Bangkok MOCA & ‘Thawan Duchanee, Modern Buddhist Artist’

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The efforts to visit the Bangkok Museum of Contemporary Art were surprisingly arduous and I only finally managed to visit it on my next to last day in Thailand.

It was designed by a wealthy businessman, who seeded it with much of his personal collection, including a portrait of his favorite actress. Apparently, the museum was also designed as a tool of seduction and contains a room containing nothing by paintings of scenes from the actress’ most famous movie (this includes a couple of paintings of topless scenes from the movie). There is also a series of paintings of a woman in various symbolically spiritual poses and forms. The woman’s face looks a lot like that actress and the woman is also topless in every painting. It’s definitely art – and good art, a that – and it’s not even very erotic, but it reads like someone said to an artist, “I need some paintings – some fine art that will last the years. It needs to be your masterpiece! One more thing – its needs to have boobs. Lots of boobs.”

By the little coffee/snack place in the museum, was a wall of signed portraits of people like Andy Lau and… actually, there were very few pictures of men. Mostly they were signed pictures of famously beautiful models and actresses, about seventy-five percent of them western.

Once you get beyond that, though, I really liked. You could see these artists influenced by Western artists, particularly surrealists. But those artists were in turn influenced by Asian art, whether directly or indirectly (as through antecedents, like Klimt). So it’s almost a case of Asian artists being influenced by earlier traditions in Asian art, but mediated through the work of 20th century Western artists.

There was a room called the Richard Green Room, actually, it was two rooms, with nineteenth and early twentieth century genre paintings, mainly pictures of people in either eighteen century dress or sort of a fanciful version of Greco-Roman dress (the latter looked a lot like some of my favorite Pre-Raphaelite paintings). There were some wonderful painting and I enjoyed the room immensely, but what on God’s green earth was the motivation behind exhibiting them in a museum devoted to contemporary Thai art?

Apparently, Richard Green is a gallery owner, specializing in those sort of paintings. I reckon those were loaned to the museum, which also makes it free advertising for the gallery and which makes it ethically dubious (most museums would not engage in this kind of thing – exhibiting painting that are simultaneously available for purchase).

They had a large exhibit by Thawan Duchanee, Thailand’s most famous living artist.

When I first saw the exhibition, I wasn’t thrilled by him. Partly, it was the curation. He did a lot of painting in black paint on either white canvass or a saturated red canvass and in a couple of galleries, the walls were painted totally red. The saturation was too much. Bad design.

I did buy a book about him called Thawan Duchanee, Modern Buddhist Artist. First of all, caveat emptor: author Russell Marcus is neither an art historian nor an erudite amateur with a keen eye for art. He’s more of a fan boy. But, it did give me an opportunity, as I read it over several days, to revisit him and get a slightly better than understanding of what Duchanee was trying to accomplish. Certainly, he aims to be very traditionally Thai, in many ways, which hampered by ability to appreciate him at first.

I’ve made it sound horrible, but it was actually pretty wonderful and I would go again. But keep an open mind and a sense of humor.

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A sculpture of Dali painting. Loved it.

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