No one was prepared to deal with the crisis brought on by COVID-19, including the art scene.
Globally, artists and galleries rely on festivals, exhibitions, concerts, and other events to stay afloat. When Bangkok went dark during its pandemic lockdowns, the city’s art establishment found itself facing an uncertain new reality.
Many struggled to make it, and some successfully adapted on the fly by turning online and rethinking strategy.
While some gallery owners said going virtual was little more than a stopgap, others, like Clifford Joseph Price, aka Goldie, found a silver lining online for his Aurum Gallery in Warehouse 30.
“Being a gallery partner on Artsy.net has … allowed us to get our work out there on an international level. We’ve been quite successful with it,” Goldie said.
And there has been another net positive for artists, gallery owners, and patrons alike: Many people have changed their perspectives on art because of the crisis.
According to Goldie, the public has discovered a newfound appreciation for art’s role in boosting mental health, as people sought it out for comfort and as a therapeutic tool.
“I think the pandemic has reignited people’s love of creative arts, probably mostly due to having had that taken away for a period of time,” he said.
Even so, going virtual has been hard on many galleries. In Bangkok, some have called it quits or temporarily closed. Even if exhibitions are making a comeback this month, they’re limited, and curators are still trying to drive interest in mostly unpopular digital events.
Kit Chirachaisakul, the owner of Kalwit Studio and Gallery, says he had no choice but to offer virtual exhibitions, but they didn’t do much for the gallery.
“The number of visitors has reduced and revenue is going down,” he says. “Artists and organizers feel [as if they are] wasting time on planning [these] events.”
Kit also feels that Thai culture isn’t equipped to support the arts through a crisis. Art is often seen as a luxury, he noted.
“Thai people support only famous artists,” he said. ‘The new generation of artists do not get the recognition they deserve.”
To propel the Thai scene forward, Kit believes it needs more support, not just in terms of artistic creativity, but also from public or private funding. Especially as tourism – a driver of revenue for basically all Thai industries – is unlikely to return to peak levels for years.
That means the future of tourism-dependent art centers like the Bangkok Art and Culture Center and Jim Thompson House is uncertain.
Jim Thompson House art director Gridthiya Gaweewong said it is trying to survive by engaging the community through independent projects and online collaborations with foreign galleries, like the Hong Gah Art Museum in Taipei.
Gridthiya emphasized that it will take Thailand a long time to reach a point where it will have a funding body that supports the arts.
“The state needs to create a body to subsidize art if [Thailand wants] to have soft power,” Gridthiya said. “What we really need is a change in taxation and our legal issues. We need a special entity who takes care of it. It’s ridiculous that people talk about soft power without talking about democracy and freedom of expression.”
Gridthiya suggested that the enactment of nonprofit laws like those of the United States, where donors get their taxes reduced in return.
“This is how we can encourage people to fund art galleries and spaces,” she said.
Goldie agrees, although he highlights the role of private industry in helping Thailand’s art scene unlock its true potential.
“Thailand has 20 or 30 leading companies that have various ways they can work with and support artists—through private commissions, funding, projects,” he says. “Getting suitable companies to work with artists is key. The old models don’t work anymore.”