A Visit to the New MAIIAM Contemporary Art Museum

A Visit to the New MAIIAM Contemporary Art Museum

When one thinks of Thailand’s artistic culture, one immediately thinks of magnificent temples or intricately designed paintings. But MAIIAM in San Kampang defies such presumptions.

On the old road of Sankampang near Bor Srang intersection lies this small but modern museum which provides visitors with a distinct experience.

1. Visit the Permanent Collection

MAIIAM’s Permanent Collection at MAIIAM serves as an overview of contemporary Thai art, focusing on the avant-garde movement that began in Thailand during the 1980s and 90s with artists such as Montien Boonma. These artists used different mediums such as painting, sculpture, drawing, photography and printmaking to critique social and political developments by employing multiple styles such as painting sculpture drawing photography printmaking to raise questions regarding gender religion identity politics etc.

Chiang Mai Art Museum lies just beyond its central area and requires quite an extended drive from there, yet is well worth your while if you enjoy art and can dedicate one full day for visiting it.

As an independent museum, it is still in the early stages of development and hopes to attract more visitors and become successful.

Established by Jean Michel Beurdeley, Patsri Bunnag Booth and their son Eric Bunnag Booth in 1997 and named for Chao Chom Iam (royal consort of King Chulalongkorn), Chao Chom Iam Museum serves to support contemporary art development in Thailand and its surroundings region.

This museum takes its name from two words that combine: Mai refers to new city and Iam is shorthand for Chao Chom Iam.

Current exhibitions at the museum include two solo shows. “Temporal Topography”, by Spanish artist Pilar Albarracin is her inaugural solo show in Asia and features paintings, installations, sculptures and photographs that use landscape themes as an entryway into concepts such as geopolitics, territorialisation and the divide between public and private space.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s installation “The Serenity of Madness” also draws much interest. Crafted out of concrete and glass, its reflective qualities reflect the surrounding environment of the museum – something easily noticeable by visitors when touring it.

The museum’s architecture is equally as stunning as its art collections. Designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando, its design stands out as an outstanding addition to the city skyline with curved walls and white surfaces creating an elegant and modern vibe reminiscent of contemporary galleries. Additionally, temperature and humidity controls and controlled lighting have been carefully implemented within its confines in order to preserve artworks within it.

2. Visit the Temporary Exhibitions

Chiang Mai is known for its majestic temples and intricately designed paintings, but Chiang Mai also serves as an epicenter for contemporary Thai art. One recent addition to Chiang Mai’s arts scene was MAIIAM Contemporary Art Museum which opened its doors in July 2016. This small yet modern museum can be found in San Kampang district and serves to provide access to contemporary pieces both within Thailand and worldwide. The name refers to Patsri Bunnag Booth who served as the museum founder; her wife (Mai) means new city while “Iam” refers to her late wife who served King Chulalongkorn.

Studio LOT-EK architects designed the museum architecture to be both functional and aesthetically pleasing, as evidenced by its glittering glass mosaic wall that serves as its facade. However, what truly distinguishes this architectural marvel is how it was constructed to best showcase artworks contained within it; for instance when lighting was considered: Studio LOT-EK used both natural and artificial lights designed specifically to provide uniform illumination that’s ideal for showcasing art objects.

At the museum, I was particularly taken by two temporary exhibitions that were on display. One was Kamin Lertchaiprasert’s first solo show – her self-titled show that explored her artistic journey from being a self-taught painter to becoming one of Thailand’s leading contemporary artists. This well-received exhibit allowed viewers to appreciate her distinctive style and language as an artist.

Pilar Albarracin’s debut solo exhibition in Asia attracted my interest. Her works explore issues of identity, gender and power by drawing inspiration from local traditions, folklore, myths and cultures. For this exhibition at the museum she showcased (video) installations, sculptures and paintings which explore the relationship between natural forces and human civilisation.

3. Take a Tour

Many imagine Thailand’s art culture to include magnificent temples and intricately designed paintings. Yet the northern province of Chiang Mai also houses some of its most inspiring contemporary pieces – like those housed at MAIIAM Museum of Contemporary Art located in Sankampang district – making Chiang Mai one of its key contemporary art destinations.

MAIIAM welcomes visitors with a large mirror wall at its entrance, designed as an architectural feature to serve as an introductory space between them and the main exhibition space located further inside. Furthermore, MAIIAM acts as a gathering and workshop area as well as cafe and outdoor event space within its gallery space.

Since opening its doors in July 2016, the museum has showcased two temporary exhibitions in addition to its permanent collection. The first temporary installation, “The Serenity of Madness”, featured Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s award-winning films that combine fact and folklore; mundane reality with supernatural elements.

“Temporal Topography”, the inaugural solo exhibition by Spanish female artist Pilar Albarracin in Asia, stands out as another noteworthy curation. Her works explore themes related to landscape – geopolitics and social-cultural aspects alike – with (video) installations, sculptures and paintings all reinterpreting topographical reality.

Kamin Lertchaiprasert, an established figure on Thailand’s contemporary art scene, showcases their first solo exhibition here at the museum. Renowned painter Kamin’s unique style blends elements from both Eastern and Western traditions while emphasizing body sculpture and pottery-making techniques in his works on display here. There is both new and old material at display here including wax sculptures as well as pottery creations – making for an exciting display!

Chiang Mai Museum is easily accessible from most areas in Chiang Mai; taxi is usually the quickest method. Just ask to be dropped off near Samkampang Road 1.5km past Bo Srang Intersection on Samkampang Road or enter it as your Uber/Grab destination in their app. Those interested in guided tours have various options available through them – please visit their website for further details.

4. Shop for Art

The Museum Shop at the museum provides an exclusive selection of artist books, catalogues, postcards and souvenirs by Thai designers and artists to make unique limited-edition merchandise that makes shopping here fun for friends, family or yourself.

The museum shop is conveniently located within, making it easily accessible for guests. Open from 10:00 am – 6:00 pm daily and offering free admission, visit today to browse!

MAIIAM is an exciting addition to Chiang Mai’s contemporary art scene, providing a space that showcases Thai modern art with cultural significance, presented within an elegant minimalist house-turned-warehouse featuring striking reflective exterior panels. MAIIAM was established by Jean Michel Beurdeley and Patsri Bunnag Booth – his deceased wife – along with their son Eric Bunnag Booth.

Visit and gain insight into Thailand and Southeast Asian art history through an immersive museum experience, hosting workshops, talks, screenings, performances and other events that create meaningful connections among visitors and expose them to art as an expression of life itself.

If you are visiting the city for several days and have one free day, I would suggest taking the half-hour ride out to the museum. But if art is not your forte, this may be too long an excursion from its center.

The Dara Pirom Palace is just 10 minutes’ drive away and deserves your consideration. Constructed in 1914 by Princess Dara Rasmi – Queen Rama V’s consort – as part of Lanna culture it represents, its architecture stands as an important landmark.