The Arts

Custodian of the arts

25 Jan 2021

Jim Thompson Museum leads the way in art conservation and promotion

The Future List talks to Bruno Lemercier, Senior Conservator at the Jim Thompson House Museum, and Gridthiya Gaweewong, Artistic Director of Jim Thompson Art Centre, on the role of this legendary organisation in the conservation and promotion of the arts, and the purpose of art spaces.

Hello, Khun Bruno! Could you please introduce yourself to our readers?

BL: After schooling in Rouen and Paris where I studied economics and East Asian cultures, I traveled extensively in Southeast Asia as a freelance writer and representative for tour operators. I was posted to Singapore, Bali, Bangkok, and Tokyo before joining French companies in Thailand in the 1990s. Besides this main activity, I have translated and edited books and documents, notably "Jim Thompson, The House On The Klong”, published in 1999. Since then, I’ve been a regular guest of the James H.W. Thompson Foundation, contributing to research on the Jim Thompson House. Now, I am the senior conservator at the Jim Thompson House museum.

What is conservation? How can we see conservation as an art?

BL: Conservation is a science requiring high technology equipment and a high degree of craftmanship. It can be an art in the way to make it very discreet, revealing objects' history in the process. In the case of the Jim Thompson Museum, which is a historic house with very specific character, conservation should first maintain and reinforce the House structure, preserve, enhance the garden, restore objects of the collection, archive the house and collection history for having original settings made by Thompson always available before restorations or rearrangements. Overall, whatever the improvements in display, lighting etc, they must be true to the spirit of the original.

The Jim Thompson House Museum opened in 1959, and it houses the Jim Thompson Art Center. Now, The James H. W. Thompson Foundation is set to open soon. Why is this foundation being built and, from a conservationist perspective, how will this help to share the message of art and culture?

BL: In the early days, Jim Thompson opened his house to the public once a week as a museum. Following his disappearance in 1967, The James H.W. Thompson Foundation a non-profit organization, was legally established in 1975 and the property was vested in the Foundation, the house and the art collection being officially registered as a national museum. The Jim Thompson Art Center was created in 2004; its mission is to nurture artistic activities and create public awareness of contemporary arts within social historical context. Among its many activities, the Art Center organizes exhibitions, conducts educational programs, produces publications, and networks and collaborates with local and international cultural institutions.

What is something Thai people do not know about the traditional or contemporary art in the Jim Thompson Art Center that you believe they should?

GG: Even though one of the missions of the art center and JHW foundation is about creating public access and offering audiences a multi-disciplinary experience in both traditional and contemporary art, we are not here to create direct didactic exhibitions to the audiences. It's not about informing people what they should know about the tradition or contemporary, it's about bridging the gap and also creating the opportunity for audiences to connect the past, present and future through exhibitions and public programmes that we curate and produce for our diverse constituencies.

When the Foundation opens (post-COVID), what are you hoping people will take away from it? 

BL: The Foundation operates the Jim Thompson House Museum, The Jim Thompson Art Center, and the William Warren Library. When the new building opens later this year, the Foundation will be able to offer exhibitions and events on a larger scale that may also engage with the Jim Thompson House Museum.

GG: Art spaces and museums are the places for people to contemplate, reflect, and gather together for debate and discuss. We hope that we could continue to nurture artistic activities with freedom of expression as well as provide a safe space for people to speak their minds freely on various topics. It will be more inclusive and become the contact zone for like-minded people to hang out and experience art and culture.