Millions of museum-goers thrill each year just to be within 10 metres of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, even if the tiny masterpiece is encased in a steel-and-glass frame and mobbed by admirers. At the new Art in Paradise museum in Pattaya, you can pose right next to Mona – even pretend to be Leonardo da Vinci, pencil in hand, touching up her eyebrows.
It’s not the genuine Mona Lisa, of course, but the concept has its own thrill. The Pattaya museum borrows an idea now popular in South Korea, wherein images of famous artworks are projected onto walls and floors in such a way that you can interact with them – and get as crazy as you like.
Yes, photography is permitted, even expected.
The painting images are mostly two-dimensional but appear to be three-dimensional thanks to the clever use of depth perception, shadows, colours and varying brightness. Through the camera lens, you look like you’re part of the painting.
You could be Josephine receiving her own crown in Jacques-Louis David’s “The Coronation of Napoleon”. You can walk through a waterfall scene, stroke a giraffe’s head and emerge from a mummy’s tomb in horrifying fashion.
Shin Jae Yeoul, one of the 12 Korean co-owners, says “trick art museums” have caught on in his homeland. “Thais love sanook, and here you yourself can be part of the painting, creating some hilarious outcomes. The art pieces are humorous, often adding a twist to classic artworks.”
Shin and his partners spent Bt50 million and two years renovating a two-storey former nightclub, then stocked it with 140 mock artworks painted by a dozen Korean artists. The 5,800-square-metre building has 10 theme rooms, including Aquarium, Jurassic, Classical Art, Egyptian and even Ayutthaya.
Shin originally planned to open a second Jeju Love Land in Pattaya. He used to manage that popular outdoor sculpture park in South Korea, where art and eroticism meet in humorous style. Thailand’s Culture Ministry didn’t fancy the idea, though, so he switched to “amusement art” of a more modest kind.
Shin, who studied industrial design at university, explains the approach. “First of all, the paintings must be beautiful, attractive to the eye. The classical artworks have to be well known. Then we think about the trick composition, how to make the works interactive and add a surprising twist.
“Everyone loves to occasionally let loose the child within and be a little naughty. When we look at great paintings and photographs we might want to play with them, do something silly. So here there’s no stereotype – you’re not quietly viewing art from a distance – it’s casual and fun.”
Michelangelo’s depiction of God creating Adam in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel is distorted so the focus is solely on the big fellow with the white beard, arm and index finger outstretched. All he needs is an Adam reaching out in turn. That’s where you come in.
Go ahead and shake hands with God.
You can also be a handmaiden to the Goddess of Love in Botticelli’s glorious “The Birth of Venus”. She’s emerging from the sea on that scallop shell completely naked, so help her out. Pass her a cloak.
In Jean-Francois Millet’s “The Gleaners”, three women collect wheat grain after a harvest. In Pattaya one of them takes a break from her labour outside the frame. To complete the work, show some sympathy and pour the tea.
Jean-Honore Fragonard’s pretty woman on “The Swing” playfully flicks a shoe at Cupid. In Pattaya you might need to duck as the shoe flies out of the frame – straight at the nearest viewer.
Still to immerse you are gigantic panoramic views of the grandeur of old Ayutthaya and Egypt and the Machu Picchu ruins of Peru. They’re depicted in paintings 10 metres tall and 20 metres wide. Shin says this array “was the toughest job, getting just the right composition for the huge paintings and at the same time incorporating the illusions”.
Elsewhere you can battle a shark, flee a dinosaur, sit on an elephant’s trunk, sink into quicksand and even hold up a whale.
Visitors and their designated photographers are always looking for the perfect angle and pose, and small framed pictures beside each painting offer suggestions, but no particular approach suits everyone. It’s best to just be creative and patient and find your own magical viewpoint.
“It’s a real thrill,” says a young woman making the rounds amid giggles. She promptly uploads every new shot to Twitter. “I’m really enjoying being deceived by all the different tricks!”
<< Art in Paradise is on Second Road in North Pattaya, Chonburi. It’s open daily from 9 to 9.
<< Admission is Bt150 for Thai adults, Bt100 for children, and Bt500 for foreign adults, Bt300 for children.
<< Group visits at discounted rates can be arranged in advance. Call (038) 424 500.