Building of the Month:
Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts Museum
(originally published in Word Vietnam, May 2015)
You might know the buildings that the Hui Bon Hoa Company built by the lacklustre curating now inhabiting its halls — “Uncle Hoa’s Mansion” is currently the site of the Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts Museum. The crowded walls of art displayed inside look like something the real estate and pawnshop tycoon might have accrued in his life, material proof of his enormous wealth.
But Hui Bon Hoa died nearly 30 years before construction on these buildings started. It was the second generation of his clan that built the four original buildings — only three of which remain.
Construction of the residential quarters of his son Thang Hung Hui Bon Hoa — now the main exhibition space of the museum — began in 1929 and went through 1934. Influenced by the Indochine Style then in fashion, the building fused traditional Asian features and trendy Art Deco elements for a look that was a hit in the Chinese-speaking world. People even started telling ghost stories about the building — a building so extraordinary should hold secrets, and their guesses were of an obvious sort.
While the exhibition spaces of the museum are decently upkept, the same isn’t true for the whole complex. Their memories are left to decay naturally, paint chip by flaking paint chip.