ContemporaryPaintingSE Asia

Will the Skyscraper Overshadow the Canvas? A Report on Bangkok’s Modern Gallery Scene

By November 28, 2017 No Comments

To love Bangkok is to love instability. The city overwhelms the uninitiated with the rate of change, and the juxtaposition of wealth and poverty: A ramshackle mango stand sits next to a 7 star hotel erected near a construction site where migrant workers sleep on cardboard mats adjacent to a French bistro where Japanese businessmen pop champagne with their Singaporean partners. Every day in Bangkok one can witness a real-time battle: The old guard of Thai culture facing the vanguard of global capitalism never sure who on that day will advance or retreat.

This ‘terra infirma’ is what makes Bangkok is one of the world’s best art destinations: anything can change at anytime. With Thailand’s next elections in 2018 now is a perfect time to visit and view the fruits of this debate.

Upon landing in Bangkok, I made way to the Subhashok Arts Center, for an exhibition by homegrown artist Aof Smith entitled “Silent Ravage”. Aof reflects the country’s youthful demographics, both in his pop sensibilities and also his concern with the contemporary. His show at the SAC was a polemic against the recent spate of animal abuse cases in Thailand. Using radiant pastels, disturbing images portrayed via adorable cartoons, and other “lowbrow” techniques, he contemplated why this violence manifests in a country that prides itself on peace. Like much of SAC’s output it was a well-curated show both for being topical and for representing one of Thailand’s rising young stars.

The next day, I switched gears and visited Kathmandu, the photography gallery owned by perhaps, Bangkok’s most incisive social critic Manit Sriwanichpoom. Manit’s work has a long history, but he is best known for his post 90s series, “ The Pink Man”:

“Pink Man is my upset and alienated feeling towards the concept of consumerism which has been accepted simply and without consideration by Thai society,” he says. “In addition, I intentionally use the color Pink to subvert the aesthetics of local art”[1]

Manit uses color to capture Bangkok’s displacement: A sagging Purple Christmas Tree Hypnotic advertisements for Benetton placed next to sleeping beggars and the surreal Man in Pink marching, shopping cart always on hand.

In contrast his work in Black and White denotes the moments of tranquility and tradition still to be found in Bangkok. I consider his photography some of the best of South East Asia and the gallery must for any artistic traveler.

Next I continued onto Thavibu Art Advisory. Thavibu- which references THAiland – VIetnam – BUrma was founded by Jorn Middelborg who over many years amassed one of Bangkok’s best collections of  Thai, Viet and Burmese art.  He was kind enough to give me a quick lecture on a few of his most exclusive pieces. For serious collectors I’d be happy to introduce you to Jorn and his incredible private collection, featuring several artists now prominently featured in major museums.

I continued on to Nova Contemporary, perhaps Bangkok’s most avant-garde gallery. Inside one finds an ultra-modern space, completely blacked out except for two video screens, on which play Kawita Vatanajyankur’s SPLASHED. This collection uses the artist’s body as a medium to express the abuse of labor, found within the global fishing industry. Kawita allows ice to be packed on top of her body until her arms bend backwards, or one can watch as her head and legs are cruelly hooked while she is raised upwards like a prized catch. Through what she endures, we begin to understand those who have suffered through in silence to meet our endless hunger. For those looking to be challenged, of all Bangkok’s galleries, I view Nova Contemporary to push against boundaries most forcefully.

I concluded my time by visiting Gallery Ver, where sparks of creativity were literally flying as a metalwork artist was actively welding. This warehouse space on the outskirts of Bangkok holds several galleries focused on up and coming local artists. During my visit I viewed experimental films in one gallery, feminist art in another, and in a 3rd abstract artists toying with form. Though the execution was mixed, I was reminded of the thrill of approaching the Rubicon, right before an artist becomes established.

We hope we can welcome you on our Contemporary Arts Bangkok Experience. For inquiries please contact Matt@asiaarttours.com

 

[1] .”- Manit, from interview with Josef Ng

 

Author Matt Dagher-margosian

More posts by Matt Dagher-margosian