Last month I made a trip to MOCA in the north of Bangkok. It was a mission to find, and although we got on the right bus, the driver didn't believe us that we knew where we were going - it seems MOCA isn't overly well known in Bangkok, even though it puts the National Gallery of Thailand to shame.
MOCA is a privately owned museum, similar to MONA in Hobart, Tasmania, where the collection seems to be a reflection of the personal taste of the museum owner, who has a much more focused taste compared to the more politically correct, ‘egalitarian’, nationally funded galleries. The owner, in this instance, is Boonchai Bencharongkul, the founding owner of DTAC, Thailand's second-largest mobile telephone company.
The prevalent theme in MOCA is the intense devotion to Buddhism and Buddhist Mythology. I am unsure of whether this collection is an accurate summation of a general trend in young Thai artists to produce this sort of work, or the result of a particular inclination by Boonchai Bencharongkul to promote and assist artists exploring Buddhist ideas.
There is an obsessive attention to detail in all the works, and a lot of subversion of Buddhist imagery, like Prateep Khotchabua (below). For some reason the experience of all these paintings made my interest in Thai mythological wane, or more accurately, overload. Upon reflection is could be the explicit nature of the imagery, which lacks nuance, mystery, restraint and subtlety. Or perhaps, it is was due to the overwhelming sickly density of so many jostling figurative narratives. The experience is akin to the sensation of listening to multiple songs simultaneously, all fighting for contention within a confined space. Annabelle, who was pregnant at the time, found it dizzying and would frequently have to sit down to regain herself.
If one was to visit the National collection in New Zealand, Te Papa, you could be mistaken for thinking New Zealanders value and worship the land above all else (as opposed to Buddhist beliefs), judging by the disproportionate number of landscape paintings and photographs found in our lack-lustre 'Art Wing'. I was pondering this evident contrast between our two cultures as I fled from the paintings down a hall of photography and was confronted by a photograph of the Waiau Lodge Hotel. This hotel is from the small logging town of Tuatapere in Southland, not too far from my old High School. The accompanying caption read, “(and smoke from our dinner...only)“. My assumption is that this caption is referring to how the photographer and their company were the only guests in the hotel, which would probably be accurate. It was a surreal mixing of worlds, giving me the same feeling of unease and displacement as the hundreds of mythological paintings I had just escaped.
The MOCA experience has marked itself as one my art highlights in Bangkok, mainly because access to contemporary artworks has otherwise been difficult. Here, in one massive building, is an overwhelming (I've used that word about four times, but it is only one truly fitting!) collection of the some of the most disturbing paintings in Thailand. The entire visit was quite strange and has emblazoned itself upon my memory.