Montien: in memoriam

Art March 01, 2017 07:30

By Khetsirin Pholdhampalit
The Nation

Celebrated late artist Montien Boonma would have turned 64 last Saturday if cancer hadn’t claimed him in 2000. His only son Jumpong, who was just 11 when his father died, celebrated his father’s birthday by turning Montien’s home-cum-studio in Bangkok’s Ngamwongwan Soi 25 into an his art archive called Montien Atelier.

The venue sheds light on Montien’s creative processes through a selection of his drawings, sketchbooks, letters, photographs, documents and art objects that are part of his famous installations. The works cover his career since his student days at Silpakorn University to his final months.

Classic Montien icons are there, like bells, alms, ceramic bowls, an aluminium lung and herbal pigments on paper rarely or never seen in public until now. Most of his pieces are massive, if fragile, but easily restored. And like an architect, he made detailed sketches to guide their assembly.

“My father had plenty of art, so much so that just 25 per cent of his work is on display here. I want people to see the sources of inspiration behind his works. It was his habit to write down his ideas in notebooks, take pictures of what inspired him and do rough sketches before creating the finished works. He never stopped working. Despite the tumour and the debilitating sessions of radiation and chemotherapy, he continued working until the very end,” says Jumpong, 27.

Despite his untimely demise at the age of 47, Montien is remembered for his primordial role in introducing Thai installation art to the outside world. He is also considered as the father of contemporary interactive art that invites the viewer to enter and be part of the work rather than a silent bystander admiring the icons of old.

His wife’s death from breast cancer in 1994 led to a major shift in focus for Montien, the social concerns yielding to Buddhist teachings. He began experimenting with herbal pigments, and they ultimately became a trademark. For his remarkable “House of Hope” (1996-97), red stools form a rectangular platform concealed by 1,500 dangling, beaded ropes that are dusted with herbal pigment. The installation is surrounded by painted walls meant to evoke smoke-stained temple walls.

Due to the numerous documents and materials, it took nearly a year for Jumpong to arrange everything in order and the exhibition wouldn’t have been completed without suggestions from curator Somsuda Piamsumrit and his father’s follower Apisit Nongbua who always helped him install his works both in Thailand and abroad, as well as financial support from artist Rirkrit Tiravanija.

Most of Montien’s documents are also digitally scanned to keep as a database so that interested people can search via computers available at the venue. Montien Atelier retains the cafe on the first floor while the archive is on the second. Adjacent is a glass-wrapped building set as a workshop space. 

It’s open free of charge from Wednesday to Sunday, noon to 7pm. Call (081) 714 3075 for details.