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  India   All India  02 Jul 2018  All art lovers look forward to the art Biennales in Bangkok

All art lovers look forward to the art Biennales in Bangkok

Published : Jul 2, 2018, 12:19 am IST
Updated : Jul 2, 2018, 12:50 am IST

The art aficionado did not think that a surfeit of art Biennales would hurt anyone.

Dr Apinan Poshyananda, artistic director of the Bangkok Art Biennale.
 Dr Apinan Poshyananda, artistic director of the Bangkok Art Biennale.

Bangkok: Now that the IIFA Awards is over, it’s Biennale fever in the City of Angels. The country has never had a Biennale before, and this year will be the first time that Thailand will hold a major art extravaganza like this.

In many ways they are behind many of their Asian neighbours in this endeavour. But as if to make up for lost time, there are as many as three Biennales in the country this year, and they are causing much excitement, as also confusion and controversy.

The three Biennales are called — Bangkok Art Biennale (BAB), Bangkok Biennial (note the change in “spelling”) and Thailand Biennale. The dates, however, do not clash.

The Bangkok Biennial is from 1 July to September 30, 2018

The Bangkok Art Biennale is from October 19, 2018 to February 3, 2019

The Thailand Biennale is from November 2, 2018 to February 28, 2019

The best individual to ask about the blitzkrieg of Biennales in the country was Professor Dr Apinan Poshyananda, artistic director of the Bangkok Art Biennale, which is the biggest and most recognised, among the three Biennales. He is the best-known art curator in the country and for many years, was the permanent secretary, ministry of culture.

The art aficionado did not think that a surfeit of art Biennales would hurt anyone.

“On the other hand, it’s good for the public to have such a wide variety of art choices,” he stated, adding, “hopefully, the numerous art galleries in Bangkok will get together and form an ‘Association of Galleries’!”

This was deliberate reference to the lack of unity among the huge number of art galleries in the city, which in many ways was responsible for the avalanche of Biennales in the country this year, with no interaction between the three art groups.

In an exclusive interview, Prof Apinan gave details of the mega BAB, which had big sponsors from well-known corporate companies and government agencies, “advisers” from top galleries like Guggenheim Museum, London’s Saatchi Gallery, as well as five reputed Asian curators.

The BAB was first announced at the Venice Biennale in 2017, and since then had been working hard to get the best names in the international art arena. They recently announced that they had selected 75 artists from 33 countries!

Prof Apinan was proud that the artists included world-famous names like Marina Abramovic, as well as top Asian artistes, and also a fresh art graduate from Thailand. In fact, there were as many as 35 Thai artistes, in the selected group of 75 names, which was a “balanced” representation of local art.

The select list included one Indian artist/photographer Gauri Gill who took striking pictures of Indian villagers, which Prof Apinan said, were strong and unique.

Prof Apinan is very knowledgeable about Indian art, and was the chief guest at the opening of an art exhibition during the 2015 Festival of India in Thailand. He was also the chief guest at a special screening of Ketan Mehta’s film on artist Raja Ravi Varma, Rang Rasiya, which he enjoyed a lot and asked for the disc.

BAB’s curator informed that many public spaces were being used for the Biennale, including temples, gardens, malls and heritage buildings.

“People always say that Biennales are elitist events, which is why I want the general public to encounter artworks everywhere during the Biennale,” he stated. He informed that the well-known Thai temples attracted as many as 6,000 tourists a day, which was why they would be used as art spaces for the Biennale.

The Chao Phraya river, with its galleries, art centres, hotels all around would also be an important hub for the BAB. In fact, the Biennale’s theme “Beyond Bliss” was as free and flowing as the Chao Phraya river, he stated.

When asked how “free” the Biennale would be, considering that Thailand was under a military government, Prof Apinan laughed. “Isn’t it interesting that we are holding our first Bangkok Art Biennale when we have a military government?” he quipped.

But having worked in the ministry of culture for many years, the art historian stated: “Art can’t be suppressed, but you need to keep the balance. You can be free, critical, but you need to be subtle!”

With Biennale packages being planned for tourists, Prof Apinan hoped that the Bangkok Art Biennale would bring to Bangkok a new brand of “cultural tourists”, including from India, which was one of the biggest tourist markets for Thailand.

Meanwhile, the independent Bangkok Biennial said they had no curators, advisers or sponsors.

“We all know each other, and don’t need to go public,” quipped two of the representatives, who preferred to remain anonymous. They added that the artworks were “self-funded” by the artists.

“We had an ‘open concept’ of ‘pavilions’ and everyone who understood the ‘concepts’ and applied within the fixed date, was selected!” they stated.

“We want to focus on the artistes and the artworks. This is about a horizontal level, not the top level,” they said, with a deliberate dig at the BAB.

Their website recently announced their list of participants — 150 artists and 69 pavilions. The pavilions had unique names — American Pavilion, Supernatural Pavilion, Bangkok Sky Pavilion.

Among their selected artistes, is one artiste from India, Abhijan Gupta.

In an email interview, he stated that what excited him about this “Independent Biennale” was “its call to rethink the Biennale model” especially as there was a “saturation” of Biennales today.

He hoped “it will succeed in starting a much-needed conversation around what kinds of institutions the Bangkok art scene needs.”

As if answer to that is, the Bangkok Biennial planned to hold a two-day symposium, on the subject “The Biennalisation, Biennalisation and Biennalisation of Bangkok” (probably referring to the multiple, three Biennales in the city).

Like the BAB, this Biennial will have its “pavilions” in various public spaces too, like gardens, malls, railway stations, not just in Bangkok, but neighbouring cities. They also planned to have “crossover projects” in some European cities.

Meanwhile the third Thailand Biennale does have international curators and artistes, but is different from the other two Biennales, since it’s being held in the beach-town of Krabi, and will have site-specific, open-air art installations, in parks, gardens and beaches. Organised by the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture (ministry of culture), it has a unique theme “Edge of the Wonderland”, and interesting competitive sections.

In the midst of the triple Biennale fever, a bigger controversy nearly killed them all, when the Bangkok government suddenly threatened to take control of the art complex that is central to the mega BAB — the Bangkok Arts and Cultural Centre (BACC). While technically the Centre belongs to them, the magnificent art complex, one of the best-known in the city, is run by an independent committee.

The artist community rose up in arms against the Bangkok governor and for the moment the controversy has been quelled. The new director of the centre, Pawit Mahasarinand, is keeping his fingers crossed.

In fact, all art lovers are doing this, and are avidly looking forward to the triple art Biennales in the Land of Smiles.

The writer is a critic and commentator on films and culture based in Bangkok, Thailand

Tags: iifa awards, bangkok art biennale, apinan poshyananda