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Restructuring a masterpiece

Posted on 30 November 2015 by admin

The Sivamokhaphiman Throne Hall.

Stepping into the newly renovated front building of the National Museum Bangkok, visitors may be reminded of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York or the Louvre in Paris. We’re not really there yet, but with a new design, tasteful lighting, concise bilingual descriptions and exquisite ancient artefacts displayed in a wider space to highlight their unique beauty, the 128-year-old museum has a new lease of life.

“This hall looks completely different from what I am used to seeing. I remember it used to be divided into small rooms depicting Thai history chronologically. That was less interesting,” said a Thai visitor in her 40s, who has been to the History of Thailand Exhibition Hall several times.

Phra Sitthitecho, a Buddhist monk who has visited museums in Europe, as well as the US, echoed the same sentiment: “The hall looks wider and does not smell musty. The new lighting is dimmer but looks good. This museum meets international standards. I noticed most of these sculptures were previously shown in other buildings and are now placed here.”

The hall has become very popular and attracted many more visitors. Most of them, as shown above, express their contentment with the change – especially the way each artefact, from Buddha statues to archaeological objects, is displayed separately on a raised platform, like most international museums, giving it breathing room and an aura. 

The project, which is the pioneer of the Ministry of Culture’s “living museum” policy, involved the restoration of Sivamokhaphiman Throne Hall of the former Front Palace, which has long served as the museum’s Thai History Exhibition Hall. It opened in September to mark Thai Museums’ Day. 

Sivamokhaphiman Throne Hall was built in 1782 by the viceroy and younger brother of King Rama I. But in 1885, it was abandoned, and was turned into a Royal Museum in 1887 during the reign of King Rama V. In the reign of King Rama VII, the king allowed the use of the entire Front Palace as the Vajirayan Library and the National Museum Bangkok. In 1967, the hall was turned into the museum’s exhibition room focusing on prehistoric times.

A bronze Buddha image from Ayutthaya is one of the many masterpieces on display.

In 1982, it was named the National Museum History of Thailand, and the hall was modified and divided into rooms featuring exhibitions on different periods of Thai history, such as Sukhothai, Ayutthaya, Thon Buri and Rattanakosin, through models and multimedia.

This year under the new design, the hall has been brought back to its traditional Thai beauty and the Thai History Exhibition was improved through the display of 111 masterpieces, which were formerly kept in the National Museum Bangkok, Khon Kaen National Museum and Sawan Woranayok National Museum. They are displayed chronologically – from prehistoric times to the Dvaravati, Srivijaya, Lop Buri, Sukhothai, Ayutthaya and Rattanakosin periods – in order to inform visitors about the civilisations of this country and its people.�

The facelift is in line with newly appointed Fine Arts Department director-general Anan Chuchote’s policy.

“I provided the policy to develop all national museums into lifetime learning centres for people of all ages and educational levels because these museums are sources of ancient artefacts and art pieces, which are a national heritage,” Anan said.

He added that the department is speeding up the process of creating and digitalising complete lists of ancient artefacts and art pieces in its collection. The National Museum Bangkok consists of many former throne halls and royal mansions, and after the work at the Front Palace, Uttraphimuk Hall is being developed into a textile museum, while Surasinghanart Hall and Prapasphipitthaphan Hall are undergoing facelifts. The aim is to turn the National Museum Bangkok, which had fallen into neglect and largely ignored, into a leading museum in the Asean region.

The same facelifts will be applied to other museums around the country, with the Office of National Museums providing academic assistance to help museums across the country achieve high standards – in displaying exhibitions, signage, description – as well as improving professionalism among curators, especially in terms of services, academic aspects, activities and English proficiency.

Phombootra Chandrajoti, director of the Office of National Museums, said that there is already a plan for the next fiscal year to improve the National Gallery, the Royal Elephant National Museum and the Royal Barge Museum. The office will run a pilot project to improve five to seven museums in the provinces. It regularly organises training and academic seminars for national museum curators nationwide.

The newly renovated National Museum Bangkok.

“After the renovation, this museum will get a new face,” the director said. “It can be seen clearly in the Sivamokhaphiman Throne Hall, which features the history of Thailand. It has opted for displaying ancient artefacts one by one [instead of putting them in groups inside cabinets]. It has become very popular and the number of visitors has doubled and exceeded 10,000 per month since we reopened in September. We are on the right track.”

According to him, the budget for renovating Sivamokhaphiman Throne Hall was less than 50 million baht. It was worth every satang, said Phombootra, since the project brought the throne hall back to its past glory.

The display pattern is in line with standards for ancient artefact museums by emphasising the elegance of the objects. The newly installed bases and lights in particular are central to the new mood – more modern, less stuffy, and more sophisticated. The descriptions that were once long and textbook-like have been edited to be more user-friendly, and more attractive to newcomers. Thai and English audio guides are available for free.

To the director, the new face of this exhibition room was inspired mainly by museums in Japan in terms of display and lighting. Artefacts are displayed chronologically from prehistoric times and the Dvaravati Period to the Rattanakosin Period. Those in the main hall, especially the masterpieces, are shown one by one, while there are glass cabinets on both sides showing other objects.

“I am satisfied with the results. This is the right approach. We must make things simple and easy to understand. There is no need to use too much modern technology since the artefacts are exquisite,” the director said.

Located near Sanam Luang and the Grand Palace, the National Museum Bangkok is open 9am-4pm on Wednesday-Sunday and national holidays (except New Year and Songkran Festival). Admission fee is 30 baht per person for Thai citizens and 200 baht per person for foreigners. Call 02-224-1333

The first inscription stone.

The Wheel of the Law and a crouching deer are from the Dvaravati period, dating back to the 7th century. Both were found at Wat Saneha in Nakhon Pathom province.

Representing the Srivijaya Period, this famous bust of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara dates back to the late 9th century. It was found at Wat Wiang in Chaiya district, Surat Thani.

The newly renovated National Museum Bangkok.

This 53cm-tall kettle bronze drum dates back 2,400-2,700 years ago. It was found at Wat Kasemjittaram in Uttaradit province.

The statues of Hindu gods Vishnu and Shiva.

The newly renovated National Museum Bangkok.

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