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Coming into focus

Significant moves in 2012 included sizing up our Southeast Asian neighbours. Photo by The Nation

Publication Date : 29-12-2012


Chiang Mai's art scene stole a big share of the spotlight in 2011, but the year still belonged to Bangkok, where citizens of culture offered fresh takes on creativity and several new private galleries, public museums and artist-run venues.

Meanwhile the advent of the Asean Economic Community in 2015 has Thai artists, curators and gallery owners paying more attention to our neighbours in Southeast Asia. There were dozens of exhibitions this year featuring work from around the region, with special interest given to newly emergent Myanmar.

No borders here

In June the g23 gallery at srinakharinwirot Prasarnmit University looked at the ecology and politics in the exhibition "Riverscapes in Flux", a touring show mounted by the Goethe Institut in Hanoi.

Environmental and cultural issues cropping up along the Mekong, Chao Phraya, Red and Irrawaddy rivers inspired sculpture, mixed media, photography and video and sound installations by 17 artists from across the region.

Beginning in July, Jim Thompson Art Centre art director Gridthiya gaweewong gave us a decade's worth of Southeast Asian creativity in the exhibition "Traces", with video and photography delving into collective social memory.

Myanmar's Moe Satt addressed censorship in his still and moving images and resorted to body language to express what cannot be expressed freely - 108 different ideas communicated using face and fingers alone.

Malaysia's Wong Hoy Cheong's video "Re-Looking" addressed post-colonialism with a fictional tale of a Malaysian kingdom that took over Austria. Cambodian Vandy Rattana's "Bomb Ponds" photographs looked at the legacy of the Indochina wars, and Nguyen Trinh Thi's video "Chronicle of a Tape Recorded Over" gave voice to people who lived along the war-ravaged Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Thavibu Gallery's exhibition "Beyond Burma" provided a satisfying glimpse at five artists whose work could never have been shown in Myanmar before reforms took hold. There were portraits of Aung San Suu Kyi by Phyoe Kyi and a political video installation by performance artist Nyein Chan Su.

In May, H Gallery hosted Thailand's first major exhibition of contemporary art from the Philippines, "Bastards of misrepresentation". It highlighted the participants' "significant contribution" to the history of art in their homeland while looking outward to give it more global prestige.

H Gallery dedicated the "H Project Space" to experimental art. Curator Brian Curtain focused on contemporary Asian art, hosting Myanmar's Maung Day in his Thai debut. "Oligarchic Weather" transformed Buddhist beliefs and Myanmar folklore with strange but critical effect.

Cambodian Sopheap Pich's second Bangkok show "In Spite of Order" is still going on at H Gallery. It's a selection of his wall grids made from bamboo, rattan, burlap and earth pigments and works on paper illustrating his initial training as a painter as well as his working methods.

Apinan Poshyananda of the Culture Ministry has the Buddhism-inspired exhibition "Thai Transience" at the Singapore Art Museum until January 8. With rare antiques and modern paintings, sculpture, installations and videos by 25 Thai artists, the show was inspired by senior monk Luang Por Cha Supanttho's teachings on life's impermanence.

Places to go

Dtac telecom firm founder Boonchai Bencharongkul opened the Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA) - the Kingdom's biggest private museum - in April on Vibhavadi-Rangsit Road. First impression: The man has great taste.

And he truly knows his Thai art, sharing with the public a vast swathe - 400 artworks - of his enormous personal collection. On view are 100 pieces by internationally acclaimed Thawan Duchanee, Hem Vejakorn's 48 original illustrations for the story "Khun Chang Khun Phaen", many items by Silpa Bhirasri, "the father of modern Thai art", and examples from other masters like Fua Haripitak, Thawee Nandakwang, Khien Yimsiri, Paitun Muangsomboon and Chalood Nimsamer.

Designed to an international standard that might match New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Bangkok's newest landmark MoCA swiftly became popular among tourists and art students.

Boonchai spent 600 million baht (US$19.5 million) to build the 20,000-square-metre, six-storey edifice, the sort of project that placed him among Forbes magazine's 2011 list of top philanthropists.

Meanwhile on nearby Vibhavadi Soi 64, a new art community sprouted. V64 is a place for young students from different art institutes to create and show their work, teach and take classes and dine among casual visitors. For some of them, it's also home.

Not far away, Rirkrit Tiravanija relocated his Gallery Ver to Rodfai Market near the big Chatuchak sprawl. It shows and sells conceptual works by both young Thai artists and established foreigners.

And young collector Rene Anant Feddersen converted a condominium on Rama IV Road into the 338 Oida Gallery. Its premiere show, "The Opening", continues until February 28 with such items as a table by Rirkrit, sculpture by Mit Jai Inn and Nim Kruasaeng's minimalist paintings.

At Numthong Saetang's newly enlarged Numthong Gallery on Soi Aree off Phaholyothin Road, Chiang Mai-based Kamin Lerchaiprasertkul has an ongoing show alongside works by up-and-comers, including Bangkok University's "Brand News" project.

Over in Bang Rak, Thai Lee Anantawat and Frenchman Thomas Menard opened the Speedy Grandma Gallery to support the rookies at home and abroad. They've got pop art, ceramics, graphic comics and more, on display and for sale.

Down with walls

Curator Chitti Kesemkitvatana's "Temporary Storage #1" explored the shifting dynamics of Bangkok's contemporary-art scene. The fifth floor of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre was festooned with blacked-out advertising banners, photographs of "urban tectonics", drawings that functioned as a drifting map, old wooden pillars and a table and benches made from rotted-out wall panels.

With the aid of the architects' collective called all(zone) and artist Suwicha Dussadeewanich, an art space was born without walls. Visitors entered the enclosure, sat on the rickety benches and read art critic Vipash Purichanont's comments in a newspaper that was laid out on the funky table. It also carried Pratchaya Phinthong's drawing made up the endlessly repeated line "This is a copy of a copy of a copy…"

Advertising banners meanwhile enshrouded exhibition spaces at several Skytrain stations where photographs by Disorn Duangdao, Miti Ruangkritya, Supapong Laodheerasiri and all(zone) were on display, among others, along with Kornkrit Jianpinidnan's "Bootleg Documentary" about the "Temporary Storage" project.

Chitti and Prachaya Phinthong also opened the Messy Shop on Tanao Road this year, a gallery, retail store and studio for the city's burgeoning community of young artists.

Flawed masterpiece

"Thai Trends: From Localism to Internationalism" was an ambitious, multimillion-baht exhibition covering seven decades of Thai art, mounted by a team led by Apinan Poshyananda at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. The astonishing array, reaching back to 1946, counted 300 paintings, sculptures, installations, mixed-media works, photographs and videos by 200 Thai artists and a dozen foreigners based in Thailand.

The idea was to offer an overview of Thai art's evolution in the seven decades that His Majesty the King has reigned.

Unfortunately, the exhibition generated more headlines because of criticism it drew over alleged missing masterpieces, archive errors and an "unprofessional" setting. A show costing so much money - mainly from municipal taxpayers - could have been much better presented, some artists complained.


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