Across Asia, most governments support, nurture and encourage contemporary culture. Such support is negligible in Thailand. It’s a pity because the quality of Thai contemporary art stands up to comparison with anywhere else in the world. Which is why we are pleased to announce the upcoming launch of a new contemporary cultural arts center in Bangkok, The Warehouse.
I have ranted and raved about the lack of government support for contemporary art in Thailand on various occasions. I work in the contemporary art field so I am obviously bias. Many will argue that the government has more important priorities than the arts — poverty, infrastructure development, education and healthcare are a few obvious issues that come to mind.
Yet the fact is that the government, together with private industry, already does provide arts support. The problem is that most of this support is for Thai traditional arts. In itself that is no problem but there is also a real sense of inherent bias against contemporary art.
Overcoming such bias will be the work of years. Through the Warehouse we are trying to offer the facilities, expertise and advice to encourage Thai contemporary artists in their work now, and to put that work within reach of art lovers everywhere.
artThailand began trading just a few months ago. We opened our first gallery, The Livin’, in May 2006. Our website, www.artthailand.net, followed in August 2006. The Livin’ is so named because its concept is to show art as it would look in your home, and also because the owner happens to live there! It’s an exclusive gallery, visited by appointment only, and we have just launched our 3rd exhibition there, “In Your Face“.
The Warehouse is our new gallery, so named because, wait for it, it’s a warehouse — a derelict, fire ravaged 600 square meter space, located on Ekkamai, close to soi 17.
To be honest, this is the realisation of a dream for us. We have been searching a long time for some radically different, highly contemporary and larger space.
At 600 square meters this is certainly going to be Thailand’s largest contemporary art gallery. It will also be one of the most radical in Asia.
We plan to repair all the damage, significantly improve lighting and humidity control, but to leave most of the base structure intact.
With wide open spaces, and huge concrete walls and flooring we are going to be able to significantly expand our offering to artists and art lovers while, at the same time, being able to be much more radical and innovative in terms of both content and presentation.
We intend to offer performance as well as visual art. We will put a high emphasis on graffiti, sculpture and many different types of installation. We will also start to offer art workshops, in-residence artists, as well as work from artists both Thai and non-Thai.
We will also continue to put emphasis on developing new Thai talent across all arts media.
But we also want the warehouse to be more than just another commercial gallery.
Our vision is of a cultural arts center serving the needs of all Thai contemporary artists, not just those directly associated with artThailand.
We plan to offer space to emerging artists free of charge and to partner with competitor galleries to build greater overall awareness and appreciation of Thai contemporary art.
In the longer term we are looking at acquiring other sites in the Ekkamai area to create a new contemporary arts community for Bangkok.
Ekkamai is growing up fast and we believe it’s an appropriate and trendy location for artists and art lovers to come together.
Our inspiration for this vision is the Bergamot development in Los Angeles. Bergamot Station is Southern California’s largest art gallery complex and cultural center, located on eight acres in the heart of Santa Monica. It features contemporary art galleries, The Santa Monica Museum of Art, architecture and design firms, a cafe, and a frame shop.
Realising a Bergamot-type dream is not something we can do alone. We (and by “we” I mean the entire contemporary arts community) need to engage with intellectual, cultural and political elites and persuade them that a vibrant, innovative and radical local contemporary arts scene is in Thailand’s interest. We need support for Thai contemporary arts from the elites, but we also need investment.
This is no easy task. As I have commented many times before (take a look at Thai Young Artists Awards and Is Censorship Right?) there seems to be an inherent bias against genuinely contemporary art in the Thailand of today.
The Warehouse is part of a 3,000 sqare meter development we have purchased that will house a new restaurant and bar, a new contemporary furniture showroom and two or three high quality retail outlets.
The common link between all these businesses is what we term an “affluent, contemporary lifestyle”. We will be targeting consumers with high levels of discretionary income who want to have a premium, fun but relaxing and quality shopping experience.
The restaurant is going to be exciting. With about 100 seats, we intend to offer a very different and relaxed experience, open from breakfast through dinner, with the highest quality Mediterranean food, great service, and all at an affordable price. We are going with more of a lounge concept than a traditional seated area, with tables for sure, but also large areas where you can relax in peace around a stylish arboretum, and eat, drink or just chat with your friends. We will also offer a daytime creche to keep the younger amongst us amused!
The second level of the restaurant will be somewhat unique, a large outside and open-on-all-sides raised terrasse overlooking landscaped gardens.
There will be a small number of private rooms for dinners and meetings. We will additionally be offering free wifi access throughout the complex to help us market the complex for corporate meetings and events.
With capacity for about 300 people we will also use the gallery as a very different corporate events & meetings center.
In addition to art workshops, we will also offer wine and cooking schools and exclusive cinema previews.
Construction begins early next month. The gallery and furniture showroom should be open sometime in March, while we expect the restaurant and bar to open in May or June.
artThailand members will qualify for discounts at all of our outlets, most especially at the new restaurant. So now you have yet another reason to join up as a member, not forgetting that you still have time to qualify for the prize painting we are currently offering as a promotion, closing on December 10.
We are very excited about all these developments. Check back from time to time for updates, and we look forward to welcoming all of you to The Warehouse and its accompanying outlets in the next few months.