Despite being literally right next door to Khaosan Road aka Lonely Planet’s Wet Dream, the National Gallery is usually overlooked on most tourist itineraries. And perhaps because residents have grown accustomed to the Bangkok Art & Culture Center and the numerous galleries around town, the government installation is not exactly on the to-do list of many Bangkokians either. What a shame.
The National Gallery routinely has exhibitions and it’s housed in a stately Carlo Allegri-designed building, so it’s worth a visit for the architecture alone. The permanent exhibition is closest to the entrance and really doesn’t absorb too much time to cruise through if you happen to lack the patience for fine art but still want to be exposed to some historical pieces. The permanent exhibit houses the Kings’ paintings, Western-style Thai paintings and more modern works. A little known fact: Thailand started to adopt more of a Western Realistic style from 1856 to 1937. Unfortunately the museum only provides scant descriptions of the paintings so research before or after your visit is a must.
The two most recent exhibitions were a New Expression of Asian Art and ‘Bangkok Noir’ by photographer Ralf Tooten. The latter piqued our interest as it was a collection of photos of nightlife in the capital over the last few years. Epic. Bangkok Noir truthfully captures the scenes that play out each and every night in the City of Angels, which are damn entertaining and modestly insightful.
Even better than the paintings are the limited sculpture pieces sprinkled throughout the inner courtyard that look as if Tim Burton himself was behind the planning of said space The signature is a grouping of four women’s bodies that are dressed in tight club clothes but are missing a rectangular cutout from their torso. Each of the women have the head of an animal. A striking piece even if the message leaves little room for interpretation.
Another option is the art market held every weekend from 10 am to 6 pm. Here local artists arrange their works within the inner courtyard of the gallery and respectable artworks are available for bargain prices. It’s not Chatuchak prices, but the quality is substantially better . The gallery tries to charge foreigners 200 baht and Thais 30 baht by writing the Thai price only in Thai script, but you’re a KohSpot reader so you know to show your tax ID card, work permit, or certificate of awesomeness to demonstrate that you should get the local price and a free beer.
Location: 4 Chao-fa Road, across the street from both the National Museum and Khaosan Road before you go over the Pinklao Bridge.
Mass transit: Khlong taxi to Rattanakosin or Chao Phraya River ferry to Phra Athit.
Hours: 9 am-4 pm Wednesday to Sunday (closed Mondays, Tuesdays and national holidays)