The "Thailand Eye" exhibition opens next week in London with extraordinary samples of the Kingdom's contemporary art
To some extent, the exhibition “Thailand Eye” – designed to give Londoners an idea of what’s happening in Thai contemporary art – is giving them what they probably expect. Foreigners think of the Kingdom in terms of dodgy politics, fast living and, despite all that, Buddhism.
So what visitors to the influential Saatchi Gallery will be seeing starting next Tuesday is a painting of a blue military tank (check), a golden handbag (check) and the Buddha’s ears framing the hood of a car (in other words Buddhist tenets misconceived, so again, check).
“Thailand Eye” comprises more than 60 works by 23 artists, as selected by Saatchi director Nigel Hurst, who calls the show “a wonderful opportunity to bring contemporary Thai art to the widest audience possible”.
Speaking exclusively to The Nation on his most recent visit to Bangkok, Hurst said he was pleased that the exhibition highlights newly emerged talents and thus offers a glimpse of “the future of art in the region”.
The show is a collaborative effort involving the Culture Ministry led by Permanent Secretary Apinan Poshyananda, the Saatchi, Singapore’s Parallel Contemporary Art, the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre and insurance firm Prudential. Similar efforts have already given artists in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and Hong Kong a “leg up” in global stature.
Hurst believes the Saatchi’s spotlights on Asia help shape European understanding of modern art here and “create a gateway to the wider culture” that the artists have absorbed and which they depict in their individual ways.
Saatchi’s team spent nearly a year visiting galleries and studios in Bangkok and Chiang Mai and meeting key figures. Apinan served as adviser to the Thai selection team, which included BACC curator Pichaya Suphavanij, Sansern Milindasuta of Bangkok University and Thawatchai Somkong, editor of Fine Art magazine.
It ultimately fell to Hurst to choose the 25 participating artists from among 200 “shortlisted”. He ended up with 23 after two of those selected – the established Surasi Kusolwong and relative newcomer Korakrit Arunanondchai – had to bow out.
“The idea is really to create as broad an exhibition as possible to show people outside Thailand the diversity of the work being made here,” Hurst said. “We kept the criteria very broad, but I’ve focused on the tendency to work with digital media and installation more than paintings. There’s a lot of variety in the subject matter, but many of the works deal with food, some with sex, and some with both!”
Photography and sculpture also figure in the show, which amounts to the largest survey of new Thai contemporary art to date, including many interesting artists who’ve only recently emerged on the global scene.
Among these are five women – Bussaraporn Thongchai, Kamolpan Chotivichai, Paweena Raksasna, Pannaphan Yodmanee and Kawita Vatanajyankur – who address feminist issues as well as the problems of personal identity, using a range of techniques.
Viriya Chotpanyavisut’s photographs and installations by Krit Ngamsom, Songchai Buachum, Chusak Srikwan and Trirat Sriburin meanwhile delve into social evolution and the revival of the Kingdom’s heritage.
Among the participants with an established international presence, Rirkrit Tiravanija will this time forego his celebrated gallery cookouts, usually conducted live for the amusement and delectation of onlookers, but the food isn’t far from hand. His installation “Untitled 2015 (Curry for the soul of the forgotten)” features an oldfashioned Thaistyle stove sitting on suitably beatup floor tiles, while a 43minute video of the actual cooking process plays in the background.
Visions of the Lord Buddha are offered by National Artist Panya Vijinthanasarn and Sakarin Krueon in intriguingly different ways.
Panya is showing “Relative of Buddha” from 2012, in which the Enlightened One’s ears are painted giantsize in gold on either side of a red car bonnet. Sakarin’s new installation “4 Monkeys in the House” replicates – quite realistically – the mob of monkeys he has hanging around his home. For art’s sake, they’re seen having fun among the books in a reading room.
Wellknown artists Navin Rawanchaikul and Chatchai Puipia are also taking part in “Thailand Eye”.
Navin, of IndianThai descent, shares some of his “Navin of Bollywood” series in the form of a video and movie billboard, while Chatchai has both the bronze sculpture “Study for ‘Dedicated to the One I Love’” and the painting “Dedicated to the One I Love (Green Room)”.
Manit Sriwanichpoom travelled to Indonesia to get the pictures for his 2003 photo set “Pink Man in Paradise”, which criticises modern consumerism and capitalism. Dow Wasiksiri documented the effects of modernism on Thai hilltribes, deploying the skill of an anthropologist. Natee Utarit’s oil painting “Blue Tank” is from 2009, and thus its statement on Thai political uncertainty dates from between the latest coups.
A rather surprising inclusion in the show is the sculpture of Rolf von Bueren, a German but also a longtime resident of Thailand. The president of the luxury accessories brand Lotus Arts de Vivre, Bueren in his art blurs boundaries as he sculpts in aged wood and decorates it with silver, bronze and gold.
“Thailand Eye” brings to an end the threephase “Totally Thai” project promoting our culture and tourism in London. It follows presentations of classical dance at the Royal Albert Hall and films at the Princess Anne Theatre, all events cohosted by the Culture, Foreign Affairs and Tourism and Sport ministries and commemorating Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn’s 60th birthday.
“Art and culture,” says Apinan, “form the soft power to strengthen the relationship between our kingdoms that has lasted for 160 years, and contemporary art is a key factor in building a bright future for our creative economy.” The Culture Ministry chief has had success in such ventures before, having introduced Thai contemporary art to New York in 1996 with the acclaimed exhibition “Tradition and Tension”.
For Hurst, the London show isn’t so much about “comparing” Thai art to that of other Asian territories as giving it its rightful place in the world.
“Each of those very important emerging art markets deserves a platform in its own right,” he said. “It’s not a matter of comparing, but of providing the best possible showcase for Thai contemporary art.”They’ll get itn The exhibition “Thailand Eye” continues into January at the Saatchi Gallery in London. It is scheduled to come to the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre in March.
At next Tuesday’s opening, Saatchi will unveil an elaborate book for sale featuring photos of 70 Thai artworks. The show runs through January 2.