MONTIEN BOONMA WOULD HAVE BEEN 64 YEARS OLD THIS YEAR IF HE WERE HERE, LEAVING HIS ARCHIVE BEHIND IN A SPACE OF 40 SQ. M
Montien Boonma passed away in 2000 but his artistic legacy accumulated throughout the 17 years of his glorious career, earning him international recognition with exhibitions in countries across the world including activities held as an homage to one of Thailand’s most revered artists. Recently, in 2017, the year that Montien would have celebrated his 64th birthday if it weren’t for his untimely death, his only son, Jumphol Boonma, officially opened ‘Montien Atelier,’ a space that brings together works, sketches, photographs, notebooks, letters, books and bits and pieces from his artworks, etc., essentially everything related to Montien’s artistic opus.
Montien Atelier occupies the second-floor space of the house that Montien once lived in. The residence is located on the street called Soi Ngamwongwan 25 in Nonthaburi province. After years of being left unattended, the house was renovated following the idea of Jumphol and close family members with the ground floor functioning as a restaurant/coffee house. The space at the front of the house is used to host workshops while the second floor has been transformed into a gallery space, following the project owner’s initial intentions.
“When we went through dad’s stuff kept at the house, we came across a great number of items such as sketches, photographs, or parts of his installation pieces. The discovery got us thinking about what we could do with all these objects that we found,” said Jumphol of the origin of the project. “That was one problem. Another problem was the rather confined space on the house’s second floor, which could barely hold the sketches that we had, especially if they were framed. It just so very happened that I went to Chiang Mai and had a chance to meet Rirkrit (Rirkrit Tiravanija), and he suggested that we should create an archive instead of a gallery. We discussed this idea with Tarn (Somsuda Paimsamrit – a curator of Jim Thompson Gallery who co-curated “Montien Boonma: Unbuilt/Rare Works”), and she proposed that we should create storage where father’s story could be told in a timeline. So we decided to go with that idea and put everything we found into categories with an additional digital archive.” Apart from Somsuda, the key members behind the project included Aphisit Nongbua, Montien’s important protégé and assistant who joined the team as the project’s consultant with part of the funding for Montien Atelier coming from Rirkrit’s VER Gallery.
HE (MONTIEN BOONMA) WAS A TRULY EXPERIMENTAL ARTIST AS ONE CAN SEE FROM THE SKETCHES AND PHOTOGRAPHS OR EVEN THE MODELS HE CREATED AND COLLECTED DURING THE DEVELOPMENT OF HIS WORKS
‘Storage’ as Somsuda calls it, is not a gallery space that exhibits the artist’s works like Jumphol initially intended, partly because the limited space of only around 40 square meters can barely accommodate the large scale of Montien’s artworks (particularly the installation pieces and not including the number of works that have been regularly exhibited). Storage, according to Somsuda, is a space that brings together Montien’s artistic repertoire for interested individuals to learn more about the artist’s working process. The selection of exhibited objects highlights the display of works that are rarely shown and embody the thought and working process as well as artistic experiments of Montien Boonma.
“From every piece of his work, we can see how Professor Montien was a keen researcher with an interest in and study of so many different things. He was a true experimental artist as one can see from the sketches and photographs or even the models he created and collected during the development of his works. For instance, the configuration of the bricks in one of his installations was the result of his interest in local wisdoms. The exhibited bricks were taken from the items left at his house and from our speculation these bricks were used as an experiment for one of his installation pieces. The idea is to show how the works were developed, and what his thought process and working methods were,” Somsuda told art4d before further explaining how all the exhibited works in Montien Atelier mark only 25% of all the items found in the house, thanks to Montien’s organized documentation. “The photographs range from when he was a student at Silpakorn University all the way to his Poh Chang College years. We got a hold of some photographs with unusual compositions and paintings done directly on the photographs. They are proof of his interest in collage and attempt to break away from two dimensional forms since he was young as well as how such interest might have been developed into the installation pieces that we all know today.”
THE SELECTED WORKS ENCAPSULATE THESE TURNING POINTS WHILE THE CHRONOLOGICAL ARRANGEMENT OF THE STORAGE ALLOWS FOR VIEWERS TO HAVE A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF MONTIEN’S ARTISTIC PROCESS AND THE INVISIBILITY BETWEEN HIS LIFE AND ART
The order of the presentation of the exhibited works in the storage is done chronologically from the time when Montien was an art student at the Faculty of Painting of Silpakorn University, to when he was working primarily in watercolor with White Group during his post-college years in France, before he returned home and worked as a professor at Chiang Mai University when his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer and the final years of his life before he passed away from lung cancer. In each period, presented are turning points in Montien’s artistic career such as the time when he began using found objects instead of pricey materials, a decision speculated to be influenced by Italy’s Arte Povera movement. With financial limitations, considering the fact that he was working only as a governmental officer, and his interest in social issues during the transitional period that changed Thailand from an agricultural to an industrial country, his artistic consciousness became more engaged in religious issues after the sickness of his wife. It was a time when Montien became more oriented toward the use of hard objects as well as installations that played with viewers’ sensory perceptions and experiences such as smell, sound and sense of insecurity. The selected works encapsulate these turning points while the chronological arrangement of the storage allows for viewers to have a better understanding of Montien’s artistic process and the indivisibility between his life and art.
House of Hope (2013) by Navin Rawanchaikul is the only piece of art in the space that is not Montien’s. Comprised of a painting and a work of video art, this tributary piece’s connection with Montien is its creator, Navin, who was one of Montien’s closest assistants and helped the master in the installation of his works. Navin visited the house and found a canvas Montien had prepared for Jumphol to work on a painting. After measuring the frame, Navin painted a family portrait of the same size, depicting the assemblage of the family’s memories from past to present. The video documents the images of the house with the sound of a piano playing Chopin’s Funeral March in the background. The song, which was one of Montien’s favorites, was regularly played by Montien’s wife when they lived in the house together.
“We included this particular piece of work because we want the viewers to see what the house was like before it was renovated,” Somsuda succinctly explained of the reason behind the decision, which seems to be another successful attempt by the curatorial team to overcome the project’s spatial limitations by choosing only the works that are meaningful to the story they wish to tell.
TEXT: TUNYAPORN HONGTONG