The first days of April, which ought to have been as lovely as the lilies blooming in To Ngoc Van’s painting “Young woman with Lilly,” were rife with disturbances in the world of Vietnamese art. After the Vietnamese lunar new year, I don’t know who actually pulled the trigger first but amid this turbulent Western – Vietnamese event with #HubertFake, once again: It’s the art of Vietnam that suffers the most.
Let’s start by returning to Ho Chi Minh City in the summer of 2016, when Art Republik Vietnam claimed that was the first shot of the #HurbertFake event. In the exhibition “Paintings Returned From Europe” at Ho Chi Minh City Museum of Fine Arts, Mr Vu Xuan Chung’s collection including 17 paintings from Vietnamese legendary quartet Nghiem – Lien – Sang – Phai (Nguyen Tu Nghiem, Duong Bich Lien, Nguyen Sang, Bui Xuan Phai) and other famous artist from Indochina College of Fine Arts (l’École des Beaux-Arts d’Indochine) such as Nguyen Tien Chung, Nguyen Sy Ngoc, Ta Ty happily presented to the public.
However, in contrast to expectations about an event with happiness and joy, from the opening ceremony onward, the works were considered by experts to be…all fake! Particularly, artist Thanh Chuong has denounced that the painting “Abstract”, which bears artist Ta Ty’s signature, is actually one of his own works in the cubist style.
Immediately, those 17 paintings were taken into custody for examination. Then on July 19, Ho Chi Minh City Museum of Fine Arts held an evaluation session with managers, art critics and art specialists to clarify the case. In the end, Mr. Jean-François Hubert, a senior expert in Vietnamese and Asian art at Christie’s Hong Kong, was reportedly the seller of 17 of these works, according to Mr. Vu Xuan Chung. It’s also Jean-François Hubert who issued the certificate for these 17 paintings. Then, when the case became more and more known, Jean-François Hubert still asserted: “All paintings at the exhibition “Paintings returned from Europe” are real paintings”. He provided a variety of proof along with documentary photographs to demonstrate his status as an actual expert.
However, the results were made public on July 19 evening, specifically as follows: “15 paintings (that are on display at the City Museum of Fine Arts. Ho Chi Minh City) of Mr. Vu Xuan Chung’s collection are not author-made artworks (i.e., fake paintings). With the same collection, two paintings were impersonated the signatures of artists Ta Ty and Sy Ngoc. Also, the documentary pictures that Jean-François Hubert showed are all naively faked.
At that time, painter Thanh Chuong suggested criminal prosecution in this situation. After then, I’m not sure what exactly happened, but things have since cooled down. There was nothing left but melancholy and a dubious glance at Vietnamese paintings.
This is when the article entitled “The academic personality of Jean-François Hubert or “The parrot from the West” by Curator Ace Le aired. A little more in-depth, Ace Le holds a Master’s degree in Museum Studies and Curatorial Practice at Nanyang Technological University. He is the co-founder of the independent curatorial group “Of Limits”, winner of NTU CCA Singapore’s 2020 Platform Projects. He is currently Sotheby’s Director and Country Head in Vietnam.
Back in August 2021, it’s summer again, not long after Mai Trung Thu’s “Portrait of Mademoiselle Phuong” set a record by selling for a record-breaking $3.1 million. This event demonstrates how the world is progressively becoming more aware of the context of Vietnamese fine art in general and Indochina painting in particular. Once again, Academic problems, art history study projects, and forgery are brought into consideration. Ace Le’s views about “extreme negligence” in articles on Hubert’s own website, with a total of 8 cases.
The original text of Curator Ace Le’s essay will not be published within the context of this compilation; instead, it is merely briefly summarized, with each item’s title taken directly from the article:
The folk game “salix” and “the swell” of Vu Cao Dam?
Referencing Hubert’s fake, incorrect, and illogical information when discussing the Vu Cao Dam painting “Le Thé” (ca. 1930).
Were there only three paintings with hand writing poems by Nguyen Phan Chanh?
Hubert believes that Nguyen Phan Chanh rarely alludes to poetry in his works; however, this is untrue and is really a ruse to make his works appear more unusual.
“Tea and cake box” in Le Pho’s painting?
