Jim Thompson’s remarkable life story is a reflection of extraordinary times: the Cold War decades that transformed the world and Thailand itself, along with the worlds of fashion and design. As an American architect and former U.S. military intelligence officer who became a silk entrepreneur in Bangkok in the 1950s, Thompson was involved in all these worlds.
With this intriguing context in mind, Jim Thompson Art Center presents Revisit the Jim Thompson Era: Fashion and Fantasy Bazaar, an exhibition and benefit sale of contemporary art and design featuring renowned American-born Thai artist Michael Shaowanasai and leading Bangkok couturier Nagara Sambhandaraksa. The exhibition situates Jim Thompson’s life in the context of Thai history and geo-politics, exploring the meanings of these legacies today.
Using archival material, the show illustrates a timeline from 1945 through 1968 to revisit the pivotal Bangkok years of Thompson’s life. Having started out during the 1930s as a New York society architect, he became a U.S. colonel during World War II, working for the Office of Special Services, or O.S.S., forerunner of today’s C.I.A. Then as the 1950s dawned, Thompson launched his life mission helping Siam’s silk weavers revive their craft. The show draws upon rich historical materials, including photos, news footage and newspaper stories sourced from the Bangkok Post Newspaper Archives, National Film Archives and National Archive. These artifacts reveal how political and cultural developments that still influence Thailand today first took root during Thompson’s time in Bangkok. The American was close to the events; as Bangkok’s leading expatriate host, he knew many of the era’s key figures, including Pridi Banomyong, the Kennedys and Ho Chi Minh.
The show also explores the future through fashion and design, as envisioned by several of today’s Thai artists and designers. Paying homage to Thompson’s passion for theater, fashion and textiles, these Thais create unique new dresses; accessories like handbags and scarves; videos; and limited-edition design artworks. Multi-disciplinary artist Michael Shaowanasai creates a catwalk-style exhibition display, as well as “Fantasy Bazaar”, an experimental retail space. Shaowanasai presents new perspectives on design and lifestyle inspired by fashions of the Cold War era, sci-fi movies, and film-noir. Under the fashion label “Orient Silk Sewciety”, or OSS, he creates conceptualist design products that explore Western perceptions of the exotic Far East, retracing how American popular culture portrayed the Orient. All exhibited works are available for purchase, proceeds benefiting the Art Center.
Shaowanasai describes the exhibition’s concept: “I am working with the theme of the 1950s. The decade came only a few years after the end of World War II, as the Cold War set off a new arms race and later the space race. But the ‘50s promised a better world, in Thailand as well as America and Europe. In Paris, Christian Dior created ‘New Look’ designs, which required yards and yards of fabric for just one skirt. This extravagance contrasted with wartime rationing just a few years earlier, when women had no stockings to wear, and instead used eye pencil to draw stocking lines on their legs. So the 1950’s was a springtime of material abundance. During the long winter of the ‘40’s, dreams of such a future world kept us alive.
“The West renewed its exploration of the exotic Orient during the 1950s. World travel became easier and more glamorous, with the proliferation of cruise ships and airliners. Modern consumer products and ideologies flowed from the so-called First World of America and Europe to the lands then known as the Third World. Looking into the future from the past, the possibilities of tomorrow seemed limitless and exciting. In the web of intrigue and espionage that lingered after World War II, we forgot how to trust one another. Hollywood’s film-noir world of painted smiles did not give way to dreams of space and change until the 1960s. So the salon of Orient Silk Sewciety will not be cluttered with merchandise because there is no horizon as mysterious and seductive as Space.”
The exhibition will also feature continuous screenings of “House on the Klong”, a 1976 documentary about Jim Thompson’s mysterious disappearance while vacationing in Malaysia in 1967. It will be shown together with a new, counterpart video art work by Michael Shaowanasai.
