Thai Art Paris with Adeler Subhashok Gallery

Michael Shaowanasai's self-portrait 'Liberte, Unite, Fraternite et Vanite' turned heads in Paris.
Michael Shaowanasai's self-portrait 'Liberte, Unite, Fraternite et Vanite' turned heads in Paris.

  Selling Thai contemporary art overseas has never been easy, but the new Adeler Subhashok Gallery - a joint venture between a Thai collector and French dealers - earned millions of baht with its debut show at last month's Paris Art Fair under the dome of the Grand Palais.

Buyers scooped up pieces by Manit Sriwanichpoom, Chatchail Puipia and Michael Shaowanasai - all well known internationally - and by newcomers like Lampu Kansanoh and Silawit Poolsawat.

Manit Sriwanichapoom's 'Pink Man' pushed his shopping trolley at last month's Paris Art Fair. AFP Photo
Manit Sriwanichapoom's 'Pink Man' pushed his shopping trolley at last month's Paris Art Fair. AFP Photo

The Adler Subhashok Gallery is a partnership for collector Subhasok Angkasuwansiri, who owns the Subashok Art Centre, French couple Armelle and Joel Cohen of the Adler Gallery Paris, and Subhasok's French art dealer, Laurent de Pass. It's aim is to market Thai contemporary art around the world and also introduce more Western art to Thai collectors.

The Bangkok gallery currently has a politically charged Manit Sriwanichapoom exhibition, "Blue: The New Series of Nude", and a group show, "Moi/Soi", with work by Michael Shaowanasai and seven emerging Thai artists.

It cost more than Bt30 million to ship and mount 30-odd paintings, photographs and sculptures at the four-day Paris fair, which drew representative pieces from 140 galleries in 20 countries. Many of them adhered to the event's shift in "identity and direction" three years ago: It strives to be a European event exploring the Middle East and Asia as well as Central Europe, in keeping with the boom in the market for Asian contemporary art. Having opened a branch of their Adler Gallery in Miami in the US, the Cohens set their sights next on Thailand.

The 100 Tonson Gallery was the first Thai gallery to present the work of internationally acclaimed Rirkrit Tiravanija, at the Basel Art Fair in Miami fthree years ago. Meanwhile the Numthong, White Space, Gallery Ver and DCA Art Consultant were represented at Singapore's Art Stage in January. "We see the potential of Thai artists," says Laurent de Pass.

Sales at the Paris Art Fair were indeed good. "We were able to sell more than half the stock and the rest was reserved for private viewing after the fair," says Subhashok's son Jongsuwat Angkasuwansiri, who manages the gallery. "The pieces that sold best were Manit's Pink Man sculptures. Collectors loved the underlying message, the social commentary, and at the same time couldn't help smiling at the bright pink suit and the inherent humour. It's the perfect mix of ingredients."

Michael Shaowanasai, absent from the local art scene for several years, showed his controversial self-portrait "Liberte, Unite, Fraternite et Vanite" from the Burqa series in Paris. It's actually four self-portraits, digital prints, of the gay artist dressed in brightly coloured Muslim female attire.

Paris also got to see self-portraits of the well-known Chatchai Puipia, one of which - "Life in the city of angels getting by just upon a smile" - found a buyer. Lampu Kansanoh sold his 2014 oil painting "Don't Talk Too Much", and paintings of women by Silawit Poolsawat's and Palut Marod's floral compositions were also snatched up, a boon to all these newcomers.

"Our younger artists such as Kitikun Mankit and Pacharapong Meesilp received their fair share of attention as well," says Jongsuwat. "People were slow to buy, though, because they wanted to know more about the artists and see their previous work. Still, many collectors put reserves on works so they could view them privately later.

"The feedback was very positive. Obviously we're very new to the market, so we didn't expect a flood of people to our booth. But there were a lot of dealers, which was good for us - having our art bought by dealers means it will continue to circulate internationally rather than remaining in private homes. And it's reassured us that the artists we represent have potential. The other dealers acknowledged that."

Jongsuwat says museums and other art institutes in New York also showed interest. Meanwhile galleries overseas have expressed interest in collaborating with the Adler Subhashok. "We made contact with a Singapore art-fair director and a Beirut art fair, as well as people from Iran and Hong Kong. We were genuinely overwhelmed by the level of interest!"

As for sales in Bangkok, he says, 90 per cent of the buyers are foreigners. "It didn't come as a surprise to us, but it indicates that we need to work harder to make local collectors realise that young and emerging artists are on the rise right now. We have to support our artists before all their work ends up outside the country."

The next show for the Bangkok gallery is "#foodporn", bearing the "hashtag" popular on Twitter and Instagram. "This will be our alarm bell about today's consumer culture and how the social media change the way we interact or appreciate the things around us," says Jongsuwat. "It raises the question of whether we are consuming or being consumed.

"The highlight of the exhibition will be how we integrate two very fresh Thai artists with well-known foreigners such as Americans Robert Craig and Supakitch, the Luo brothers from China and Adeline Calosci from France. All of the art will be about food - burgers, ice cream, waffles - so you're guaranteed to leave hungry!"

Planning is now underway for the Singapore Art Fair in November. "It's very special since only 60 galleries were invited - the organiser wants an intimate, 'boutique' atmosphere. It's an honour to be a part of it," says Jongsuwat.

Eyes are also on next year's Art Basel Hong Kong fair, which Jongsuwat admits will require much preparation. Meantime the "Moi/Soi" exhibition is travelling to the Jerome Zodo Gallery in Milan this summer and might move on to New York after that.

Regardless, the biggest job for the Adler Subhashok is to familiarise Thais with the contemporary art being produced right here.

"We want the local audience to realise the importance of our culture as it's being represented by today's artists, and to see how we can all help each other improve the industry.

"These contemporary artists are this generation's cultural reporters of what's going on in today's society. We're communicating with people through the social media as well as mass media, and even through private collectors' dinners, and we'll be holding a seminar soon about art as an alternative form of investment."

Credit: Phatarawadee Phataranawik, Life, "Thai art's Paris springtime", THE NATION