Bangkok: Summer of chaos (1997)

R. J. Preece
artdesigncafé - art | 23 November 2010
This article first appeared in Art Monthly Australia, September issue, p. 34 in 1997.

The cover story in Time Asia on 25 August, From baht to worse, certainly captures the tone. The bubble seems to have burst, with the devaluation of the Thai baht by more than 20%, finance companies closing, an extremely overextended property market, development companies in crisis and, as a result, more political uncertainty. As might be expected, the art market in Bangkok has not been uneffected. Galerie Kyoko Chirathivat, which had high-profile shows by Western artists such as Julian Schnabel, Ross Bleckner, and Francesco Clemente, closed abruptly, and its Donald Baechler exhibition, advertised for June, never opened. Local non-profit organisations report more difficulty in securing funding and gallery sales have fallen off dramatically.

In response to all this, social-political artist Vasan Sitthiket opened Blacklist, a show comprising portraits of fifty government officials, past and present, each allocated a certain number of bullets to indicate the extent of their "crimes". Kamin Lertchaiprasert showed works on paper with text at Tadu Contemporary Art which advocated the power of meditation, contemplation and art in dealing with the problems of the mundane world. In an altogether different vein, Michael Shaowanasai’s in-your-face performance Amazing my land was set on the streets of the sex-entertainment-shopping area of Patpong, where he symbolically sold young Thai males in the form of fake semen in plastic shopping bags, at "discounted" prices: a confronting reminder of one possible side effect of the devalued baht. Shaowanasai’s rather awkward title is a take on the country’s tourism slogan, Amazing Thailand.