Proceeds from the sale of works in the exhibition will benefit The Jim Thompson Art Center. As one of Southeast Asia’s leading non-profit exhibition spaces, the Center presents quarterly shows focusing on contemporary art and design as well as new and traditional textile arts. The Art Center is operated by The James H. W. Thompson Foundation, which is funded primarily from entrance ticket sales at the Jim Thompson House Museum. The recent decline in visitors to Thailand has unfortunately reduced funding available to the Art Center. In response, the Center aims to sustain the excellence of its programming by launching its first-ever public fundraising initiative, as part of the new exhibition.
Open daily from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. through 15 January 2011, Revisit the Jim Thompson Era: Fashion and Fantasy Bazaar opens on 1st October 2010.
Special Thanks to Jim Thompson, Nagara, The Bangkok Post and EDM (Editions Didier Miller), Thai Film Archives (Film Archive-Public Organization), Khun Ruengyot Pibulsonggram, Khun Nuanla-ong Puangthong, Khun Visanu Euarchukiati, Khun Anake Nawigamune and Khun Jeerasak Pinsuwan
Information about Jim Thompson and The Thai Silk Company
When Jim Thompson established the Thai Silk Company 1948, he recognized the importance of having a major part of the project be held by Thais shareholders. As a result a majority of the company shares belong to Thais citizen. To establish the company, he sold 500 shares at the price of USD 60 per share to raise funds for capital registration valued at USD 25,000. From all the shares sold, 61% belonged to Thai shareholders while 49% belonged to foreign shareholders. By 1967 the profit of the company had reached USD 1.5 million.
To create this success story Jim Thompson started by promoting Thai silk overseas. Through his contacts in the publishing, theatre and movie industry, the reputation of Thai silk spread internationally as foreigners discovered its beauty. Demands grew and by the beginning of the 1950, Jim Thompson opened a small shop located on Surawong Road launching the company on a successful path that continues until today.
During the Easter holiday weekend of 1967, Jim Thompson mysteriously went missing while vacationing in the Cameron Highlands, a popular holiday destination in the northern Malaysia. There was a thorough investigation about his disappearance but what happened to Jim Thompson was never learned. At the time he went missing, Jim Thompson had been living in Thailand for nearly 22 years.
The James H. W. Thompson Foundation
Seven years after his disappearance, Jim Thompson’s estate which included a large Asian art collection was left to his nephew Henry B. Thompson III. In keeping with his uncle’s intension that his art collection remain in Thailand, the heir donated his uncle’s house and antiques to the Thai people. In 1975 the court appointed administrator of the Jim Thompson estate received permission to establish The James H. W. Thompson Foundation and the house was officially opened as museum. The main mission of the foundation is to preserve the artistic and cultural heritage of Thailand.
The Jim Thompson Art Center
The Jim Thompson Art Centre was established in 2003 under the auspices of The James H. W. Thompson Foundation to serve as networking space for both the local and international artistic communities. The Jim Thompson Art Centre’s reputation as a place of artistic interaction is increasingly becoming well-known. In order to raise fund for exhibitions, Jim Thompson Art centre offers various activities which consist of events, seminars and workshops.
An important goal of the Jim Thompson Art Centre is to host three art exhibitions each year. Previously successful exhibitions include “Temporary Insanity” by artist Pinaree Sanpitak, “Stitching the Wound” by artist Arahmaniani, “Dialogues!” by Christian Lacroix, and Metissages featuring art and textiles from France. Other exhibits have focused on traditional Southeast Asian textiles and maps. Additional Jim Thompson Art Centre facilities include the William Warren library, two rooms for the use of visiting artists and work space for conservators. Since its establishment seven years ago, the Art Centre has been supporting artists and the arts by hosting exhibitions and has been open to the public free of charge.
For further information contact:
Ms. Penwadee Nopakate Manont Call 02 219 2911
The Jim Thompson house
6 Soi Kasemsan 2, Rama 1, Patumwan, Bangkok 10230, Thailand
Web site: www.jimthompsonhouse.com, www.jimthompsonartcenter.org/web/