The Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC) opened a few months ago in downtown Bangkok. Bangkok hasn’t had an art museum downtown before, so it’s a welcome addition to Bangkok’s art world. The Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC) is right next to the National Stadium sky train station, so it’s very easy to get to. The building itself is beautiful – very modern architecture – and it’s right at the intersection of two main roads, which makes the building look even more commanding. In the last couple of months, I’ve visited the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre twice and have had two completely different experiences both of them, however, interesting for completely different reasons.
The first time I visited the BACC I went with a Thai friend. We were both excited to see the new art museum as Bangkok has been notoriously lax in providing space for Thai artists, as well as for international artists, to show their work. So, it was with great delight we wandered into the building one Sunday afternoon in October. As we walked in, we were astounded to see the beautiful architecture, shown off by a huge dome in the centre of the building high up in the ceiling. The building seems very light and airy and, if you look directly up into the dome, you can see floor after floor, reaching up towards the roof.
However, after our initial surprise at how lovely the architecture was, it was downhill from there. Every floor was completely deserted, with empty shop fronts (they are supposed to be eventually inhabited with small shops and cafes owned by independent business owners) and no art available anywhere. We took escalators up three floors and then got off on a floor that seemed busier than the others. Here, there were about 50 people milling around and all were heading to a small auditorium that was showing a film series of Thai movies. As most of them did not have English subtitles and, as my Thai friend hates watching Thai movies, we decided to continue to look around. After another 15 minutes, we had to accept the fact that there was absolutely no art on show anywhere and that every floor was completely empty except for two or three security guards patrolling their area. For an art museum that had supposedly been open for three months, this was a little odd. We finally gave up expecting to see anything worthwhile and left to go for lunch, somewhere else. At lunch, my Thai friend kept repeating, “What’s wrong with my country? How can you open an art museum and have nothing in it?” I wasn’t really sure what to say to that either, so I just kept quiet.
My second visit to the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre was four weeks later and I went again with the same Thai friend. This time, our experience was a lot different. Now, even though the bottom floors were still empty of any art or any shops, the top three floors actually had art exhibits. An extremely interesting exhibit called ‘Traces of Siamese Smile: Art+Faith+Politics+Love‘ showcased art work by more than 300 artists – Thai and Western – and featured paintings, sculptures, drawings, photography and video art. The art work varied from very traditional Thai art (lots of Buddha statues and ornately painted gold-leafed designs) to extremely modern video art showing bizarre images and spooky music. All of it though was quite startling and fascinating to see. It took us at least two hours to be able to see all the art and to experience the museum’s architecture as well as art work. Upon leaving, we both agreed we were quite impressed by what the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre had achieved in just a few weeks.
The only drawback from this second visit was the museum was insisting that women left their purses at a check-in counter, as they would only allow you to carry your wallet with you. I absolutely refused as I have so many things in my purse, much of which is of value to me. Eventually, the Thai women behind the counter just accepted that I was walking away with my purse and, as none of the security guards stopped me, I was able to walk around the exhibit still holding my purse. I did however see four Western women and a Western couple decide not to see the exhibits, as they did not feel comfortable leaving their purses at a check-in with a total stranger. If I was not allowed to take my purse inside the next time I visit, I wouldn’t be staying for the exhibits either.
The Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC) is twenty five thousand square meters and is eleven storeys high. When it’s completed, it’s supposed to house galleries, performance spaces, a library and meeting rooms. The museum was built to give contemporary art in Thailand a home. It should eventually be very popular as not only is it in a perfect location (at the Pathumwan Intersection and next to the National Stadium sky train station), but will also have shops and restaurants so you can see art, shop and eat – all in the same place.
The museum will include contemporary programs from music, theatre, and film to literature, design and contemporary culture – all in a beautiful architectural setting. For more information, check out their website at www.bacc.or.th (although at the moment, there’s nothing up on the site for you to actually see – but hopefully, that will change). You can also call 02-214-6630, or just show up at the museum. The Bangkok Art and Culture Center is open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 10am to 9pm, and it is free admission.