Like many cities blazing the capitalist path in developing nations, Saigon lacks an established cultural apparatus. However, of all the museums in Saigon, the Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts Museum might be the one most worth seeing, even if the quality of its collection and exhibition is inconsistent.
Predictably, war paintings and lacquer work are given prominence at the entrances to the east and west corridors on the first floor. However, some of the rural scenes are worth seeing and there’re a few more abstract works towards the end of the corridors. Further down the west corridor is a smattering of collages, paintings and mixed media art by Western artists — most of which relates to the war — and some more modern pieces by Vietnamese artists.
You can see the museum’s collection of Buddhist worship pictures and folk paintings, as well as some impressive statuary, on the second floor. The second floor is also home to temporary exhibits; a large-scale lacquer scene with the artist’s preparatory sketches were on display during a recent visit. Opposite the east wing are remnants from provincial pagodas: incense columns, statuary and wood panels.
The third floor is mostly given over to bronze work, ceramics and the like. A large collection of bronze incense burners is the highlight of the collection.
Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts Museum. 97A Pho Duc Chinh Street, District 1, near Ben Thanh Market. Tuesday – Sunday 9 am – 5pm.