Monday, March 30, 2009

Manit Sriwanichpoom. “The Art of the 9th Reign” in Silpa Wattanatham column of Siamrath Weekly News, Yr.54 Vol.15, 5 – 11 January 2550 / 2007

There is an art exhibition that everyone should see. Don’t miss it. The show to celebrate the art of the 9th Reign – 6 Decades of Thai Art at the Queen’s Gallery (Sirikit) at Sapan Phan Fha from 11 February.

This show is one of the ongoing projects of the Rama 9 Art Org Foundation. They used to organize a celebration of the reign of the present King on the 50th anniversary of his reign in 2539 (1996). It was a grand celebration. Many of the masterpieces of Thai art were collected together as never before in history, using the extensive premises of the Sirikit National Convention Center.

This time, the exhibition premises are much smaller by comparison, and the number of works on show [are fewer] as well.

A show of H.M. the King’s own works is on the first floor. They asked His Majesty to allow his works to be exhibited: Red Hand, an oil painting (49 x 59 cm) 2504 (1971), and Royal Hands, a black and white photo (43 x 59 cm).

About this room, you understand that the works of art are His Majesty’s, shown this time by his gracious permission. It shows the need in our country to find something unanimous.

The real exhibition hall, 6 Decades of Thai Art, has been divided in 6 rooms and covers 3 floors. Each room represents one decade, beginning in 2489 (1946), when His Majesty returned to rule again, until 2540 (2006). According to the brochure for the show, “the works selected to show in each room mean the best works of the important artists who had a role in that era. Enjoying this show is like going back in the pages of history. You can see contemporary Thai art coming into being and evolving step by step in these rare masterpieces.

The Virtual Gallery is set up on the 5th floor to demonstrate how the chow can be seen on the Net henceforth very easily. The viewer just clicks on and can see the whole show. And they have put it on a CD and proudly advertise, ‘ Is it possible? As we still have no international quality art museum, today can we own a virtual gallery, the biggest in the world?’

The information is expanded. ‘Virtual Gallery’ means viewing the show via other media in a new atmosphere with the latest technology. Thus, the whole world can see the exhibition whenever they like. And the feeling is like taking a personal tour. Of course, seeing the original is best, but seeing it via new media can replace that lost opportunity.

I would like to say very directly that the star of this exhibition is the Virtual Gallery. When you compare the area used for the show, the virtual show uses the whole 5th floor. Four or five computers around the room would be enough to introduce the project. No need to project images from the website to the ceiling or to use real space to express ‘virtual space.’ Unfortunately, it didn’t make much sense in such a limited space.

But it is understandable: Rama 9 Art Foundation invested a lot in their Virtual Gallery Website. They needed to do the PR so the public would know about it. They had to make a big deal of it – the foundation’s primary work is the website for Thai art.

In the midst of wide eyed excitement about the hi-tech digital gallery (by which the foundation thought they might make up for the real gallery of international standard which we don’t have), one thing we shouldn’t forget and should see as the important center is content. It looks like the organizers invested (brains, time and effort) too little in this respect. The academic results in this exhibition are rather thin – lacking analysis, distillation and serious clarification of levels of importance in the information. Are there artists or creative groups who should be invited to show whose works and ideas are reflected in this artistic, social, political and cultural progress and development? In terms of ‘doing ones homework,’ not enough has been done. Many important artists have been left out, and many are in the show who should not be.

Let me give the example of the 4th floor which shows the works of the 6th decade 2539 -2549 (1996 – 2006). It is a history of the creation of contemporary Thai art, still fresh and new in the memory of the Thai artworld. But when one reads the information posted on the wall of the exhibition hall and looks at the art on show, one finds that many artists who started movements in the Thai artworld have been left out – for example, Nitaya Eua-ariworakul, the important center of Womanifesto, who opened the exhibition stage for many Thai women artists and made much of the rights of women. She and her friends have been working on this for 10 years or more.

Michael Shaowanasai and Montri Termsombat have come out clearly as gay artists. They have made art about the difficulties of homosexual relationships, directly challenging the values of society generally. Neither are represented in the show; these distinctive new movements in the 6th decade are being denied.

Michael was not invited, but he shows up by good fortune in the video of Sakharin Kreu-on. Why not get Michael’s ‘gay monk’ photos and put them up with the paintings of Anupong Jantorn, a new young artist who has many less hours of work than Michael? There is nothing new in the area of seriously critical work. There is nothing of interest but the various forms and styles of picture-making.

The cases of Rerkridt Tirawanit, Surasi Kusolwong and Nawin Lawanchaikul – international artists who have become famous in Thailand and abroad – why are their works not included? Not even mentioned in the text!

Looking at the works in the show, most are not the most outstanding examples, the masterpieces. For example, among the paintings of Chatchai Puipia they should have done better than the portrait of Wasan Sittiket.
The organizer’s method of selecting works – their way, you get the name alright. But they shouldn’t have simply asked each artist for a work to include in the show. The artists have so many works; the organizers should have requested specific works. Such a general request may not be taken very seriously: the artist simply picks up whatever is at hand. And the best works have been picked up by collectors already. They are not shown because they are hard to get. When one goes for ease and convenience, artists respond in kind. In the end, this is what you get.

The way out in this (I’m sure the organizers will agree) is to use a curator. If this job had used a real curator, the audience would have seen real and clear development, real progress of artists in the era of the 9th reign.

Why didn’t they go that route? Such a big show and no one making selections? Very strange. It wasn’t a charity affair like a Red Cross Fair. Many artists sent in their work. But academically, in terms of scholarly presentation, the effort fails. How can we cite “…The art of other reigns…we can clearly see what it was like. But the art of the 9th Reign, what is it like?”

Finally, besides the content of the virtual gallery, the organizers should use Thai language for Thai visitors to read, too, not just English. Where is the rejoicing in being Thai? The national pride? Love for the institution? No matter how difficult it is to do these things, they should be done.
If not they will say we are trying to please the whites.

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