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Q&A with Numthong Sae-tang

One of Thailand's very first art dealer Numthong Sae-tang celebrates the 20th anniversary of his gallery by showcasing his private collection. Time Out Bangkok sat down with him to learn more about this noble figure behind Thailand’s art scene.

Numthong Sae-tang once dreamed of becoming an artist. There was a period of time when he tried to exhibit some of his drawings and paintings, but he soon realized that the art world might not be his true calling.

Now renowned as an avid art collector and gallerist, Numthong recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of his Numthong Gallery by showcasing his own private collection of high-profile local and international artists, from Montien Boonma and Natee Utarit to Bun Xun Phai and I Gusti Ayu Kadek Murniasih, to name a few.

 

How did you begin your path as an art collector?
I actually didn’t plan to be one. I just started as a man who really appreciates art. I remember clearly, in 1977, I was walking around Ploenchit Gallery – one of the top galleries with artworks by famous Thai artists – and found a painting by Niti Wattuya. I didn’t know who Niti was at that time, but his painting truly touched me. Back then, the painting cost around four thousand baht and I couldn’t afford it.

I started to want to know more about art and get a chance to work at Bhirasri Institute of Modern Art. Later, I got to know Niti personally and even worked with him. This exhibition also features two of his paintings, which I bought many years after that first painting made an impression.

How do you feel about the current art collecting scene?
Recently, there have been a number of new collectors approaching me for advice. I’ve started to feel concerned that art collecting has become just a trend. In the past, collectors started to collect pieces that they liked, not for the reputation or the prices. Nowadays, artists or artworks by some artists are treated like brand-name products. As a result, new collectors would go after these famous or brand-name artists. I’m not saying it is bad for the art scene, but, on the other hand, this makes it harder for young artists to emerge and be known.

Do you think it has become too commercial?
You can’t say that really. What I mean is that collectors today should buy because of how the art pieces make them feel, not just because they are they are by famous artists that are being talking about. After all, it will be yours, so you have to appreciate it and it must have a personal value to you, one way or another. For example, I bought this conceptual painting by Michael Shaowanasai. He grew up abroad and his works are very conceptual. He created this painting with the word ‘Dee’. I decided to buy it simply because it is my daughter’s name. It reminds me of her.

How did you get started with the gallery?
As I said before, it all started when I found my passion for art. I started to get to know the artists and really appreciate their talents. However, I found that they work really hard, but somehow couldn’t get their works promoted. I thought it was something I could do so I started to help the artists I know, connecting them with organizations that could host a show for them.  And, later on, I got a chance to work at the art institute, and decided to establish my own art gallery.

With this exhibition, what message would you like to give the audience?
I would really like to share with others how these artworks attract me and have a special meaning for me. However, these are just some of the pieces I have collected. Others will be exhibited again in a different theme later in August. This is a good chance for art lovers, especially young audiences, to see works from amazing local and international artists from different generations.  

'It's not only to be mentioned, but to be seen' is on view until 30 July at Numthong Gallery.

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