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ATLAS BANGKOK

Kamol
Tassananchalee:
#13 in the series
“Four Elements,
E arth, Air, Fire
8c W ater,” 2014,
stainless steel, 5
by 23 by 4 feet.
C ourtesy M inistry
o f C ulture,
Thailand.

Who’s/Whose
“Thai Contemporary?”
by G regory Galligan

T H IS M O N T H , as visitors alight at the Venice Biennale, Thasnai Sethaseree in its international mix) at the Yerba Buena
they will encounter Okwui Enwezor’s provocative “All the Center for the Arts, San Francisco. Painter Yuree Kensaku and
W orld’s Futures” exhibition, which according to the event’s sculptor Pinaree Sanpitak each had booth solos at the Art Basel C O M IN G SO O N
Korakrit
website aims to highlight “territorial and geopolitical dis­ Hong Kong fair in March. Korakrit Arunanondchai, with his Arunanondchai s
figurations” around the globe. In describing the pavilions of painted denim and hip-hop video practice—introduced to the solo exhibitions at
the Giardini as a “ramshackle assemblage” that reflects the U.S. with a high-energy performance last year at New York’s the Palais de Tokyo,
Paris, June 24-
world’s current disorder, Enwezor, the 56th Biennale’s artistic MoMA PS1—will have shows this year at the Palais de Tokyo, Sept. 13, and the
director, proffers a metaphor that also applies perfectly to the Paris, and the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing. At Ullens Center
Thai contemporary art scene. T he system here, now steadily home, the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre has just hosted a for Contemporary
Art, Beijing,
producing inventive work, makes a considerable impact both popular, two-person exhibition, “Imply Reply,” which presented Aug. 21-Oct. 19.
regionally and globally—albeit all too often in spite of itself. sculptural installations by veteran Chinese conceptualist Huang
O n the bright side, Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook, one of the Yong Ping and Thai artist-philosopher Sakarin Krue-on—the
G R EG O R Y
nation’s most accomplished and progressive conceptual artists, latter still vividly remembered for his Terraced Rice Field Art G A LL IG A N is
recently had concurrent solo exhibitions in New York, at the Project in Documenta 12 (2007). cofounder and
Sculpture Center and at Tyler Rollins Fine Art. RirkritTira- Aligning themselves with the “M ekong” scenes of Cam­ director of the
Thai A rt Archives,
vanija, Thailand’s champion of relational aesthetics, has launched bodia, Myanmar and Vietnam, as well as those of Southeast Bangkok.
a group exhibition “The Way Things Go” (on view through Asian sister nations Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore,
May 24 and including Thai contemporaries Arin Rungjang and Thai art-world insiders never think twice about who or what

