Bangkok has a brand new, and impressive, privately-funded Museum of Contemporary Art. Typically for the city, it is located in the middle of nowhere (in the northern suburbs along Vibhavadi-Rangsit Road not too far from V64 ) and most people have never heard of it. My taxi driver assumed it was a cafe called “ Mocha. ”
But when you get there, you are immediately impressed by the elegant space with its minimal yet decorative design. Inside, six floors of stark white galleries show off a rich selection of Thai contemporary art, much of it surrealist. Sculpture is also strongly represented. This is the personal taste of the museum’s benefactor, the founder of local telecommunications giant DTAC, Boonchai Bencharongkul.
Some of the work, it must be said, veers towards the kitsch with exuberant nymphs and elephant gods and scenes almost fit for the covers of fantasy novels. But it is all beautifully displayed and there are certainly some interesting pieces too – my favourites were by edgy political stirrer Vasan Sitthiket (below) and this arresting piece of sculpture, a pack of soi dogs lounging on the gallery’s white marble floor. It is only on closer examination that you realise some the dogs have stray human features – a hand here, and a face there. The effect is quite shocking.
“Animal-man” family by Anupong Chantorn
Indeed it is striking how much of the art here is explicitly Buddhist-themed, with concepts of reincarnation, dharma and meditation. In Thailand art and religion have so long been intertwined.
This is echoed in thedesign of the building itself, with its lovely understated lotus motif and egg-like chamber at the top of the soaring atrium. Visitors pass through this, in a short dark corridor called the Passageway of the Universe at the end of their tour, emerging at a series of three large pictures of the afterlife.
“Knot” by Uttaporn Nimmalaikaew
The museum’s building – not to be confused with the much more centrally located Bangkok Art and Culture Centre – is one of the most impressive I have seen in Asia, and with the BACC and another government funded arts complex promised for next year on Ratchadamnoen Klang, Bangkok now faces a glut of quality exhibition spaces. The challenge now will be to provide the “soft“ support to help artists fill it.