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  • Visitors peek inside Montien Boonma’s ‘Melting Void’. (Photo courtesy: The Nation/ AsiaNews)
  • Fang Lijun’s installation art. (Photo courtesy: The Nation/ AsiaNews)
  • Louise Bourgeois’ giant spider. (Photo courtesy: The Nation/ AsiaNews)
  • Thaweesak Srithongdee’s ‘Dolls:1914,1939’. (Photo courtesy: The Nation/ AsiaNews)
  • Chatchai Puipia’s ‘Siamese Smile’ shares wall space with ‘Farang Smiley’ by Carl Michael von Hausswolff. (Photo courtesy: The Nation/ AsiaNews)
  • Ravinder Reddy’s ‘Head IV’. (Photo courtesy: The Nation/ AsiaNews)

There’s much mirth in ‘Siamese Smile’ at the new Bangkok art centre, but not all of the art is meant to tickle.

Thailand’s Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn’s photos put smiles on everyone’s face to open the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, and the equally cheery followup is ‘Traces of Siamese Smile: Art + Faith + Politics + Love’.

The massive, three-month, three-storey, 20-million-baht (US$587,000) show is a dizzying array of amusements from 100-odd foreign and local artists.

There are more than 300 pieces in various media dating back to 1923. Just have fun and keep smiling, because there’s no rigid structure to the exhibition. Curator Apinan Poshyananda calls it “controlled chaos”.

For a start, try not to smile when you run into one of Louise Bourgeois’ famous giant spiders. Its attention is mercifully distracted by Kanya Charoensupkul’s white doves fluttering against the long, curved wall—symbols of an ideal world.

Elsewhere, Chatchai Puipia’s 1995 sardonic, clenchedteeth ‘Siamese Smile’ goes face to face with Swede Carl Michael von Hausswolff’s ‘Farang Smiley’, and David Mach’s matchstick assemblages of the Buddha’s face are on view alongside a bust of the late Venerable Buddhadasa Bhikkhu by Manop Suwanpintha.

"We don’t know if it’s day or night or whether we’re awake or asleep."

Three huge figure fragments called ‘Melting Void’ by the late Montien Boonma beckon visitors inside to see the red cinnabar and gold leaf interior, evoking the peace of a temple chapel.

Throughout the three months of the show, Preecha Thaothong and his team are demonstrating the traditional techniques used in painting murals.

“We’re making murals partly replicated from the one at Wat Rakangkositaram, which combines Eastern and Western styles,” he says. “Visitors will see the whole process from beginning to end.”

Lots of people are getting their pictures taken alongside Yoshitomo Nara’s model wooden studio and Choi JeongHwa’s largescale installation.

Nara—the Japanese whose portraits of wide-eyed children and pensive canines are popular worldwide—has erected a little green shed complete with unfinished drawings and art gear scattered about, and a shelf of toys and dolls.

Choi, from South Korea, has filled a corridor with thousands of colourful, lashed together plastic baskets. He’s known for using mass-produced items to both challenge the idea of ‘high art’ and draw attention to the subtle (if tacky) beauty of everyday objects.

In another installation, Surasi Kusolwong has laid out neon lights to spell out ‘hellohelloohellooohowwwwlowwww’, a quote borrowed from the Nirvana anthem ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, which echoes in the background.

The piece, also incorporating industrial iron and equally strong hardwood, is, like the song, “a protest against capitalism”, says Surasi.

He’s got an excerpt about corruption too from the old Thai textbook Jindamanee, and juxtaposes drawings of stylish models copied from magazines with riverside scenes of peaceful Bangkok in bygone days.

In another room, artists who champion democracy in their work hammer away at the misuse of patriotism as a political tool.

The notion that “what you see is not what you get” emerges in Noppachai Ungkavatanapong’s ‘Bathe’, an iron bed with neonlight tubes that glow white until you approach, when a sensor switches them to red, white and blue.

Manit Sriwanichpoom’s ‘Pink Man’ imagery is here—his friend, artist Sompong Thawee wearing a garishly bright pink business suit and leading a mob of flagwaving boy scouts.

Meanwhile Ing K proffers oil paintings with a floating tricolour swarm, implying that the country is run by autocrats, and there’s a photo of Montri Toemsombat hiding his face behind a pillow painted in the colours of the national flag.

“The current conflict is keeping Thais in a daze,” he says. “We don’t know if it’s day or night or whether we’re awake or asleep.”

After more than a decade of bickering and procrastination, Bangkok finally has its swank new multi-billion-baht arts centre, though it’s still not yet in full use.

How successful it will be remains to be seen. But at this show’s opening, Rirkrit Tiravanija handed out hundreds of orange balloons bearing the message kwai wang mam—it’s a spoonerism on khwam wang mai, meaning ‘new hope’. (By KHETSIRIN PHOLDHAMPALIT/ The Nation/ AsiaNews)

MySinchew 2008.10.15


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