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40 Under 40 Asia Pacific 2022

The Apollo 40 Under 40 Asia Pacific in focus: Sutima Sucharitakul

22 September 2022

Founder, Nova Contemporary, Bangkok

Can you tell me how you came to set up Nova Contemporary, now one of the leading galleries in Bangkok, in 2016?

When I moved back home to Thailand, I felt that there was a gap to be filled because there were very few international standard galleries, of the kind you see in London or New York. We have so many talented artists in Thailand that are very under-represented. I came across this space – at the foot of a block of apartment buildings, in the storage space of a condo – which was available for rent. The running costs of the gallery weren’t as high as in London or New York, and so I thought I’d just give it a try. I talked to a lot of curators and collectors, who were very supportive, giving me advice on how to start. That was a blessing.

How did your experiences in London and New York shape your approach to the gallery?

I didn’t come from a contemporary background – when I was studying at SOAS in London my focus was on South and South East Asian antiquities, while my experience in New York was also research-based. Being in New York, though, I started to explore the gallery scene – I would go to openings on Thursdays, and realised I wanted to deal with living artists. I wanted to bring what I saw to Thailand, to improve our arts scene.

How has the gallery evolved over the last six years?

It has changed so much. To begin with I was thinking of the gallery in terms of a three-year project – because I had no idea, really, how it would go. And for the first three years the programme was very experimental – I didn’t show a single painting, it was all very conceptual. People were like, ‘What are you selling? What are you doing?’ But I reasoned that for the first three years I wanted to show work that was as difficult as possible – I wasn’t so much concerned with ‘making it’, more with playing with the scene and with people’s expectations. We had a show called ‘The Uncertain’ by the artist Jedsada Tangtrakulwong that was featured in the New York Times; it took place in 2019, the year we exhibited at Art Basel Hong Kong for the first time. Every morning, we would look at the weather forecast on AccuWeather – and the works on display would then change, depending on the weather.

That was the highlight of the first three years for me. In the last three years, our shows have become more commercial. I feel that, at the end of the day, art needs to be something that people can collect.

Is the gallery more concerned with promoting Thai artists at home, or internationally? 

Our focus is both local and international. In Europe, next week, one of my artists is showing two video works at the Kunstmuseum Basel – I would say that’s my main priority, to bring Thai artists international attention – although the collector base in Thailand has begun to grow.

Since Covid, by necessity, we’ve had to focus more on the local scene. As a young gallery, most of our money used to go on art fairs, so it was nice not to have the pressure to travel, and to focus instead on local artists and collectors. I really enjoy having more time to spend with my artists.

What has been your proudest moment of the last six years?

I’m very proud of the fact that a major Western museum acquired work by one of our artists last year – I can’t announce names yet, but it’s amazing that he is getting this recognition. Above all, I get my enjoyment out of building up artists’ careers – it makes me very happy to see South East Asian artists being recognised internationally.