Chiang Mai’s Mai Iam Contemporary Art pays loving homage to its late cofounder, Patsri Bunnag
Jean Michel Beurdeley and Eric Booth Bunnag, the husband and son respectively of the late fashion and art enthusiast Patsri Bunnag, are sure she’d be delighted with the exhibition of her beloved artworks they’ve mounted at the family museum, Chiang Mai’s Mai Iam Contemporary Art.
Nithi Wuthiya’s “Dialogue between black head and golden head” is juxtaposed with an Issey Miyake jacket. Photo courtesy of Mai Iam
Patsri died before the museum opened in the nothern province’s San Khampang district last July, but its third show, “Mon Art de Style”, keenly reflects how art inspired her personal style of dress.
The exhibition concludes a week from today.
“Patsri and I always loved to visit museums and every time she saw an artwork, it inspired her style,” recalls Beurdeley. She enjoyed dressing up and would spend hours assembling her outfits and accessories.
Patsri Bunnag (1941-2015) was a style icon not only because she owned a remarkable collection of rare designer pieces, but also because she knew how to make those pieces uniquely “hers”.
“Style isn’t just about how you dress,” she once said. “It’s everything. It’s a way of thinking. I’ve always loved beautiful things. And style comes with all that you’ve seen in your life.”
Beurdeley explains how he and Patsri had visited the Victoria and Albert Museum in London to see the designs of Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake. “Those shows inspired us and we wanted to do a show of her clothing and art, but in our own way,” he says.
Curator Pring Bunnag, Patsri’s niece by marriage, spent months exploring Patsri’s wardrobe, packed with stylish pieces purchased from both overseas fashion houses like Comme des Garcon, Miyake, Yamamoto, Yves Saint Laurent and Lanvin Christian Dior and Thai brands like Nagara, Tirapan and Pichita.
Pring, who has her own clothing brand, Pring Paris, chose hundreds of items, mostly full-volume dresses that resemble beautiful sculptures, to match with art pieces in Mai Iam’s permanent collections.
With Beurdeley she selected more than 40 works of art, less than a tenth of the collection, that in some way complemented the clothes. Among them are Pinaree Sanpitak’s minimalist paintings, Manit Sriwanichpoom’s sociological photographs, Chatchai Puipia’s figurative paintings, Niti Wattuya’s vivid semi-abstracts, Thawatchai Pantusawasdi’s geometric sculptures and a conceptual sculpture by the late Montien Boonma.
Patsri’s preferred personal look was striking and unique. She loved basic black and sculpted pieces, so dozens of the outfits on view are mainly black and form stunning installations around the main hall. On a black backdrop is the phrase that represented her guiding philosophy – “Style is a way of thinking.”
Realising a notion she shared with her husband, much of Patsri’s wardrobe has been paired with the artwork she loved. Photo courtesy of Mai Iam
“Rather than a ‘fashion’ or ‘art’ exhibition in the traditional sense, ‘Mon Art du Style’ aims to showcase a particular vision or philosophy of style through the collective presence of the garments and artworks,” Pring points out.
The show doesn’t follow any chronological order, but rather takes the viewer on a visual and emotional journey.
Ampol Jiramahapoka, a stylist at Soda, was recruited to design the setting and deliberately focused on the clothes more than the artwork. Generally, textiles are paired with the main colours or form of the corresponding artwork. Some attempt to explain the juxtapositions better would have been appreciated, but the visual effect is remarkable nevertheless.
Pinaree Sanpitak’s “Womanly Line” is combined with a Miyake creation, Lotus Arts de Vivre necklace and Thawatchai Puntusawasdi’s sculpture “Fixed Heart”. Photo courtesy of Mai Iam
Patsri’s black-and-red Comme des Garcon gown is set against Montien’s 1997 sculpture “Bowl”. Pinaree’s 1998 “Womanly Line” is aligned with an Issey Miyake with a Lotus Arts de Vivre “prayer bead” necklace and Thawatchai’s 2011 sculpture “Fixed Heart”.
Patsri didn’t always dress in brand-name clothes, of course. She adored traditional northern Thai mor hom – the indigo-hued cotton garments. Especially for this show, textile artist Jakkai Siributr created the installation “BPB 2017” using a quilted cloth made from aged mor hom that Patsri owned.
The piece hangs alongside an Issey Miyake Fete silver jacket with matching Herve Domar eyeglasses. On the ground is a stack of the mor hom tops and trousers she loved to wear around home. And nearby you can watch a video showing how Jakkai made the installation. Jakkai is here pursuing the idea of initiating a “dialogue” between the garment and the art. “BPB” is a tapestry composed of Patsri’s everyday garments – cut up and stitched back together as a richly textured patchwork – and Miyake’s famous “Pleats Please” pleated fabric.
Textile artist Jakkai Siributr created the installation “BPB 2017” for the show, combining a Miyake Fete jacket, Herve Domar glasses and traditional mor hom tops and trousers.
At once an intimate portrait of its fabrics’ former wearer and an abstract composition, the installation represents a metamorphosis of garment into art, a transfiguration of the private and personal into a universal and immortal object. The title as a monogram of “Patsri Bunnag” is a tongue-in-cheek reference to luxury label logos.
Her singular sense of style reflected her unique vision of the world – a vision honed through years in Paris and decades of appreciating and living with art.
In the museum theatre is shown a film of Patsri talking about her philosophy on life, love, art and fashion in an interview with the curator and her husband Shane.
Patsri Bunnag’s widower, Jean Michel Beurdeley, shows her Comme des Garcon dress and Lotho Vitor eyeglasses, which appear at Mai Iam Contemporary Art alongside the late Montien Boonma’s sculpture “Bowl”. Nation/Phatarawadee Phataranawik
The exhibition also indicates how deeply Beurdeley loved Patsri. There’s a small, lovely portrait of her in middle age, a photo he took in their garden. “No makeup, framed by the bougainvillea we had back then…it was 1975,” he writes in a posted caption. “The house was barely a year old.”
Patsri was obviously a big fan of Miyake clothing and accessories. She owned more than 200 pieces, all on public display together for the first time. Some items still in good condition are on sale, with proceeds going to a foundation set up in her name to support young Thai artists and curators.
FLIGHTS OF FASHION
- The exhibition “Mon Art du Style” is at Chiang Mai’s Mai Iam Contemporary Art Museum until June 26.
- Items of clothing are being sold for her foundation at Atelier Mayasura on Bangkok’s Sukhumvit Soi 31 through June 27.
- Learn more at www.MaiIam.com and www.AtelierMayasura.com.