Yayoi Kusama joins Bangkok Art Biennale roster

The internationally-renowned artist complements an already stellar cast

Yayoi Kusama. Photo: Reuters

Yayoi Kusama, the Japanese artist extraordinaire known for her flamboyant polka dots and infinite mirrored rooms, will join the roster of 75 international artists at the first Bangkok Art Biennale, a much-anticipated art event to take place from Oct 19 this year.

The announcement of the 75 artists, led by artistic director Apinan Poshyananda, took place last week in Hong Kong (precisely at the Hong Kong Art Basel, a major art fair in Asia Pacific). Kusama is a marquee name that has joined the impressive line-up of international artists that also includes Marina Abramovic, Elmgreen & Dragset, Huang Yong Ping, Yoshitomo Nara, Heri Dono, and many more, at the country's first art biennale.

The first Bangkok Art Biennale (BAB2018) will be held under the theme "Beyond Bliss" -- a range of interpretations on that theme, from literal to ironic, is to be expected from the participating artists. The citywide art binge -- one of at least three biennale-style events to take place in Thailand this year -- will happen in galleries, temples and landmark public spaces, in an attempt to contextualise international art practices with local relevance.

Huang Yong Ping. Photo: AFP

The 75 artists announced is a cosmopolitan mix, heavy on iconoclastic personalities, while geographically the emphasis is on Southeast Asian and Thai talents. The lineup presents the established and the maverick, the serious and the playful, the young and the not-so-young.

Besides headliners such as Abramovic and Kusama, the assemble consists of South Korean sculptor Lee Bul, Bangladeshi painter Firoz Mahmud, Swedish photographer Annee Olofsson, Italian Francesco Clemente, Indian photographer Gauri Gill, Cambodian video artist Lim Sokchanlina, Malaysian filmmaker and visual artist Sherman Ong, Singaporean experimental video artist Ho Tzu Nyen, Filipino dancer Eisa Jocson, Myanmar installation artist Nge Lay, Vietnamese art collective Art Labor, and many more.

Natee Utarit. Photo courtesy of Richard Koh Fine Art

Thirty-five Thai artists make up the local contingent, a rich and varied selection that mingles the young generation with a more established one. The respected and long-deceased Montien Boonma will have his works on show (note: Jean Michel Basquiat, 1960-1988, is also on the roster), together with other prominent Thai names such as Sakarin Krue-on, Kamol Phaosavasdi, Jakkai Siributr, Natee Utarit, Samak Kosem, Torlarp Larpjaroensook, Arnont Nongyao, Kawita Vatanajyankur, Imhathai Suwatthanasilp. Phaptawan Suwannakudt, Pannapan Yodmanee. Besides visual and installation experts, choreographers, dancers, designers and illustrators are also included in the diverse programme, such as Pichet Klunchun, Jitsing Somboon, Wisut Ponnimit and Dujdao Vadhanapakorn. Most of these artists have been featured on these pages in the past few years, and we will certainly hear more about their new works as the event approaches.

"We have international advisers [from various countries] who assisted us in curating the programme," said Apinan, the director of BAB2018. "This is the first year, and we decide to cast a wide net and try to include many artistic sensibilities. These artists are working under the theme 'Beyond Bliss' and we invite their interpretations -- not just about Thailand but also the world afflicted with so many difficulties.

In the boom time of the "biennale", where many major cities in the world use the large-scale art biennale platform to promote everything from art and culture to tourism, Bangkok has managed to whip up some excitement and interest among international aficionados. This year, Bangkok is on the world's art map along with other biennale cities such as Sydney, Berlin, Gwangju, Shanghai, Taipei, Kochi (in India).

From left: Wisut Ponnimit. Photo: Jiraporn Kuhakan; Kawita Vatanajyankur. Photo: Kawita Vatanajyankur

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