An expansive view of Vietnamese art and culture

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“Arts of Ancient Viet Nam,” the most ambitious exhibition of Vietnamese art yet to appear in the United States, is a show about meetings.

In room after room, magnificent objects on display tell a story about people -- how we encounter one another, and change in the process. That such meetings are sometimes bloody was an inescapable issue for the organizers of the show, which is currently on view at the Asia Society in New York.

For decades, Vietnam existed in the American mind, not so much as a geographical place with its own history, but rather, singularly, as a synonym for conflict. And it was this association -- as Asia Society Director Vishakha Desai put it: “that Vietnam means war” -- that organizers wanted to challenge. “We wanted to create a new story,” Desai said. Given the interwoven history of America and Vietnam, it is a point delicately made.

For one thing, Nancy Tingley, the show’s heroically stubborn curator who worked more than 20 years to realize “Arts of Ancient Viet Nam,” has mounted an exhibition that looks at a time well before the Battle of Hue, the massacre at My Lai and the fall of Saigon. This is a historical show that examines another kind of meeting between people: one built on trade and commerce.


For an in-depth look at the exhibition, click here for Sunday’s Arts & Books article.

-- Louise Roug