As many of Bangkok’s most historic districts, markets, riverside attractions, and retro buildings are falling prey to the wrecker’s ball of gentrification, the Creative District is flourishing by giving all that past some 21st-century presents, with art exhibitions and live music, gourmet food, craft beers, and vintage clothes.
One of the coolest things about newly opened ATT 19 (art gallery) is that they have put all these elements into one airy space worthy of an arthouse cinema set. It is opened at the beginning of this year, and the venue’s curator is Porntip (Mook) Attakanwong, whose family has been a fixture in this neighborhood around Charoen Krung Road that has become the city’s so-called Creative District.
Spending many of her formative years in the more cosmopolitan climates of Australia and the US, she says, “I was privileged to grow up in an environment where I was exposed to art, exhibitions, etcetera, at a young age. I wanted to give back and do the same for young Thais.”
On a tour of the venue, Mook elaborates on the different design details and explains how her father, a prominent architect and gallery owner, wanted to preserve the unique character and teak-heavy esthetics of this century-old building while adding contemporary touches and drawing from his own experiences as a master-builder.
Leading us through a palm-lined pathway, we pass through two time-weathered doors. “The doors were originally from a Chinese temple and repurposed,” she says, adding that “the entire building and structure has been made with reclaimed, recycled, or repurposed materials as much as possible.”
In striking contrast to the venue’s old-world ambience is the contemporary art decking of the walls. The exhibitions that Mook has been choosing are intended to provoke reactions in even the most jaded gallery-goer and support younger Thai artists working outside the confines of the mainstream, where commerce can trump creativity.
“With our space, we’ve been able to help a lot of young blood artists, which has been really good. Because I think a lot of galleries in Thailand that are not niche, are quite censored, and contemporary art is not big yet in Thailand. So for artists who are seeking to do that kind of political or social work, it can be hard to get into a gallery,” she says.
One young lady who is making a name for herself as a provocateur is Kawita Vatanajyankur (Praew). Working in a mixed-media context that often features photography, her work champions gender equality. Images of women in bondage are not subtle in their portrayal of women’s rights – or lack thereof – in Thailand. At the moment, Mook is planning an exhibition on female empowerment for early next year. She hopes Praew will add her powerful voice to that chorus.
Yet this multipurpose edifice is also designed to edify the younger generation. Recently, ATT 19 hosted an exhibition of work by students from the Faculty of Architecture at Chulalongkorn University. Mook loaned them the venue for free. The former art school student believes that this will give them a better understanding of how classroom projects can survive the leap from the ivory towers of academia to the streets and offices of the real world.
However, ATT 19 (the name is an amalgam of the family’s surname and the venue’s street address) has much more to offer than just art and education. Downstairs are retail outlets with one-off fashion designs, ceramics, home décor, and antiques, which is part and parcel of the community center vibe Mook wants to cultivate. “We’re trying to promote a more friendly gallery setting because we know that it can be intimidating for someone who’s not well-versed with art already, or somebody who didn’t already study art,” she says.
Soon the venue’s palette of artistic flavors will appeal to some entirely different palates. On the drawing board is a restaurant that will be run by her sister, Puntip. She graduated from the culinary institute Le Cordon Bleu before working at the Bentley Restaurant & Bar, one of Sydney’s finest dining rooms.
Located in ATT 19, her first restaurant is named Mad Beef. This will not be your run-of-the-grill burgers and steaks place. Instead, the restaurant will operate on a different kind of “nose to tail” approach, where the dishes will incorporate many different parts of the cow while honoring its life cycle.
Although the multipurpose venue is still in its gestation period, with many plans and exhibitions on the horizon, Mook is encouraged by the reception so far – especially among younger people.
“We’ve had many university students,” she says, “which is really nice, and some just come to take pictures for Instagram. That’s okay. I don't mind. I think the fact that they’re coming is enough for me. They’re coming out here, walking around in our neighborhood, and walking around our gallery. That makes me happy.”
|Address:||ATT 19, 19 Charoenkrung Soi 30, Bangkok, Thailand|
|Open since:||February, 2019|
|Opening hours:||Mon-Sat 11am-7pm|