A local museum has announced its final conclusion on the authenticity of a scandal-hit painting art exhibition in Ho Chi Minh City, and the results are probably far from what the collector had been hoping for.
Vu Xuan Chung, an antiques collector, put 17 artworks on display that he believed to be authentic pieces from well-known Vietnamese painters, including a legendary quartet, after purchasing the works from Jean-François Hubert, a senior expert of Vietnamese art who reportedly works for Christie’s Hong Kong.
The four legendary painters, known as 'Nghiem - Lien - Sang - Phai,' are Nguyen Tu Nghiem, Duong Bich Lien, Nguyen Sang, and Bui Xuan Phai. Other artworks on display were from painters who graduated from the famed Indochina College of Fine Arts in the 1940s, including Nguyen Tien Chung, Nguyen Sy Ngoc, and Ta Ty.
The paintings were being showcased in an exhibition titled 'Paintings Returned from Europe,' running from July 10 to 21 at the Ho Chi Minh City Museum of Fine Arts, before quickly sparking forgery concerns.
Experts believed most of the artworks were forged reproductions and demanded that the exhibit be closed. Meanwhile, local painter Thanh Chuong announced that his painting showcased in the collections has someone else’s signature.
The controversial artwork, titled Truu Tuong (Abstract), is on display at the exhibition with the signature of the late famous painter Ta Ty.
Painter Thanh Chuong looks at his painting with the signature of Ta Ty.
On Tuesday, nearly ten days after the exhibition opened, the Ho Chi Minh City Museum of Fine Arts held a meeting with an evaluation panel consisting of several famous painters whose artworks are not in the controversial collection.
Though no official minutes were released from the meeting, members of the evaluation panel told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that they concluded at least 15 of the 17 paintings in the collection “were not created by the claimed author” -- an apparent euphemism for forgeries.
The remaining two paintings, including one painter Thanh Chuong claimed as his work, are said to be marked with forged signatures, the panel members said.
Panel members also noted that the official meeting minutes, once released, will avoid referring to the artworks as counterfeits due to “relevant legal reasons.”
On Wednesday, the Ho Chi Minh City Museum of Fine Arts released a media note announcing that the exhibition will remain open until July 21 as planned, despite the confirmed forgery scandal.
“We extend our apologies to the public for allowing the exhibition to take place on our premises without being fully aware of its authenticity,” the document reads.
The museum said once the exhibition closes, all of the 17 artworks will be seized for investigation into their origins.
As concerns began to circulate around the authenticity of the collection, Jean-François Hubert asserted with Tuoi Tre that all of the artworks at the exhibition are real. However, local artists believe that the seller of the collection should be held responsible for the forgeries.
“We should carry out an investigation into this figure,” said local painter Luong Xuan Doan, referring to the supposed French art expert.
Doan said that Vietnam has the full right to question whether he had deliberately created the counterfeits to dupe the Vietnamese buyer.
“The Christie’s expert must explain why the paintings he claims to be real have been found to be fake,” Doan pressed.
As the scandal erupted, Jean-François Hubert attempted to salvage his reputation through an attempt to prove the authenticity of one of the paintings he sold to Chung.
Shortly after artist Thanh Chuong spoke out about his Truu Tuong painting carrying the signature of Ta Ty, the French expert sent local media an old photograph of four painters with the controversial artwork in the background.
In the photo, the painting is hung over the main door of a house, with Ta Ty’s clearly visible signature in its left corner.
The Frenchman asserted that the photo was shot in Hanoi in 1972, proving that Truu Tuong is a work by Ta Ty.
A local painter, Le Huy Tiep, posted the same photo to Facebook on July 15, but his version had no Ta Ty painting in the background.
Experts say it was not difficult to tell that the Ta Ty painting was photoshoped into Hubert’s photo, adding that the picture is clumsy and non-professional.
The French expert has not been available for comment since earlier this week.
The real (L) and the photoshoped photo
Below are photos of some of the paintings, now proven fake, at the exhibition: