Vũ Dân Tân (born and died in Hanoi) is a leading artist of the contemporary Vietnamese art, both for his artistic production, and his role providing a platform for early contemporary art in Vietnam. Born to a playwright, as a child he attended a private art school established by Ecole des Beaux-Arts de l’Indochine alumnus Ngô Mạnh Quỳnh, and from the early-1970s, worked as a cartoon draughtsman for the film studios of Hanoi Television. He began developing his independent artistic practice in the 1970s, experimenting with multimedia. By the early 1990s, Vũ Dân Tân was working in series form, producing graphic and household object-appropriating works that integrated text and subverted iconographies to create pieces engaging evolving contemporary life in Vietnam. Bodies such as image-text based Money series (1992-2003) and Suitcases of a Pilgrim series (1995-2009, with various sub-sets), among others, challenged the artistic orthodoxies of the day with their formal freedom (deploying used packaging, photocopying and other non-standard materials, media and techniques) and semantic originality. Through their conceptual-critical play, Vũ Dân Tân’s pieces humorously but sharply probe various social and ethical issues emerging in globalizing 1990s Vietnam. In 1999–2000 he produced his installation-performance RienCarNation whereby he drove a transformed, golden Cadillac titled Cadillac/Icarus around Hanoi. In 1990, with his wife Natalia Kraevskaia, Tân founded Salon Natasha, the first private gallery in Hanoi that in the early 1990s was the only independent, non-government public exhibition space in Vietnam. Salon Natasha played a central role nurturing the first generation of Vietnamese contemporary artists such as Trương Tân, Nguyễn Văn Cường, Nguyễn Minh Thành and Nguyễn Quang Huy, and introducing art, often of an experimental and non-commercial nature, to the public.
Text by Iola Lenzi, PhD, Historian of Contemporary Southeast Asian Art. Lenzi has conducted extensive research on the contemporary practice of Vu Dan Tan, located in the context of contemporary art in 1990s Hanoi.