Hurbert mistakenly believes that the woman is holding a box of tea and cakes in Le Pho’s 1938 painting La Femme au panier, but in reality, she is clutching votive paper.
The Lu’s “eagerness” and Cao Ba Nha’s “gratitude”
Hurbert frequently used The Lu and Cao Ba Nha’s poetry to demonstrate the works of Le Pho, but in actuality, their juxtaposition is quite misleading and they are not at all related.
The origin of Vietnamese cotton weaving and dyeing can be traced back to its ancestor Hoang Tao P’o.
In the essay about Le Pho’s painting “Les Teinturières” (c. 1945), Hubert claims about a specific ancestor of weaving and dyeing, but no one in Vietnam knows who she is.
Parrot from the West?
Once more, Hubert explains the image’s content inexplicably, subjectively, and without sufficient expertise.
Ranking of artists from Indochina College of Fine Arts?
According to four criteria, Jean-François Hubert himself created a rating of Vietnamese painters. The irony is that the definition of “ethical heirs” is included. Especially in light of Hubert’s lack of ethics with Vietnamese art following the case of 17 phony paintings in 2016, this makes author Ace Le feel ridiculous.
Hubert’s connection to the Boi Tran Garden?
The friendship between Mr. Hubert and Ms. Boi Tran is briefly mentioned in the material, along with their shared admiration for her paintings’ “profound originality” despite the fact that they are overly similar to the paintings by famous painter Nguyen Trung.
Finally, Ace Le’s article raises the issue of how Vietnamese Fine Arts and domestic art academics have allowed outsiders to learn about our conception of art and culture, which he refers to as “neo-colonialism.”
After some time, on April 6, an article by Jean-François Hubert was translated into Vietnamese and posted on a Facebook account named Tran Dinh Thuc Doan. The article has a long title: “The good man, the bad man and the ugly” Or a compromise of the soul with the instinct: a 2023 point of view on the vietnamese painting. It was translated into Vietnamese by Thuc Doan.
In fact, Mr. Hubert published this article on his personal website on March 7 but only when the Vietnamese version appeared on social networks with ads running as propaganda effort, everything just exploded, and insiders couldn’t ignore it anymore. The article’s content supports Jean-François Hubert’s position as a specialist in Vietnamese fine art with 30 years of experience and a constant drive to uphold good in the art market.
Although Jean-François Hubert’s writing is lengthy, readers are more likely to remember it with the mention of individuals both in and outside Vietnam developing a network of fake paintings than for its advocacy of justice. In which, according to Jean-François Hubert, three individuals stand out: artist Thanh Chuong (a failed pseudo-artist posing as Ta Ty – Hubert), researcher Kevin Vuong (who was employed to run errands – Hubert), and curator Ace Le (head of the network – Hubert). Support for the “illegal system” include Do Viet Tuan (founder of Rei Artspace), and Vietnamese researchers, curators in foreign countries namely Ngo Kim Khoi, Alain Truong, Philippe Truong, and Loan Sicre, etc.
In addition, Hubert also criticized the research community’s lack of depth in both the domestic and international contexts. There are claims that the 1993 book Painter of the Indochina School of Fine Arts by artists Nguyen Quang Phong, Nguyen Quang Viet, and Le Thanh Duc contains “nonsense mixed language” and is “contrary to historical knowledge”. Even painter Quang Phong was so ashamed of his writings that he had to go meet Jean Volang in person in France to cry and apologize.
So from this point on, this is the huge mess that made a stir in the Vietnamese art community!
Founder of Rei Artspace Do Viet Tuan, a person named in the article by Jean-François Hubert has officially made an official statement. In Do Viet Tuan’s article, he provided a number of counterarguments and pointed out the specifics that demonstrated that Jean-François Hubert’s claims were naive and baseless.
To help readers understand the information in the best possible way, Art Republik Vietnam has quoted a section of Mr. Do Viet Tuan’s article.
“Firstly, the behavior—blaming the victim/accuser—is quite consistent with Hubert’s actions when he was unmasked in 2016. Now, facing the end of his career after being sacked by Christie’s. It was a last-ditch effort for him to maintain some credibility while dealing with the few remaining clients.
