‘Art promoter’ Alex McMillan wants to propel the art movement to the forefront with his latest project
Alex, tell us about yourself.
AM: Since I was 12 I was interested in audio production. I used to have a Tascam 4-Track in my bedroom on which I would record tracks of me howling and playing my guitar. I made music up until the point when I moved to Tokyo, as it was difficult for me to carry audio equipment with me overseas.
For the last seven years I’ve been interested in photography, as it allows me to be an artist while living abroad. I started with small point and shoot cameras and have worked myself up to being a professional.
So how did you go from photographer to art promoter?
AM: I wouldn’t use the word art promoter. I would say that I’m more interested in the idea of celebrating art. I want to create cool things for Saigon that impact the culture in such ways that change it for the better. More or less, I’m seeking to encourage people to place value behind art with the Saigon Artbook.
I felt that Saigon was missing cool art events that were accessible to normal people. I hate the idea of high art.
Tell us about the book and what you hope to do with it?
AM: The concept is this: we take an entire art exhibition of three artists, and we put everything in the book. Everyone can own the art and take it home with them in a beautiful, high quality book. We also want to encourage people to collect them to watch how the Saigon art scene develops. In a larger sense, we hope to encourage people to appreciate the local art that is happening around them right here, right now.
How do you choose who goes in the book?
AM: First, the artist has to have a body of work that is print-friendly or can be photographed (sorry, musicians). Second, they must have a collection of 12 pieces that are cohesive. Third, they should be innovative and creative. Our team wants to avoid anything cliché (e.g. pastoral scene of a girl on a bicycle). We are really open to new artists and are looking for our next artists for edition two.
How will your events be different from gallery exhibitions?
AM: It isn’t entirely different other than that you can come to the party, have food, a welcome drink, and a book. You can be a student and still walk away with a piece of cool culture. People can sign up for our party on our website, saigonartbook.com, or by invitation. If you couldn’t make it to our party, our venue for the first edition, La Brasserie De Saigon (38 Dong Du, D1) will be our sole distribution point. If you want to get a copy, stop by their beautiful restaurant.
VinGallery, San Art, Galerie Quynh, and CT Gallery regularly host exhibitions that are open to the public and very accessible. Can you explain what you mean by “missing cool art events that were accessible to normal people”?
AM: There can be a certain academic air to the galleries and exhibitions that I’ve seen in the past in Saigon that is off-putting. I don’t want to put anyone down. So I’ll just say that I want to make art accessible by making it free and available rather than lofty and unattainable.
Besides living in Saigon, how do the three artists in the book represent the art scene in Saigon?
AM: This is a tricky question. Some of our artists are inspired by Saigon. But this is why we have the party: you can meet them and find out what makes them tick. The real answer to your question is that we want to show foreign and local artists what’s happening in our community right now. It just so happened that the most patient people that believed in us from the beginning were all foreigners. We definitely want to show more local people in the future though.
Your first book only has expat artists in it, no Vietnamese ones. Is this an indication that the art scene here is driven by foreigners and not locals?
AM: The art scene isn’t driven by foreigners. The people who believed in the first edition were foreign, but we definitely want to have locals appear in the future. We have been talking to several for Edition 2 in January.
If both the art book and the event parties that promote it are free, how do you make money?
Who said that we were making money?
You mentioned that there was “cool underground stuff happening here.” Can you explain what they are?
AM: Underground, as I’m sure you know, is merely an expression as it applies to Saigon. From what I have seen in my time here, there are some people who need a platform to promote their name and work. We hope to be such a venue. That being said, our focus is really putting the art in people’s hands and influencing the community to find value in art by keeping it, and cherishing it in a beautiful book that shows a slice of the times.
Finally, we hope that by creating this book and sharing each edition online, not only locals will see the art scene in Saigon, but also people from around the world. This will give greater exposure to the art scene here and thereby encourage it to grow further.
For more information, please visit www.saigonartbook.com
Images provided by Alex McMillan