Where: Bangkok, Thailand
What’s in store: Wooden temple piece artefacts – beware the many bogus copies
Bag a bargain: Southeast Asian arts vary drastically in value – just buy what you would like in your home. Asian Galleries and Elephant House showcase fine arts and original crafts
Buying antiques in Bangkok is another one of those ‘Caveat Emptor’ scenarios, where unless you know what you’re looking for, you could end up with shoddy works or even convincing copies. Although Bangkok is something of a hub for South East Asian arts, there are a good deal less originals about than there used to be. This is partly due to the fact that the government is a whole lot more rigorous in its curbs on the trade in works which may have been stolen from ancient temples. Another factor is that there are so many replicas around that it’s no longer necessary to pay top dollar for a decorative centrepiece to your home.
How to Bag a Bargain
Even the untrained eye can recognise certain pointers that distinguish the best works of art from shoddy copies. A good original will look alive – its limbs won’t be stiff and symmetrical and the expression will be animated. You should also look out for evidence that the wood is ‘sealed’ or ‘seasoned’, rather than new with traces of moisture. This means it is less likely to crack when transplanted to a foreign climate.
A scrupulous dealer will furnish you with authentication papers when you purchase an antique – but as is the way with many things in Thailand, even these do need authenticating in case they turn out to be fakes! You will also need to seek permission from the Government Fine Arts department before you can take an antique out of the country.
Even if you do spot a good buy, you’d be ill advised to buy antiques as an investment. There’s really no knowing how the market will fare and you’re better off getting something just because you like it.
Where to Buy Antiques
Asian Galleries is a well-established antiques company which has been located within the River City Shopping Complex for more than fifteen years. There are actually two Asian Galleries shops, run by the brothers Chongthanavanit: on the fourth floor there are exquisite original antiques while on the third a good selection of reproductions, expertly crafted in company’s own workshop. Those with a penchant for interior design need no longer re-mortgage their house just to deck it out – only an expert will be unable to tell the real thing and a reproduction.
Cherie Aung-Khin is a Myanmar-born antiques expert. Her budding interest in antiques brought her to Bangkok 20 years ago, where she worked as an assistant in an antiques shop before founding her very own, four-storey Elephant House. The Elephant House is now one of the best established antiques shops in Thailand. One-time Vice President of the Antique Association in Bangkok, Cherie has an encyclopaedic knowledge of South East Asian art. The antiques market has seen something of a decline in recent years, partly because more and more people are prepared to pay top dollar for shoddy antiques and even poor copies. This has not deterred Cherie. Despite never having been trained in design, she draws influence from the antiques she encounters each day and pieces she sees in museums around the world. Her own stylish range of lacquer and rattan furniture is manufactures in her factory in Myanmar and shipped all over the world.
Suite 342 River City, 3rd Floor
23 Yota Road
Tel: 66 2 237 0077 ext 342
Fax: 66 2 237 2644
Mail to: asian *at* asianet.co.th
The Elephant House
286/69-71 Soi pattana
Tel: +66 2 233 6973 / 6974 / 6281
Fax: +66 2 631 4690 1
Email: elephant *at* ksc15.th.com
By Jess Halliday