Museum of Contemporary Art Bangkok
Visiting Museum of Contemporary Art Bangkok (MOCA Bangkok) aims to offer a interesting overview about what is contemporary Thai art, where is it coming from, what influences led its evolution to the present times and put in perspective its development, first in Thailand, but also on the world wide Art scene.
MOCA Bangkok opened its doors on March 23rd, 2012 at the initiative of Mr. Boonchai Bencharongkul, businessman and founder of the DTAC telecommunications group and an art lover who exhibits his own art collections there.
The museum houses the works of several generations of Thai artists, from the students of Silpa Bhirasri (first half of the XXth century) to the young artists of today. It is, however, relatively far from the city centre, and as such modern art enthusiasts more often frequent the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, which is at the heart of downtown between the BTS National Stadium and Siam stations. To get to the MOCA it is necessary to go to the BTS terminal at the Mo Chit station, or to take the MRT to Chatuchak Park, and then take a taxi to the museum which is much further on Kampaeng Road. The distance may discourage visitors. However, once inside, the collections are worth it.
The artists exhibited at the MOCA are actually artists trained in the European model at the School of Fine Arts, whose education was helped by artists from the “old continent,” such as Corrado Feroci (in Thai, Pr. Silpa Bhirasri), an Italian sculptor who is the author of several emblematic landmarks in the city, such as the Democracy Monument or the Victory Monument, and who notably founded what would become the Silpakorn University of Fine Arts, from which many renowned Thai artists have since graduated.
The building is both massive and clean. The main facade is pierced with openings recalling the shape of an hourglass, which let in a soft light. The interior is pristine white. In the lobby, the statue of master Bhirasri looms in homage to the man as the “Father of Fine Arts.” The collections are presented on three levels.
The first floor is divided into several sections. It opens on a room gathering works whose style is strongly inspired by German expressionism. Among the many works on display, we can see the paintings by Sriwan Jenhatthakarnkit (born in 1953), which are strongly inspired by early twentieth century expressionist paintings and recall the works of Max Beckmann or Alexej von Jawlensky, all while, of course, having an identity of their own. His paintings are also particularly large, generally having dimensions of 200 x 600 cm.
In a large neighboring room are exhibited works in a much more modern style, that is to say, very close to the pop style of the last third of the XXth century. The museum showcases the young talents of the Thai art scene, notably Lumphu Kansanoa (botn in 1983 and one of the very few women artists exhibited) and Ummarin Bappasiri (born in 1985). The room houses a series of works exploring the finiteness of human beings which contrasts heavily with the rest of the exhibition. One of the most striking works is that of Chairat Sangthong, entitled As Time’s Gone by. This very realistic painting, based on the principle of Memento mori and made of acrylic, represents the shapely body of a young woman opposed to that of a faded and naked body of an old woman, of which we understand that it is the past form.
The tour continues in a room dedicated to spirituality and Buddhism. The works, created mostly by Chalermchai Kostipipat (born in 1955) depict Buddhas majestically represented or allegories of the teachings of the Buddha. The works of another painter, Surasit Saokong (born in 1949) surprise us with the atmosphere of serenity and concentration that emanate from its scenes, representing monks studying in the twilight of a temple.
The second floor features works of a very lyrical or fantastical style, sometimes scary, and sometimes wonderful. The first room displays, among others, paintings by Butraj Sompob and Wachara Klakhakai, which show scenes of important figures in Thai mythology, such as the goddesses of Chaopraya or the clothing of Sita. In the next rooms, the style is very surreal and symbolic, with on the one hand the works of Pratheep Kotchabua, who paints marine scenes of fights with fanciful animals, and on the other hand the works of Chaiyapan Sud and Sirot Thongchompu, who mix surrealism and symbolism, often in relation to Buddhism.
The third floor of the exhibition is almost entirely dedicated to the Thai artist Thawan Duchanee, one of the few artists to have had a truly international career. His paintings, most often monochrome pieces in which black, red, and ocher dominate, often represent animals that are largely inspired by the work of Japanese artists who also created this kind of painting to decorate temple pavilions. Thawan Duchanee is also famous for his representations of the Buddha. Initially seen as controversial, they are today considered to be major and original examples of Thai painting.
Finally, the last floor of exhibition is dedicated to Mr. Boonchai Bencharongkul’s international collections. Most of the artists have an international background and are from Vietnam, China or Japan. This floor also houses an important collection of the gallery owner Richard Green from London such as Victorian paintings.