Art typically has to be highly interactive and publicly displayed to become the main driver in why people book a trip. Bangkok is starting to use that playbook as it seeks to build a reputation as an artsy city.
Bangkok is renowned for street food and shopping delights as well as notorious nightlife, but the latest effort to woo tourists aims for the cultural high ground by turning the metropolis into an art gallery.
An exhibition called the Bangkok Art Biennale is showcasing more than 200 pieces from dozens of artists around the world, such as Japan’s Yayoi Kusama and South Korean Choi Jeong Hwa. Paintings, photos and videos, installations and performance art are on display in 20 venues throughout the city, mostly in malls or at key tourist attractions.
“Visual art is a very powerful medium,” said the exhibition’s art director Apinan Poshyananda. “The artists who are in the show can reveal their interpretation of Bangkok.”
While Bangkok was the world’s most-visited city in 2017, a slump in Chinese arrivals in military-run Thailand during the past few months is causing some jitters. The second-largest economy in Southeast Asia relies on tourism to help power growth, putting the onus on officials to find new ways of attracting holidaymakers, such as the art festival lasting just over three months.
The installations in Bangkok tackle topics such as climate change, pollution, refugees, technology, urbanization and sometimes taboo subjects, such as sex work. Exhibits include Chumpon Apisuk’s “I Have Dreams” video installation that tackles the stigma faced by Thai sex workers, while Sakarin Krue-On’s “Guardian Giants” could be interpreted as a critique of political conflict. Fiona Hall’s “Forest Floor” depicts conflict and genocide with painted glass bottles placed to look like human skeletons.
Among the tallest artworks is the golden “Lost Dog,” stationed outside a five-star hotel near Bangkok’s Chao Phraya river.
“The theme is about our existence, about us now and about the future generation,” said its creator, the French artist Aurèle Ricard, who added that he thinks it’s possible for Bangkok in the future to become a major art destination, like Hong Kong, Shanghai or Venice.
Photo credit: The Lost Dog, pictured here, is one of Bangkok's newest artworks aimed at luring art lovers to the city. Randy Thanthong-Knight / Bloomberg