It was a work long due. After decades of neglect, the National Museum of Bangkok finally unveiled the first part of its renovated exhibition halls. It finally puts the National Museum on par with other big cultural institution around the world.
Entering the Exhibition Hall 1 and visitors are immediately surrounded by beauty, more precisely by Thai beauty. In the vast hall, exquisitely renovated, figures of Thai Buddha and deities emerge under carefully mastered lighting. They give a grand impression of Thai delicate art of sculpture over the centuries. All the styles are there, from Dvarati to Lopburi (Khmer) arts, from Lanna (Northern Thailand) to the Sriwijaya (Southern Thailand) styles, from the masterpieces of the Sukhothai and Ayutthaya periods to the golden bronzes of the Rattanakosin era, at the end of the 19th century.
It was time for the National Museum to look back at its collections. Most of the visitors would remember the cultural institution in the past: dusty, musty, dark, a bit like an old antique shop which would have been shut for decades.
The renovation program for the Exhibition Hall 1 -located in the old Sivamokhaphiman Throne Hall- is part of the efforts of the current government to spruce museum collections and make them more attractive thanks to a new museography. It is also more visitors’ friendly: Thai and English audio guides are available for free while photography (without flashlight) is now allowed. This was not the case before.
Talking to the Bangkok Post, Fine Arts Department director-general Anan Chuchote highlights the new philosophy of turning art institutions into “living museums” and active centres of education: “I provided the policy to develop all national museums into lifetime learning centres for people of all ages and educational levels because these museums are sources of ancient artefacts and art pieces, which are a national heritage,” Anan said.
The renovated hall has been a real success as it now receives over 10,000 visitors a month, a 100% increase over the same period of last year. This encourages the department of fine arts to continue to renovate more areas.
Next to be redeveloped are Uttraphimuk, Surasinghanart and Prapasphipitthaphan Halls. The first one will be dedicated to textiles, the second shows a very large collection of Buddha not only from Thailand but also from neighbouring countries while the third will have the furniture collections being better presented. The aim is to push the National Museum into one of ASEAN must-see institution.
They are also plans to renovate and improve the National Gallery, the Royal Elephant National Museum and the Royal Barge Museum. They could follow the example set by the Museum of Siam or the Rattanakosin Exhibition which traces back the history of Bangkok. Thailand’s capital is definitely turning into a city of museums and arts.