery 

green palm gallery
The Green Palm Gallery. Source: Tripadvisor


With galleries located centrally in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, the Green Palm Gallery is one of Vietnam’s most well-known and prestigious institutes of art. Specialising in contemporary and fine art, it regularly sells works made by Vietnam’s best artists, including Nguyen Thanh Chuong, Le Thanh Son, and Hong Viet Dung. The gallery was established in 1996. As demand for Vietnamese art skyrocketed in recent years, the gallery became one of the most admired in Southeast Asia. Besides selling work, the gallery also hosts regular exhibitions in its two showrooms and features an array of Vietnamese and international artists. For those who do make a purchase here, the customer service is supposedly legendary.


5. CUC Gallery

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The CUC Gallery. Source: CUC Gallery


Located in the new central business district (CBD) of Hanoi, the CUC Gallery is one of the few institutions in Vietnam that consistently collaborates with other artists and galleries, both in Vietnam and internationally. Much of the work exhibited here is the result of an arduous research and peer-reviewing process that aims to exhibit world-class contemporary art. Dedicated to contemporary and fine art, the gallery has self-proclaimed ambitions to be not just Hanoi’s but also Vietnam’s principal institution for contemporary art. Since 2013, CUC Gallery has been listed as one of the top 20 museums in Asia and number one in Vietnam. The place also serves as an art education center for children, offering foundations in art history and critical thinking.


6. Mai Gallery 

The Mai Gallery. Source: Facebook


One of the first and most significant galleries to emerge following Doi Moi, the Mai Gallery is synonymous with the foundation and development of contemporary art in Hanoi. Originally exhibiting pioneering Vietnamese painters like Dang Xuan Hoa, Nguyen Quan, Ha Tri Hieu, and Hong Viet Dung (members of the now lauded Gang of Five), a new generation of Vietnamese artists have now assumed their mantle for innovation and are showing their work here. Expertly curated by owner Tran Phuong Mai, the Mai Gallery takes pride as a place for fine contemporary art and is synonymous with the city’s best artists. Now situated in a modern three-story gallery on Hang Bong Street, you will find refreshing diversity here—impressionist-inspired paintings are superbly balanced with a multitude of other styles and disciplines.


Experience Contemporary Art in Hanoi, Vietnam

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The Gang of Five. Source: The Saigoneer.


Arguably there has never been a better time to experience contemporary art in Hanoi. New artists are emerging, and galleries have never had as much freedom as they have now. Whether it be painting or performative art, Vietnam’s capital has something to offer for any art aficionado visiting Asia. This article has hopefully provided you with an entry point into the enthralling world of contemporary art in Hanoi.

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By Cameron MasonMA Social Anthropology, MSc Comparative Public PolicyCameron is a freelance writer currently based in Vietnam. He has an MA in Social Anthropology and an MSc in Comparative Public Policy, both from the University of Edinburgh.