Bangkok’s best antiques, artefacts, curios, and collectibles
Often asked where I acquired certain pieces of art or certain antiques, I’m not hesitant to reveal the addresses of these not-so-secret venues. But before searching at these treasure troves, always look and learn before you buy a supposed “valuable”.
Here are my simple rules about art acquisitions: ask about what you’re buying (history, concept, material, craftsmanship, provenance, etc.); only buy what you like or love; buy what you can afford; and never buy for an investment. The store and gallery owners and their assistants should be more than happy to help you find out more about what you are about to purchase.
ANTIQUES: Once a month I also go to browse antiques and bric-à-brac at Bangkok’s sprawling Chatuchak Weekend Market. However, real and rare pieces are getting scarce and most masterpieces end up at the dealers in the River City Bangkok shopping complex (23 Trok Rongnamkhaeng, Si Phraya Pier). One of the best is Dech Gallery, located on the 4th floor. It is owned and operated by Khun Dechar Sae-Be and his wife, Khun Sirinun ‘Aum’ Maitrawattana. This is the second generation incarnation of Hong Antiques, owned by Khun Dechar’s father.
Dech’s dual galleries are located opposite each other, and have a large selection of antiques from Southeast Asian countries, as well as China, Japan, and more. Their forte is Chinese tomb figures—from large pieces, like a horse or a camel, to small figurines. Some of them come with Oxford authentication TL (Thermoluminescence) test certificates to guarantee their authenticity. So whether you’re looking for a large Burmese Buddha image, or some objets d’art with particular histories, this place will not disappoint.
TEXTILES: The main branch of Maya textiles is currently located in Chatuchak Plaza, but it will be moving to the soon-to-open riverfront Icon Siam shopping mega-complex later this year. Khun Udom Riantrakool, a textile collector himself, has also been operating Maya outlets in Gaysorn Plaza and Siam Paragon for almost two decades. Very keen and knowledgeable on textiles, he can explain the stories and techniques behind each piece. Besides his own priceless collections, he retails a wide range of textiles from Southeast Asia, as well as India and other countries.
These woven beauties can be worn and/or used for decoration, or just collected for their intricate craftsmanship and artistic expression. Khun Udom can suggest to new enthusiasts about what to buy for gifts, such as new silk and cotton scarves and shawls. He can also offer advice to help you build a collection of certain varieties of vintage and antique textiles and costumes from various ethnic groups and minorities from Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, China, etc.
FURNITURE: Located between Sukhumvit Sois 28 and 30, Ming’s Furniture Showroom, is owned by Khun Vichai ‘Pod’ Imsuksom and his family. An avid aficionado in Chinese art and culture, Khun Pod’s humble abode actually somewhat resembles the set of a Chinese movie. In the business for more than five decades, he and his family manufacture and supply some of the country’s best hardwood furniture. Ming’s pieces are sculpted and engineered by traditional methods, and made from genuine woods, such as rosewood or pradoo in Thai, elm, hwa-li, and zitan, etc.
With beautiful forms, and clean, supple lines, Chinese furniture is timeless. It’s a mixture of Sino-classicism and modernism. It exudes wisdom and maturity, and its simplicity contrasts well with more elaborate antiques. Fantastic for both household functions, and wonderful to admire for years, it will never go out of style. Ming’s also has a line of home décor with Asian symbols and other decorative characteristics.
CRAFTS: I usually say that crafts aren’t only made by hand, but also from the heart, and at Alexander Lamont’s eponymously named stores—in Gaysorn Village and other locations—he elevates crafts into another calibre. Of course, Alexander Lamont isn’t just about crafts, as the stores also sell furniture, accessories, and artefacts. Very passionate about his creations, the British-born owner and designer of these objects of desire has worked with his team of local designers and artisans for years. When Western eyes and tastes meet with Eastern clarity and skills, the results are refined and sumptuous.
Alexander merges his vision, philosophy, aesthetics, and craftsmanship into myriads of meticulous art pieces. These materials and textures in these objects can range from unpolished and smoothened shagreen (ray skin), to silvery slivers of straw marquetry, deep lustres of black lacquer, and hammered and patinated bronze. They combine elegance, sensuality, soul, and the very character of their creators. Splendid craftsmanship can also be found in Bangkok at Lotus Arts de Vivre, and local stores such as Naraiphan and Legend.
FINE ARTS: When it comes to fine art Serindia Gallery at the O.P. Garden on Charoen Krung Road Soi 36, is always a delight to visit. Housed in the pre-WWII era office of a renowned doctor and natural conservationist, the gallery—owned by Shane Suvikapakornkul—also publishes books under the Serindia Publications brand, and sells them at the Hardcover store at BACC, and at Open House in Central Embassy. So, besides looking at art, you can learn more about it from these books.
Among many great galleries in Bangkok, such as 100 Tonson, Numthong, and Ardel, Serindia offers a variety of art and design exhibitions for both perusal and purchasing. Shane stocks well-selected oil and watercolour paintings, woodblock prints, fine art photographs, sculptures, and design objects made by local and international artists. He has also recently opened a new branch of the gallery in New York. Through Shane’s connections with renowned artists from all over the world, it would be implausible not to find at least one artwork you like. So if you’re seek something to brighten up your empty walls, this gallery should definitely be one of the places to look first.
By Dr. Tom Vitayakul