A respect and appreciation for fine art is deeply engrained into Thai culture. One just has to gaze across any temple, replete with paintings, sculptures and ceramics, to understand the importance of beautiful art in Buddhist worship over ancient times right up until today.
So while contemporary art in the western style came relatively late to Thailand, it’s no wonder such a healthy and vibrant modern art scene has emerged in recent years. Thai artists are more eager than ever to experiment and express themselves in new mediums, whether it be installations, photography, video or performance art. They are even more enlivened by a renewed appetite for arts and culture, bolstered by a burgeoning middle class and robust economic growth.
You need only to take the BTS in the capital Bangkok to see Thailand’s artistic renaissance in bloom – a wealth of independent galleries is popping up across Chinatown, and street artist Alex Face’s murals grace prominent locations such as National Stadium station and Chatuchak. Bangkok is currently hosting its first Biennale, with the first Thailand Biennale soon to follow. Here are a few more exciting highlights you shouldn’t miss from the scene at this moment:
Thailand Biennale Krabi
The first Thailand Biennale marks the significant turning of a page in the country’s art history. Every year, this famous celebration of modern art is set to be held in a different Thai destination, with Krabi’s natural splendor enjoying the honor first in late 2018. At the Biennale, visitors will be able to check out a competition for emerging international artists curated in an open-air space and judged by a prestigious jury. In 2018, an exhibition of Thai and international artists intriguingly titled “Edge of the Wonderland” will explore interpretations of paradise from East to West, from Lewis Carroll’s Alice to legends of Kua Fu and the Himmapan Forests, across Krabi’s own idyllic mountains and shores. Academic events including art workshops and curator talks create a well-rounded event that’s sure to thrill art lovers and avid beachcombers alike.
Bangkok Art Biennale Bangkok
Running from now until 3 February 2019, the first Biennale in Bangkok has been an overwhelming success. Over 75 acclaimed artists from 34 countries are exhibiting, including the Danish installation art duo Elmgreen & Dragset, Japanese sculptor Yayoi Kusama, and South Korean artist Choi Jeong Hwa. But it is the Thai artists who have caught the international spotlight for outspokenly tackling topics such as social stigma and corruption, and “defying Thai taboos,” as The Guardian wrote in an article on the event. Large public exhibitions have transformed the city itself into a bustling art gallery. Twenty participating venues range from modern to unconventional: Bangkok Arts and Culture Centre, Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn), malls such as EmQuartier and Siam Paragon, and the iconic Mandarin Oriental hotel, among others. This year’s edition featured a honeypot of cool guests, including world-famous performance artist Marina Abramovic who stopped by for a talk and book signing, as well as visits by musician Pharrell and representatives of the fashion house Chanel.
ASEAN Illustration Awards Exhibition Chiang Mai
Showing at the International Children’s Content Rights Fair in Chiang Mai, the ASEAN Illustrator Awards Exhibition is guaranteed fun for the whole family. Professional and amateur illustrators from around the ASEAN region show off their sketches and doodles for the chance to win a plaque awarded by HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn and cash prizes of up to $12,500 USD. Four categories are doled out: Best in Fiction, Best in Non-Fiction, the Rising Star Award, and the top prize, the Award of Excellence. Young creators will also be mingling with publishers in the hopes of selling their work in the children and young adult genres. So while the underlying purpose of the event might ultimately be for networking and business handshakes, there will be kid-friendly activities too including readings and sing-along concerts.
Thailand Creative & Design Centre Bangkok
Opened in the former Grand Post Office Building, the Thailand Creative & Design Centre (TCDC) is the artsy nerve center of Bangkok’s Charoen Krung Road, where independent galleries have been cropping up left and right in the last few years. The gigantic five-story space, totalling 9,000 square meters, is Instagram-friendly throughout, sprawling across a multi-level design library, with a 3D printing lab and gift shop. Dedicated to showcasing local creativity, a full program of exhibitions, lectures, workshops and other events take place regularly here. From 26 January to 3 February 2019, TCDC will host the second annual Bangkok Design Week under the theme “Fusing Forward” combining multiple disciplines and local and international artists, with events ranging from film screenings to opera and other live music performances. Last year, the inaugural Bangkok Design Week welcomed more than 400,000 guests.
Sangdee is a beloved hangout for Chiang Mai locals, hosting a smorgasbord of fascinating exhibitions across three levels. On the ground floor is a cozy café that becomes a bar in the evenings. There is a full program of live music and DJ gigs, open mic nights and weekly free laughter yoga classes. Private art lessons are also available upon request. Order a cappuccino or a cocktail from the mural-painted bar, where vibrant flowers by Singapore-born and Chiang Mai-based artist Li Li Tan contributes to a sunny atmosphere (Sangdee in Thai translates to “good light”). The gallery owner, Po, is usually floating around and chatting up guests, making Sangdee a great spot for creative types and newcomers to Chiang Mai. Check the website for upcoming events, which are usually posted about a month or two in advance.