LA Times review of the 'Arts of Ancient Viet Nam'

An LA Times review of the ancient Vietnam exhibition currently on at the Asia Society Museum in New York.

Arts of Ancient Viet Nam’
LA Times, 21 February 2010

The show, which runs through May 2, is remarkable for its scale, scope and beauty. The more than 100 objects, which have never appeared together before in an exhibit (not even in Vietnam), span almost 2,000 years. Because the exhibit spans such a wide period and includes different cultures, it is hard to point to a defining Vietnamese aesthetic. Rather, each of the four cultures on display have borrowed iconography and expressions from different parts of the world.

Organized chronologically, the show begins with two contemporary early cultures, the Dong Son and the Sa Huynh, who lived, respectively, in the north and the central-south part of the country until the 2nd century AD.

Like many cultures that appear to us centuries after their demise, the Sa Huynh are best viewed through their burial objects — in this case, large, upright clay jars that held the dead along with offerings such as weapons and pottery — and objects such as Chinese mirrors found at Sa Huynh sites suggest that the culture was a center for trade and exchange.

The most impressive remnants from the Dong Son culture are the large bronze drums on display, intricately patterned with abstract bands and images of people, which, along with chicken-headed ceramics, reveal a strong Chinese influence.


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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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