ART IN AMERICA 65
als have promised to build, or some glimpse of their mission
statements at least. Three years ago in Bangkok, the conser­
vative collector Boonchai Bencharongkul, having for many
years made purchases out o f academic art shows, unveiled his
One image from Araya own $24.6-million behemoth, presumptuously dubbed, in
Rasdjarmrearnsook’s pseudo-civic fashion, the Museum of Contemporary Art, now
diptych The One and
Three Niranams, 2015, housing some of the most idiosyncratic works to issue from
black-and-white the country over the last 50 years or more.
photographs, 7 by 10
Thailand has yet to find the right balance between honoring
inches each. Courtesy
Tyler Rollins Fine the past, celebrating the present and envisioning the future. This
Art, New York. shortcoming is traceable, in part, to the country’s ongoing (and
sometimes violent) political unrest. At the same time, life flows
normally, with the well-heeled sector having yet to develop a truly
informed interest in contemporary art, one to rival its current
fascination with fast cars, five-star hotels, fine wines, expensive
watches, swank condos and luxury-brand shopping emporiums.
constitutes the “Thai contemporary.” Outsiders looking for This year, Thailand seems to have confused the Venice
a formula should note how unlikely it is that anyone born Biennale— a platform for showcasing the best a country can
before the early 1950s could even be considered for the offer—with an opportunity to pay tribute to a Thai modern­
coveted moniker. An artist’s age, per se, is not the determin­ ist master. The ministry of culture (operating behind closed
ing factor; rather, it has to do with an aesthetic sea change, a doors) selected Kamol Tassananchalee (b. 1944), a senior aca­
turn away from craft to concept, precipitated by a generation demic artist known for mystical abstract painting, sculpture
of Thai artists who emerged from regional and overseas and printmaking. Tassananchalee, who has enjoyed a success­
art schools in the mid-1990s. The subsequent flowering of ful career teaching at universities in both the United States
a new sensibility has resulted in some of the most sophis­ and Thailand, plans to fill the Thai pavilion with the type of
ticated contemporary art to be found anywhere. After the symbolic sculpture that bespeaks an earlier assimilative era in
shift, “contemporary” no longer meant only “living”; it also Thai art history rather than the current wave of sociopoliti-
meant globally aware and experimental. cally inflected conceptualism.
Still lacking its own truly progressive private or state- Though artistically reputable in his own right, Tassanan­
sponsored museum of modern art, however, Thailand too chalee is thus a peculiar choice for the Biennale. His installa­
often sees its finest contemporary works swiftly spirited tion will comprise stylized pieces in stainless steel, aluminum
away to Singapore. T hat modern city-state certainly “gets” and neon, evoking the four ancient elements: earth, air, fire and
the winning formula and is hurriedly building permanent water. This is doubly ironic. W hile offering work that expresses
collections of Southeast Asian modern and contemporary art earth-consciousness in a dated representational mode, Tas­
for two National Heritage Board-sponsored museums: the sananchalee has nonetheless recently been criticized by envi­
Singapore A rt Museum, already rich in Thai contemporary ronmental activists for taking part in the felling of a 143-year-
holdings, and the National Gallery Singapore, which will old Mahaad tree in the southern Thai seaside town of Krabi,
open its doors to the public this November in two Beaux- where he and collaborators sculpted portions of the segmented
Arts buildings (formerly the supreme court and city hall) and gutted trunk into fanciful abstract public sculpture— all to
repurposed by the French firm Studio Milou. assist the city in branding itself an art destination.
W hile Bangkok hesitates, other regional cities are Since first joining the Venice Biennale in 2003, Thailand
making bold moves. H ong K ong’s 100-acre W est Kow­ has presented a number of cutting-edge artists, among them
loon C ultural D istrict will be anchored by the $642-m il- M ontien Boonma (1953-2000), Rasdjarmrearnsook (b. 1957),
lion M+ museum, which, though not slated to open until Michael Shaowanasai (b. 1964) and Arin Rungjang (b. 1975).
2018, already boasts a collection of some 4,000 works. In 2009, though, Gondola alParadiso Co., Ltd., an installation
Similarly,, Gwangju, South Korea, is now ambitiously by five artists brilliantly satirizing the country’s tourist culture,
proclaim ing itself a “hub city of Asian culture,” bolstered went sour due to logistical problems and infighting—which
by the debut later this year of its vast, state-sponsored led to a top-down approach that scuttled the “open call” system
Asian C ulture Complex. in favor of state-conceived pavilion shows, a process that now
seems to be veering toward the conservative. W hile Thailand
T H E ONLY S O U T H E A S T Asian nation that was never sorts out these and related boondoggles, one can only hope for
colonized— something that Thais understandably take great a swift peace among all parties involved—before the rest of the
pride in—the New Siam nevertheless struggles to define its region jets into the future without them. O
own contemporary art agenda. As several local collectors fol­
low their own tastes and snatch up important artworks, the Atlas is a rotating series of columns by writers from Chicago,
public awaits some sure sign of the museums these individu­ Bangkok and Cairo.

66 MAY 2015 ATLAS


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Copyright of Art in America is the property of Art in America, LLC and its content may not
be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder's
express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for
individual use.
Copyright of Art in America is the property of Art in America, LLC and its content may not
be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder's
express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for
individual use.