Co-founder of Sathorn 11 Art Space—gallery, bar, and pizza joint all in one
Although born in Bangkok, Mike Boonmahanark moved to Texas when he was still in elementary school. He graduated from University of Texas, in Austin, with double major in graphic design and fine art. Before returning to Thailand he worked in advertising, and with many US galleries as a consultant and art dealer.
When (and why) did you and partner Marc Greene decide to open Sathorn 11 Art Space?
We opened it in 2015. Marc’s mission and vision was to create a space that would support Thai artists and the art community, with programs such as housing resident artists. I loved Marc’s vision and so I became the co-founder. We selected Sathorn Soi 11 because we love the area, which is close to downtown yet has the vibe of SoHo in New York.
How did you come up with the idea of incorporating all-night pizza delivery into the business model?
Gallery Pizza was a wild crazy idea, that came from Marc and Shane (Marc’s son), to deliver good Italian pizza to night clubbers and night owls. And as a social enterprise it gives starving artists a place to work on their art and make some side money by working as cooks, drivers, etc. Our first resident artist, Sarawut Thaichuai, is now working in Malaysia, and we have a current resident group show this month.
Why do your art shows rotate so frequently?
We used to have about one show a month, now we usually have two. We noticed that the audience and the art community only come to view the show on the opening day, and during the first week. After that the public lost interest. Our goal is to keep the public and art community interested, so we have to keep the gallery exciting by presenting new shows every few weeks. I mainly focus on the talent and the uniqueness of the artist when making my selections.
Who are some of your favourite locally-based Thai artists?
There are many amazing artists in Thailand… too many to list here. I think Kannika Jansuwan is a wonderful, fresh talent, and she’ll be showing with us in June. I also like the vibe of the contemporary street artists and postmodern artists in Thailand, such as Alex Face, Mue Bon, Jeaks, Basid, Anchalee Arayapongpanich, Jung Narate, and many others, who incorporate “child-like” cartoon aspects in their work.
Which are some of your favourite urban art spaces?
I like MOCA and BACC because these two museums support Thai contemporary artists in a huge way! That’s something that Thailand didn’t have about 20 years ago.
What are the pros and cons of the contemporary Thai art scene?
I think Thai artists are some of the best people ever! Thai people are already sweet and polite, and so easy to work with, but Thai artists are also not as egocentric as in the West, so group exhibitions are easier. And senior artists help out young artists and welcome giving them exposure. Coming from the West, I was very surprised that a famous artist such as Prateep Kochabua would work with my (relatively inexperienced) resident artist or intern. As for media, Fine Art magazine, Robb Report, and Bangkok Art Map also contribute so much to provide information to both the art community and general public. However, there are negative aspects too. The state censorship means personal freedom of expression and speech is still limited in Thailand. I feel this limits the artist’s creativity and suffocates the art community overall.
You recently added a fully functional bar to the gallery.
Yes, Bar 11—that’s the official name—came to be because so many people love to enjoy art and drinks, so it was a match made in heaven. The bar has helped increase the amount of people who love both art and nightlife. If you want to relax and chill over a few glasses of wine, in a chic and cultured ambiance, you’ll love it.
What does the future hold?
2018 is going to be an exciting year. We’re expanding our kitchen, with Gallery Pizza relocating to a new location, and are bringing in a new Michelin-star menu, drink list, and new décor. Around November, in a partnership with the French Embassy, we’re doing a street art project with top Thai artists—Gong, P7, Yuree Kensaku, and many others—as well as French artists such as Miss.Tic, and some German artists too. We’re also talking about Sathorn 11 hosting a block party, a street art tour by riverboat, and more.
Interview by Bruce Scott