Bangkok is known for many things but, unfortunately, it is not known to be a bustling centre for contemporary art. There are art galleries and events (since 2017 even a Biennale). But the city is still lagging behind the major Asian art capitals Hong Kong and Singapore. Hence, every time I hear about an exhibition, my heart skips a beat. I was even more excited to hear that the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) is currently hosting “Naked Beauty”, a photo exhibition by Austrian-born model-turned-artist Sylvie Blum. The exhibition is open until end of March 2020 and I highly recommend it for photography enthusiasts, contemporary art lovers and even feminists. Let me share why.
About the Exhibition
The exhibition is located on the ground floor of the MOCA. In addition to the regular admission, it is THB 100 (EUR 3, USD 3.20) to enter this temporary exhibition. Two rooms are dedicated to “Naked Beauty”. Right at the beginning, visitors are welcomed by photographs of colourful lips and lip sculpture. The visitor’s attention is then immediately drawn to a giant photograph of a woman with glamorous and sparkly eye- and lip-makeup.
“Naked Beauty” exhibits over 300 photographs, 100 of which are from the artist’s “Naked Beauty”, “Big Cat” and “Animal” series. Blum documents her private life with polaroids and 200 taken over the past 20 years are exhibited in a booth. At the end of the exhibition, there is a video with a behind-the-scenes insight into her work. (It is fairly easy to just walk past the monitor, especially if you leave the exhibition from the left side.)
In the first room, a big wall gives an overview over the artist’s path. Sylvie Blum was born in Austria and grew up in Germany. She soon discovered her passion for fashion, design and art and knew that she wanted to become an artists. Blum started out as an art and fashion model herself and embarked on international travels. For 16 years she worked in front of the camera and was photographed by none other than Helmut Newton, Jeanloup Sieff, Jan Saudek and Andreas Bitesnich. Blum has always been an avid traveller and started to explore the world from a young age.
In the early 1990s, she met the artist and photographer Gernot Blum. While she became his favourite model and muse, he became her mentor and teacher and the two got married in 1995. Sylvie learned everything about photography from him (techniques, lighting, the composition of a photograph, development of pictures in the darkroom). After her husband passed away in 1997, she was heartbroken and needed a change of scenery and moved to an old factory building in the German countryside. She turned it into a photo studio and started to work on photography projects and books. Blum remarried in 2005 and currently lives in Los Angeles, where she works from her WhiteBox studio. Her book “Naked Beauty” was published in 2011 and was soon followed by a joint show with the same name with Herb Ritts at the Fahey Klein Gallery in Los Angeles.
“It is necessary that we have a natural understanding of the female body.”
Sylvie Blum focuses on and celebrates the female body. Her nude works also incorporate animals. Her experience as a model allows Blum to understand how her models feel in front of the camera and motivate and communicate with them.
If you think Sylvie Blum’s photographs are “just nude” photographs, you will be proven wrong. Her beautiful and aesthetic images are a celebration of the female body – no matter the size. From a feminist perspective, I appreciated to see photographs of that kind which were shot by a woman. The expression, composition and lighting of Blum’s photographs are very strong.
“Portrait with Flamingo” draws the viewer’s attention to the model first – she directly looks us in the eye and the line of her hand draws our eyes directly to her face. There is something mysterious about her – and the lighting and shadows enforce this feeling. Only then do you realise that the flamingo is also staring directly at us. It is trying to hide its face from us but it is observing us.
In my opinion, Blum’s colour composition has a very strong impact as well. In the above-mentioned “Portrait with Flamingo”, the colours of the model’s skin and the flamingo’s feathers become one. In other photographs such as “Stephanie 2” displaying a model and an owl, the blue background intensifies the colours of the model’s eyes and the brown tones of the owl.
I appreciated to see different female body shapes included in the exhibition. However, the majority of photographs still show perfect model-bodies. I think it could be interesting to see even more imperfect and more realistic female bodies. But maybe there were some artistic or curatorial reasons for the choice. One might be Blum’s preference to work with her muses with whom she has established a trusted relationship.
I also very much enjoyed the section with the polaroids, as it gives the visitor the feeling to connect in a personal way with the artist.
Apart from the information right at the entrance and at the polaroid section, there is no additional written information about the artworks. Right at the end of the exhibition, there is a brief video offering some behind-the-scenes insights into a shooting day with Sylvie Blum, her motivation and passion for photography and her views on women and their bodies. I would have appreciated to see that video a bit earlier in the exhibition – maybe in the transition part between the first and the second room. I think many visitors are likely to just walk by the monitor. At first, I also thought it is just an overview of the book “Naked Beauty”, but I waited and found this information very useful to understand the photographs.
Even though there was not much written information available, it was one of the few exhibitions where I did not miss it. In my opinion, the photographs speak for themselves.
Information about the Exhbition
“Naked Beauty” by Sylvie Blum is currently shown at the MOCA BANGKOK. It will be open until 25 March 2020.
Admission to the MOCA is THB 250 (EUR 7.40, USD 8), and there is an additional THB 100 (EUR 3, USD 3.20) to visit the special exhibition.
The best way to go to the MOCA BANGKOK is by car or taxi, as it is quite far away from the city centre and not near any of the MTR or BTS (Skytrain) stations.
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All information as of the date of publishing/updating and based on the personal visit of Elisabeth Steiger and the information provided at the museum and the official website of the MOCA BANGKOK and Sylvie Blum. We cannot accept responsibility for the correctness or completeness of the data, or for ensuring that it is up to date. All recommendations are based on the personal experience of Elisabeth Steiger, no fees were received by the recommended places above.