Investing in the Thai art market is not for those wanting to make a quick buck. For most collectors, buying art is driven by a love of particular pieces. Financial gain is secondary, and in most instances collectors will rarely sell pieces they like, even if their market value increases. Nevertheless, there can be good and bad periods to buy – and now could be a good one.
Christie’s Bangkok representative Yaovanee Nirandara says that if you have a taste for Thai art, this could be an opportune time to buy. "Prices haven’t gone up for two years, and the economy is now picking up," she says. However, Ms Yaovanee, an art collector herself, advises against entering the market for purely financial reasons. "You really have to like the paintings you buy. If you like, understand, and appreciate them, then they’ll be something you keep for a long time."
Collector Thomas B Van Blarcom agrees. "I only buy pieces that speak to me," he says. One of his favourite pieces is an abstract painting by Vietnamese artist Tran Luong, bought four years ago. "This piece yelled at me. I bought it for Bt12,500. Today that would be a bargain for a piece of this artist’s work, but I only bought it because I liked it – it’s just nice if it turns out to be a good investment as well."
For beginners to the market, Yaovanee advises studying old auction and gallery exhibition catalogues, available from places like Silpakorn University library and the National Library. Regional publications like Asian Art News and Art Asia Pacific are a further reference. Sotheby’s Bangkok representative Rika Dila suggests meeting with gallery owners. "Chat with them, get a feel for the work of different artists. Get to know prices, and then go for what you like."
According to Rika, collecting Thai art isn’t something many Thais actually do. To keep abreast of the top Thai names, she advises keeping an eye on those artists beginning to attract international attention. "It’s not like New York, where artists sign up to galleries – you just can’t tell who’s going to become famous here."
Around three years ago, for instance, Japan took an interest in Thai artists, such as Chatchai Puipa. The average prices of their work quickly rose from Bt180,000 to around Bt300,000 to 400,000. Artists who have achieved broad international recognition include Thawan Dachanee, Montien Boonma, and Tawee Nandakwang. Tawee’s Calm Against Roaring Winds sold for Bt2 million at Christies July 2000 auction.
The gallery system that works in places like the US is yet to develop any depth here, which makes it difficult both to predict which artists will become successful, and for the Thai market itself to really develop. Galleries with established reputations, according to various sources, include Numthong Gallery, Surapol Gallery, Gallery 55, Tadu Gallery, Project 304 (for cutting edge work) and Thavibu Gallery.
Another option is to buy from a reputable auction house.
Prices vary, but Rika says you should expect to pay around Bt40,000 to 50,000 for the work of established artists, or as little as Bt20,000 for younger artists.
It can take a substantial amount of time for the value of a painting to increase – if it increases at all. "You shouldn’t buy art because you think it’s going to become famous, and will be a good investment," Rika says. "Enjoy what you buy – but there’s no guarantee it will be marketable in 20 years."
Unit 138-139, 1st floor
The Peninsula Plaza
153 Rajadamri Rd
Tel: 02 652 1097/9
2nd Floor Home Place Building
238/33-35, Sukhumvit 55
Tel: 02 712 7148
Tisco Tower, North Sathorn Rd
Tel: 02 638 0033/4
Project 304 and Numthong Gallery
Both located at the Co-op Housing Building
109 Thoet Damri Rd
Tel: 02 279 7796
Tadu Contemporary Art Gallery
Royal City Avenue, Rama IX Rd
Tel: 02 203 0926
Silom Galleria Building, 3rd Floor
Suite 308, 919/1 Silom Rd
Tel: 02 266 5454