In Time, Martha Ann Overtland reports that Vietnam’s practice of reproducing noteworthy works was originally carried out to rescue the country’s artistic heritage during wartime. The staff, and sometimes the artists themselves, made copies of important artworks in case the museums were bombed. The reproductions stayed in Hanoi while the originals were hidden in caves. According to Overland, the artworks were supposed to return home after the war. Not all did. “Records, if they ever existed, were lost. In cases where an artist had copied his own work, it was not always clear which one was the original. And to complicate matters, in the difficult postwar years, the culture of copying continued. The museum loaned paintings to starving artists wanting to copy their own works to sell, contributing to the problem. Did the artist return a copy to the museum or the original? And if the artist makes a copy of his or her own work, can it be called a fake?
“Making matters worse, in the 1980s, the government-funded museum set up a department to make high-quality reproductions to sell, says Nguyen Truong, an art collector whose home in Hanoi has served as a salon for struggling artists for the past 30 years. The practice ended in the 1990s, but Truong says he was approached just last year by a museum employee who ‘offered a copy for $2,000.’ Asked whether reproductions were indeed on display today, Truong Quoc Binh, director of the Vietnam Museum of Fine Arts, acknowledges ‘it is possible,’ adding that the issue of copying ‘is a very difficult problem.’ But he declined to answer other questions. Ministry of Culture officials declined to respond to written questions about reproductions, although they said the issue was under discussion….Even if making copies was not originally intended to deceive, the situation is so bad now that no reputable museum will borrow from Vietnam’s national art museum, says Nora Taylor, an art historian and expert in Vietnamese painters who teaches at the Art Institute of Chicago. ‘The biggest damage is that now Vietnam has a bad reputation,'” Read more.