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The Changing Landscape of Bangkok’s Art Scene

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“Things aren’t changing, they’re happening” – this perfectly illustrates the energy that characterizes the art scene in Bangkok today

By Isabelle Kallo

Maduzi-editUntil recently, Bangkok’s art scene consisted of a cluster of short-lived art galleries and a few museums. This by no means meant that the art scene didn’t exist, merely that it was hard to identify and had little to offer to a potentially engaged audience. Today this is no longer the case, but for those who have somehow failed to notice all the change, Lookeast Magazine provides a summary

Of course art and craftsmanship have long been present in Thailand and they have played important roles in its society but the nature of these roles is changing, simultaneously transforming the landscape of the local art scene. Leaving behind the traditional Buddhist representations of various kingdoms gone, Thai art today is exploring the issues of a fast developing contemporary society, providing fresh perspectives on questions that concern us all.

With neighboring countries such as Singapore and Hong Kong becoming frenzied regional art hubs, Bangkok is taking advantage of the fervent focus on Asia to further ground itself. It may still have a long way to go before it can compete, but Brian Curtin, Bangkok-based curator and writer, says that he has seen the “earlier dominance of a handful of artists, galleries and curators superseded by a relatively plural and idiosyncratic art scene” over the last decade.

BACC-editIndeed Bangkok is now home to a host of established art galleries, the Bangkok Art and Culture Center (BACC), and art fairs among others, and it is doing its best to become an artistic and cultural center in its own right.

There is now a cluster of Bangkok galleries that have managed to stand the test of time. One such gallery is 100 Tonson Gallery, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year and also set to be the first Thai gallery to show at Art Basel Hong Kong (previously Art HK). Interviewed recently about why so few Thai galleries participate in international fairs, the gallery’s founder Aey Phanachet said that Thai artists are “still undervalued, under recognized and under exposed” making it difficult for galleries to sustain the costs of going to international fairs.

However, Phanachet insists that they “deserve a wider audience” and understands the importance of them receiving increased exposure. Not everyone would say that the problem is profitability though, but more a lack of this very understanding about the importance of being exposed on a global platform. Here is one of the most crucial changes happening – attitude. Keep your eyes open, as you may well be seeing more Thai galleries breaking onto the international scene at art fairs across the globe soon.

Closer to home though — at home in fact — was another art fair, the Hotel Art Fair No 1, held at Bangkok’s Maduzi boutique hotel in February. Albeit 30 years later, it follows the hotel art fair model first introduced in New York, and has added a new and exciting dimension to the local art market. The 12 galleries exhibiting reported positively on this new experience saying that it had provided a good opportunity to widen their audience and hoped that it would be a lasting precedent for such events in the future. When we visited, the hotel was busy with a constant crowd of intrigued visitors and keen-to-engage gallery owners welcoming us in every room, exemplifying another important change: the desire to teach and learn.

Graffiti outside BACC-editBack to the aforementioned BACC; it is slowly gaining pace. The reviews of its shows are improving and more importantly it is “run by people who are committed to moving forward,” says Curtin. A recent visit saw the works of three Belgian artists on display in the balconies surrounding the open atrium, as well as that by 20 international artists in the exhibition titled, “Possession (1),” co-curated by Curtin, who added that the art scene is now “more receptive to the input of foreigners and I believe this marks the significance of the current period.” It also shows another of the changes apparent in the current art scene, a new openness.

However, the changes are not confined to the above. An alert eye will notice that the change is taking place everywhere. From the graffiti art, which recently recovered Siam Square and the walls of the Saen Saep canal as part of the “Bukruk Street Art Festival,” to the recently opened DCA Art Consultant in the St. Regis Hotel, new developments keep happening. In fact, when asked about the changes in the current Bangkok art scene, DCA director, Max-Ole Casdorff, exclaimed simply, “things aren’t changing, they’re happening,” perfectly illustrating the energy that characterizes the art scene in Bangkok today: it is understandably appealing to a new and larger mixture of spectators.

Join them, we have!