NARUEMON PADSAMRAN, Luk Tung (detail)2008, mixed-media installation made from discarded billboards. Courtesy Bangkok University Gallery, Bangkok.

“Brand New”

Multiple Venues

Since the National Gallery initiated Thailand’s first annual show of young artists almost five decades ago, that and kindred exhibitions have traditionally been limited to painting and sculpture, featuring one or two works by dozens of artists. To provide a truly contemporary format for emerging work, Bangkok University art historian Ark Fongsamut launched “Brand New” five years ago. Spread across three venues—the Bangkok University Gallery, Chulalongkorn University Art Center and Tadu Contemporary Art—the show focused on just seven artists, giving each a separate room to fill with work in any genre including new media and installation. A local committee selected artists during the first three years, but since 2007 the organizers have commissioned foreign curators in order to yield choices free from personal and institutional ties. This year’s curator, Marianne Maasland, who is based in the Netherlands, said she chose what she found “intriguing and communicative.” She showed enterprise in presenting works by graduates from institutions besides the two leading Bangkok art schools, whose alumni often dominate local shows. The high quality results were the best yet in this increasingly influential exhibition.

The show’s freshest and most moving work was Naruemon Padsamran’s collection of exuberant sculpture and two-dimensional assemblages at the Bangkok University Gallery. Paying pop-art tribute to luk thung, Thailand’s wildly popular country music, each beautifully executed work represented one or more typical dancers or musicians and was constructed from old wooden billboards used to advertise outdoor concerts. The artist cut the performers’ figures from flat signboards in flowing lines inspired by the ads’ characteristic typography, which is written with glowing fluorescent paint. A few pieces incorporated actual musical instruments such as a saxophone.

Also strong was a collection of a dozen toy-like kinetic sculptures by Krit Ngamsom at Tadu Contemporary Art, obliquely inspired by the tools, machinery, toys, pets and other wares displayed in Bangkok’s sprawling emporium of storefronts. Typical of his softly surreal works was a pagoda-like stack of seven monks’ bowls, struck impassively every half minute by a pair of motorized mallets.

A gilded cage of four wooden birds bobbing up and down on rods was powered by a camshaft. Whereas some of the artists opted to amuse rather than to grapple with big issues, Prateep Suthathongthai offered photos, paintings, texts and videos at the Chulalongkorn University Art Centre. Prateep astutely explores the omission of ethnic minorities, especially those from the northeast region of Isan, in Thailand’s official narratives of national identity. In total, “Brand New” reinforced growing perceptions that the attainments of local artists are on the rise. Several of these newcomers appear destined for solo shows here in the near future.