Hanoi’s Budding Art Scene

  • The Hanoi Bicycle Collective.

    The Hanoi Bicycle Collective.

  • The exterior of the Hanoi Bicycle Collective.

    The exterior of the Hanoi Bicycle Collective.

  • Cocktail hour at Manzi, which hosts art exhibitions and film screenings.

    Cocktail hour at Manzi, which hosts art exhibitions and film screenings.

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A trio of ventures are honing Hanoi’s creative edge

By Elisabeth Rosen

With a thousand years of history behind it, Hanoi is Vietnam’s undisputed cultural capital. But the city offers far more than the standard circuit of traditional entertainments (water-puppet shows, anyone?) and contemporary art galleries. Spurred on by a crowd of young expats and talented locals, a small but independent arts scene is flourishing. Here are three venues on the city’s creative cutting edge.

“We wanted to have a place that’s not just an artsy café, but an art café,” says artist and university lecturer Bill Nguyen, one of the minds behind Manzi, which debuted late last year on a quiet lane near Hanoi’s old Hang Dau water tower. Pencil sketches by Le Quang Ha, one of Vietnam’s best-known contemporary artists, line the whitewashed walls of the 1920s colonial villa, where a downstairs bar pours a signature vodka with fresh kumquat and sweet chili, and an upstairs exhibition space features well-priced works by emerging local talents. This summer, the spotlight is on 37-year-old Nguyen Manh Hung, a Hanoi-born sculptor and painter known for his light-hearted social criticism. Monthly concerts showcase musicians such as Tri Minh (the DJ behind Hanoi’s first music festival) and Le Cat Trong Ly, a folk singer who has been hailed as the John Lennon of Vietnam. Manzi’s founders also plan to screen experimental documentaries in collaboration with Hanoi DocLab (14 Phan Huy Ich; 84-4/3716-3397).

You don’t need to be a cycler to appreciate this two-year-old bike shop-cum-creative space. Run by Barcelona native Guim Valls Teruel, the venue has hosted the spoken-word series Noi Hanoi and organizes World Music Sundays, a weekly rotation of live performances from an eclectic array of genres. Decked out with soft wicker lamps and wall-mounted bicycles under a ceiling draped in billowing silk, the narrow tube house also sports a convivial ground-floor café, Gin & Bread, that serves tapas, salads, potent cocktails, and bocata baguette sandwiches to help you pass the time. Upstairs is a gallery space that is currently displaying a portrait series photographed by Teruel (a former theater director and graphic designer) in Beijing and southern China. “Artistically speaking, Hanoi is ready to explode,” Teruel says. “But like any place, it just needs to find the right moment.” (44 Ngo 31, Xuan Dieu; 84-4/3718-8246).

Climb the dusty stairs of a once derelict Soviet-era pharmaceutical complex called Zone 9, and you’ll find a gallery and bar where photographs punctuate exposed concrete walls. In addition to showing visual art, Tadioto, which moved into this space in June, hosts poetry readings, concerts by under-the-radar musicians, and film nights featuring experimental videographer Trinh Thi and avant-garde  composer and pianist Kim Ngoc. Another room showcases unconventional apparel, decor items, and leather bags. Owner Nguyen Qui Duc, a journalist and curator, says of the works shown at his alternative arts space, “The days of state control of art are pretty much done. Artists can express things now that they never could in the past.” Before leaving, stop by Work Room Four, a nearby atelier that houses studios and exhibition areas. As at Tadioto, bare walls provide a backdrop for experimental sculptures and installations (2/F, Bldg. A, 9 Tran Thanh Tong; 84-4/6680-9124).

This article originally appeared in the August/September 2013 issue of DestinAsian (“Art Scene: Hanoi”).

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