This is the first in a series of dispatches by New Emissary blogger and Tokyo art gallerist Bob Tobin, as he travels through Thailand on ‘art business’ …and more.
The first stop I make in Bangkok is always the same—The Silom Galleria, not too far from Bang Rak on the Skytrain. Where else can I see so much art in one place? I’m not sure it was originally planned as a place for art galleries. In fact, it’s still usually referred to as an art and gem center and you have to climb over a lot of gem dealers to get to the art.
On my recent trip there, I started in the basement and headed right to the Number 1 Gallery, which now has three exhibition areas. They usually show contemporary Thai painters, and I like the many political works I’ve seen there, including work from Vasan Sithiket.
Sithiket’s known all over Asia not only as an artist, but as a political activist. When the now-deposed Thaksin Shinawatra was elected Prime Minister, here’s what he said: 'Our country has entered the Dark Ages led by the most powerful politician since military dictators ruled the country in the 1950s and 1960s.'
He doesnʼt hold back in his art either. Itʼs the kind of work you love or hate. Itʼs right in your face along with excrement and sexual organs.
Right next door to Number 1 is another gallery with two spaces. I remember a great sculpture show I saw there once with works that would fit perfectly in a living room or office. The owner works hard at promoting Thai artists. Last year, she curated a show with over 200 artists on the top floor of the Galleria where they often have university graduation shows.
I also like to check out Tang Contemporary, which has a branch in Beijing and shows Thai and Chinese artists. Before I headed upstairs to the fourth floor, I also took a peek at a gallery in the corner of the basement. It’s one of those places that has a bit of everything, like the type of Thai works you might also find in a night market—the de rigeur buddhas, temples and country scenes. You might get lucky here and find something great—especially if you poke around in the back. During my last visit, I found two beautiful works by Silpakorn University Professor Thavorn Ko- Udomvit.
I saved the best for last and spent a lot of time in the Thavibu Gallery on the fourth floor. Like many of the galleries in this building, it started out with one space and now has taken over three more spaces. This is a gallery with staying power. It’s now in its twelfth year and features works from Thailand, Vietnam and Burma.
The owner, Jorn Middleborg, and the gallery manager Heide Park Charoenporn are both very knowledgeable about art in the region and they represent more than 40 artists. In fact, Thavibu is the first place where I saw Vietnamese art and the first place I ever saw art from Burma. If you’re new to art in this region, this is the place to start.
One of my favorite artists in Thavibu is Jirapan Tatsanasomboon, who combines traditional Thai imagery with icons of Western art and culture. And in one of Thavibu’s newer spaces on the same floor, there's a large selection of sculpture from the region. My eyes were immediately drawn to a glass piece from one of Thailand’s best-known artists, Pinaree Sanpitak.
A lot of Pinaree’s work explores images of femininity and she continues to create interesting modes of manifesting intimate interpretations to the female psyche. When you’re at Thavibu, be sure to also ask to see what they have in storage. During a previous visit, I saw a magnificent large painting by Navin Ratchinakul who'll represent Thailand in the next Venice Biennale.
I can easily spend the whole day at the Silom Galleria, but there are other art places I want to explore in Bangkok and I’ll tell you about more of them next week.