Secondly, Hubert wants to train and cultivate Thuc Doan to be a successor to continue on his path. She is actually a niece but calls Boi Tran mother and the relationship between Boi Tran and Hubert in this art field is well known. Then, Thuc Doan’s support in “translating” this condemnation into Vietnamese is equally understandable and sounds like a must. Probably given that her “godfather for a fake art background” has fallen, placing her in the same situation and then she decided salvage the remnants of Hubert’s glory.
It is known that Thuc Doan is not an employee of Christie’s, she continues to represent himself as Christie’s “Art Advisor, Translator & Interpreter”. She has no background in art research and neither she nor Christie’s have provided any notices or databases to demonstrate that she is employed by the auction house. The fact is she, herself, used to be assistant to a travel agency, but still claims that she is “an independent advisor with expertise in the development of private Vietnamese art collections, offering curatorial, consultancy and market intelligence services for art collectors, buyers and consignors…” (Thuc Doan’s biography on her website showed as in comment section)
Thus, utilizing a domestic gallery (Boi Tran Garden) and a successor (Thuc Doan), Jean Francois Hubert still aspires to “whiten all his mistakes and weaknesses, and nurture the next generation”.
Immediately, after this statement by Do Viet Tuan, Tran Dinh Thuc Doan decided to remove the post pinned to the top of her facebook account. She locked all comments but still left the article posted. Meanwhile other mentioned people remain silent, curator Ace Le spoke briefly, saying, “Please be informed that the accusations made against me in Jean Francois Hubert’s article are ludicrous and baseless. I will not spend any more time on this. I ask permission to let the community read and come to their own conclusions.”
“When you are determined to do something, you must do it fully and methodically”. With that attitude, Do Viet Tuan keeps posting an analysis titled “Hubert’s Network: plot of movie “Camellia Sisters” in real life” on his own facebook account. In this post, he describes details about the characters in the system, starting with Jean-François Hubert as the head, followed by Mrs. Boi Tran (Boi Tran Garden, Hue), Le Minh Chau (Boi Tran’s son), Tran Dinh Thuc Doan (Boi Tran’s niece), Wang Zineng (Hubert’s alleged partner who assisted him in certifying 17 fake paintings in 2016), and Bao Nam (Hubert’s partner). The post analyzes the work of each person, with their professional ethical violations, which, in the words of Do Viet Tuan, is a “criminal of Vietnamese art”, has been proven and confirmed by many parties.
Mr. Jean-François Hubert provided the initial response on the same day. He thanked 9000 readers and 467 messages of encouragement. Hubert also named Thanh Chuong, a painter, “the best faker” in this response and added that in Do Viet Tuan’s essay, Tran Dinh Thuc Doan was dubbed “a son of a b*tch”, along with a threat of rape. The average reader will notice that there are no sharp arguments because the threats are non-exist.
Most recently, among people who were mentioned in Do Viet Tuan’s article about Hubert’s networks, Bao Nam has become the latest character to “join the war”. The majority of the post on this person’s own facebook account corrects information, asserts that he is unrelated to this network, and states that he is putting together all the necessary paperwork and filing defamation charges. Bao Nam’s next moves to preserve his reputation remain a mystery, but Bao Nam has also been condemned many times by the press and experts for plagiarizing works in solo exhibitions in the past 2 years. but Bao Nam has also received a lot of criticism from the press and experts for stealing ideas for solo shows during the past two years. Bao Nam, because of that, used to give official apologies.
If you’ve read this far, you might wonder why Art Republik Vietnam is just now bringing up such a significant event. In reality, the author thinks that the #HubertFake investigation is still ongoing. As implied by the article’s title, one of the main goals of the content is to sum up the chaotic event, but Art Republik Vietnam finds that the country’s fine arts are actually the most vulnerable. Think about it, the author frequently makes the joke, “Our country’s art market is at its dawn,’ and whether it’s 6 am or not, it was the dark clouds filling the sky”. Furthermore, there is nothing amusing to say in this situation; those concerned are sad, and Vietnamese art enthusiasts are even less happy. In order for readers to fully understand the damage and to ensure that nobody is harmed in the end, Art Republik Vietnam has chosen not to participate and instead takes on the role of synthesis.