By Ian Findlay
Asian Art News May/June 2002
The horse has always been one of the most powerful symbols for all humankind both in folk myth and reality. In Asian fine arts and literature, the horse has been a particularly important motif. The horse has three of the best aspects of any beast: beauty, intelligence, and is friendly with humans, as well as being supple, strong, and graceful. “In Vietnam, the horse is of heroic proportions as seen in the style of King Nguyen Hue when he entered Thang Long on the 5th day of the Lunar New Year”, as the critic Nguyen Quan has pointed out. “The horse is also seen as the valiant male fighter and hero Tu Hai. But the horse is also seen as a romantic dream, traveling ‘half-sober and half-drunk’ like a person in love”.
As such it is clear that for artists it has been one of the most important subjects, representing as it does everything from raw power to God-like status.
As we are now in Year of the Horse it is only appropriate that such a significant symbol should be the subject of an extensive exhibition. Codo Gallery’s show is one of the most extensive on record. The 31 artists whose work was on display include some of the best known names in the contemporary Vietnamese art world, among them Nguyen Quan, Phan Cam Thuong, Vu Thang, Le Quang Ha, Nguyen Xuan Tiep, Nguyen Thanh Son, Nguyen Van Ngoc, Ly HoangLy, Do Minh Tam, Nguyen Bao Toan, Dinh Quan, Tran Tuan Long, and Ha Tri Hieu.
The horses in this exhibition are realized in a variety of media_Do paper, silk, oil on canvas, gouache, woodblock, lacquer, pastels_and in an extraordinary wide range of poses, representational and abstract. Although there is a sense of reverence in the humaner in which many of the maner in which many of the artists treat their subject, there are also many who inject a good deal of humor and even a sense of sadness into their work.
The work of Nguyen Bao Toan suggests horses from early dynastic paintings in his works entitled Pacing (2001)and there is even a hint of mural painting about them as they stretch across his silk. Co Chu Pin’s Magic Light 1 (2001) sees the horse at the center of a festival, while Phan Cam Thuong’s Stone Horse (2002) seems to be waiting between battles. The series entitled Horse (2001) by Bui Minh Dung suggest a cubist influence.
While there are toy horses in evidence, there is a strong dream-like quality to many of the best pieces. Nguyen Quan’s large three-panel piece entitled Old_Story (2001) representation and is one of the best pieces in the show. But the works Moonlit Night (2002) by Nguyen Tra Vinh, Space In The Afternoon (1997) by Tran Tuan, and Twin Friend II (2001) by Ly Hoang Ly show the lively imagination of dreams. And if horses cannot inspire dreams, then what can?