Bangkok Strengthens its Position as a Hub for Arts

Bangkok does not want anymore to be only perceived as a heaven for food, shopping, entertainment in complement to a visit to the Grand Palace. The city is now looking to become a true centre for arts.

The idea is not new but it is gaining strength year after year. “Art is not only just a pretty picture for the eyes. Art is education, art is human development, art is something for the spirit that we really need. Art is a way to make people joining together”, explains Thailand Minister of Tourism Kobkarn Wattanavrankul. “Bangkok art scene is chance for the world to know our living artists, living Kingdom and that Thai people live together with arts”, she adds.

Over the last decade, the art scene in Bangkok has been flourishing. They are now some 100 art spaces including art galleries, museums or art schools with exhibition areas. They are some leading institutions such as the BACC (Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre), a space dedicated to all art forms and accessible to anyone free of charge; the MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Arts),  a private institution opened in 2011 by the owner of telecom company DTAC; and the TCDC, the centre of design, which recently moved to new premises located within the former Central Post Office.

They are regular art events organised. One is “Galleries Night”, a spin-off of the Paris event “Nuit Blanche” and supported by the French Embassy in Thailand.

Another increasingly popular art event is the funky “Hotel Art Fair Bangkok”. Organised since 2013, the event is gathering top art galleries in town, which invade a hotel, each gallery taking one or two bedrooms to exhibit. The last edition took place during the last week of June. And listening to galleries present at the event, it has been a huge success, “showing that there is a true interest for arts among an increasing number of Thai people”, highlights Jeremy Opritesco, fondateur de la galerie d’art YenakART.

Bangkok is now moving to the next stage. The Thai capital just announced to organise the first edition of Bangkok Art Biennale (BAB2018) in 2018. The event will take place between November 2018 and February 2019, filling many spaces around Bangkok with contemporary arts coming from all the globe.

Supported mostly by private funding -the company ThaiBev being the largest source of funding, According to Thapana Sirivadhanbhakdi, Chairman of the Administrative Committee of BAB foundation, “Bangkok Art Biennale represents an aspiration for Bangkok to be a major venue in the world of international contemporary art, thanks to the strong collaboration of both the government and the private sector. It will make Bangkok the focal point for both Thai and international artists to convene and share their perceptions of art and culture”.

Among public institutions supporting the event are the Ministries of Tourism and Sports as well as Culture; Bangkok Metropolitan Administration; the Tourism Authority of Thailand and TCEB.

For Prof. Apinan Poshyananda, the organiser of the Art Biennale, “Bangkok Biennale will be more in the same rank of Yokohama rather than Venice. It will be a mid-size event exhibiting some 70 artists, half coming from Thailand with many being emerging artists. The initial budget set by ThaiBev is approximately THB150 million (US$4 million) with further expected contribution from other partners such as Siam Piwat or Central Pattana. But more than money involved, it is all about a collaborative efforts of various art patrons to truly bring out Bangkok art scene on an international scale”, he explains.

Like in Venice, various sites and locations around Bangkok will be home to the Biennale. “We will use contemporary spaces such as exhibition areas and malls but also famous locations along the Chao Praya River. We will exhibit some artists at Wat Pho or Wat Arun. The theme for the Biennale will be “Beyond Bliss” as we want to provide happiness with arts”, adds Poshyananda.

Could the current political environment with its restrictions on basic freedom of expression be perceived as a major deterring factor for the Biennale? “Art is one of the ways to let people express their mind and interpret themselves in front of art. I think we should always look at any confrontation between art and public as a positive way to link together artists and local communities. Artists’ creativity is unlikely to be restricted”, stresses BAB Foundation Chairman Sirivadhanbhakdi.

According to his estimations, over three million visitors could visit the Biennale during the four months it will be on. “This number represents some 8,000 visitors per day. However, I believe that it is a rather conservative estimation as it is actually difficult to assess the total number of domestic tourists”, he explains.

Ambitions run high among BAB18 organiseas Bangkok is highly committed to become a world class city for arts and culture.