Public museums sluggish in the race for antiques
VietNamNet Bridge – The race for antiques is very tough among state museums, private museums, collectors and antique brokers. In this race, the weakest are state museums.
State museums are said to be slow in the race for collecting antiques so many valuable objects have belonged to individual collectors, who are more agile and willing to pay highly. The situation is predicted to be worse for state museums in the future. Meanwhile, the directors of museums are said to break the law without being aware of their violations.
State museums are always slow ...
Deputy Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism – Ms. Dang Thi Bich Lien – said at a recent seminar, that profit from trading antiques is equivalent to that from drugs so it is very hard for public museums to collect antiques.
Director of the Vietnam Museum of Fine Arts – Mr. Phan Van Tien -- said that the collection of artifacts was relatively favorable in the early years of the museum, with many artifacts of good quality collected. As time goes on, this task has becomes more difficult, especially since the country’s international integration. The museum now has to severely compete with Vietnamese and foreign collectors and in many cases, it had to see valuable artworks sold to collectors at high prices.
Tien said that the participants in the art market are increasing, with huge financial resources. Therefore, many valuable works of Vietnam have been sold abroad. "Many paintings by Vietnamese artists are sold in Australia or Singapore with prices up to 30-50 times higher than the prices in Vietnam. For example, a silk painting by Nguyen Phan Chanh was recently auctioned for up to $360,000. Public museums of Vietnam cannot afford to pay that price," Tien said.
Photo: Imperial treasures in a display at the Museum of Vietnam History.
Many museum directors said that searching for and purchasing exhibits for museums is like a race to save the life of this institution. The race is fierce and state museums are under strong competition from collectors, private museums and brokers. Meanwhile, museums can only display original items.
The competition is tougher for public museums when their employees are attacked by commissions from collectors in case they tell collectors about the antiques that the museums plan to buy.
Mr. Nguyen Van Phong - Deputy Director of Bac Giang Province Museum -- said that the complicated financial procedures for purchasing exhibits applied at state museums is a problem. Phong several times failed to buy rare items just because he had to wait for the approval of the higher authorities for the price of antiques.
According to the current financial mechanism, state agencies have to get permission for purchasing assets worth over VND100 million ($5,000). Therefore, to buy valuable artifacts, it takes state museums a lot of time to complete the procedure.
... and will be slower
Many public museums said that the currently slow exhibit collection process will be slower if they fulfill the seven steps proposed by the Heritage Agency in a draft circular on the collection of artifacts of public museums, which will take effect from November 2013
The seven steps include: organizing surveys, collecting information about the artifacts, making purchasing plan to submit to the museum director or the higher authorities, evaluating the exhibits, defining the price, etc.
Deputy Director of the Heritage Agency, Mr. Nguyen Huu Toan, said that without specified regulations on collection of artifacts for public museums, any museum director can be arrested and jailed because they buy antiques indiscriminately, without documents and procedures.
Deputy Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism – Ms. Dang Thi Bich Lien, confirmed that it is unable to purchase artifacts for a state museum without paperwork because the artifacts are bought by state fund, meaning people’s taxes. To spend the state money, museums must comply with state regulations.
Thus, public museums are and will still be slow and weak in competing with individual collectors to purchase valuable artifacts from the people.