When examining the National Exhibition of Art held between 1977 to 2007, new media and materials had become part and parcel of artistic creation. This move was interestingly evidence of the contemporariness of Thai art.
The 27th National Exhibition of Art, held in 1981, added mixed media as a new competition category for the first time. Formerly, there were only painting, sculpture, and prints. (The exhibition cancelled mixed media in the 29th National Exhibition of Art and re-instituted the category in the 37th National Exhibition of Art. It has continued until present)
Composition No.2 (1998) by Roong TrirapichitArt Centre Silpakorn University
In the early period, the utilisation of new media and materials in art could be said to be in line with the development of modern Thai society propelled by industrialisation and changing lifestyle.
Materials and a kind of texture being used in the time were also changed, with a tendency towards sleek textures or industrial waste. These materials inspired artists to create art works, as can be seen from the works of Arkom Duangchaona, Roong Thirapichit and Chaiporn Saelao.
Form from Personal Feeling of Thai Architectural Motif 2/30 (1987) by Revadee ChaichumArt Centre Silpakorn University
The new materials were introduced into the Thai creative space at this time. Some artists turned to local materials that were cheaper in attempts to articulate their thoughts and express simple lifestyle in countryside.
In this decade, the art space in Thailand was varied and open. Artists who practiced Both 2D and 3D works played with a variety of materials to push the artistic boundaries.
Festival (1988) by Prasong LuemuangArt Centre Silpakorn University
Between 1997-2007, the Thai society politically and socially flourished and moved into a positive direction. Prime Minister Chatichai Choonhavan succeeded in reviving the Thai economy, as embodied in the slogan “change battlefields into marketplaces”.
In his period, Thailand had changed radically, but the economic prosperity was not come without internal conflicts and trade disagreements with neighbouring socialist countries.
The National Exhibition of Art in this period had witnessed a continual growth in terms of new media and materials.Despite intense political situations, the space still persisted as a space for artistic expression.The political phenomena hardly had no impact on this art field.
Life Style in Thai Country B3 (1993) by Tinnakorn KasornsuwanArt Centre Silpakorn University
However, art reflects societal changes, one way or another. Art works in this period expressed a sense of pessimism and desperation. As the society was plagued by political malaises, colours had gradually disappeared from art.
Artists sought after new materials turn to local materials reflected artists’ longing for a sense of nostalgia and peace. Artists also heavily criticised urban life and focused on articulating their own internal feelings.
In the period, art outside the space of the National Exhibition of Art also grew rapidly and widely. People enthusiastically collected art works, evidence of the prosperous economy of the era. Some artists who returned from overseas helped change the face of Thai art by making it more contemporary. This period experienced a phenomenal growth, which developed in line with global affairs.
Between 1997-2007, art works selected for the National Exhibition of Art oriented towards either self-reflection or natural truth. The principle belief that goodness and beauty was still central to the artistic creation. Also, there was a departure from semi-abstract art to the composition of elements while concealing stories in that composition.
Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that colours began to disappear from art works again. Artists tended to rely on black and white, which was first adopted in prins. This same use of colour was later utilised by other genres.
It is possible to conclude that the dissociation with politics impacted artistic expression.The National Exhibition of Art and the realm of politics were clearly demarcated.
Black and white here can be interpreted as clouds which covered social realities, miraculously changing its course towards a subjective realm.
During the financial crisis of 1990s or social Tom Yum Kung crisis, Thailand, which had previously experienced boom and prosperity, was faced with a major financial crisis of global scale.Businesses, shops and real estate developments were halted.The country was like an unfinished picture. Skyscrapers and real estate developments which were once signs of material development and financial prosperity were left unfinished, pictures visible along the streets of major cities.
The society was stagnant in terms of development; it became like a remnant of bygone civilisation. Works selected for and exhibited in the National Fine Art since then had portrayed crowded slums, overpopulation, modern poverty which were visible in both urban and rural areas.
However, the forms and contents of works did not specifically and directly refer to social malaises, but we could broadly notice in art works.
Artworks featured in this story are parts of Silpakorn Art Collections. They are award-winning works from the National Exhibition of Art and Exhibition of Contemporary Art by Young Artists, under the care and management of the Art Centre Silpakorn University.