Mon Art du Style

Mon Art du Style at MAIIAM Museum of Contemporary Art brings together the collection of Patsri Bunnag, who was as much a style icon as she was an art collector.

March 09, 2017
An icon of style is one that will, despite leaving us, always be an icon of style. Mon Art du Style at MAIIAM Museum of Contemporary Art brings together the collection of one such icon, Patsri Bunnag, who was as much a style icon as she was an art collector. Art in this sense, a broader one, is not just that touching upon contemporary art but includes objects and experiences of beauty.

Mon Art du Style’s objective is to present a dialogue between fashion and art through the collection of Patsri’s clothing and accessories, as well as the Beurdeley-Bunnag family’s private collection of contemporary art. Its very title suggests that art and style are connected to each other, old friends with a long-standing dialogue. The show sees the works of art as immortal, capturing and forever freezing moments and history in tangible works of art. Fashion, on the other hand, would then be its mortal counterpart, which lives and dies, breathing life into the art, it’s partner that moves and changes. When seen in this way, one understands how Mon Art du Style proceeds to create these dialogues by the juxtaposition of a look from Patsri’s vast collection of clothes and accessories with a work of art. The clothes hang, ephemeral in their form, hovering in front or opposite an artwork, as if they converse in mid air.
As you enter MAIIAM, you are first greeted with a very personal room, one of newspaper and magazine clippings about the subject matter of the show, Patsri Bunnag. You come face-to-face with her as she looks at you from a collage of images, her eyes piercing and her smile radiant. You then enter the main foyer, where you are confronted with an all black everything installation. It is true that Patsri wore a lot of black—a lot of black Issey Miyake and Rick Owens to be precise—but amongst the plethora of black were different shades, and the volume and structure of the clothes made the black somehow alive.

The wire mannequins that wear the clothes show them in their best light; they are light figures making the clothes in all their simplicity voluminous, shedding light on the attention to detail by their creators and the intricacy of each piece. You soon realize that this wardrobe and its owner had no ordinary sense of style: it was rather extraordinary and these clothes give us a glimpse of her vision of the world. Singular yet nuanced, subtle yet statement making, delicate with its soft pleats but also strong with its bold forms. And let’s not forget those glasses, each one different with its own character, probably with its own story. Each choice of garment made by someone who really knew, instinctively, what she liked. Again, that connection.
That brings us to the notion of style: Patsri had an amazing sense of style but that style was (as she put it) a way of thinking. Her style clearly was connected to her method of thought, to her way of living even. Style is not an empty word: it is perhaps the physical manifestation of one’s experiences and one’s passions. In this case, for Patsri, it was a lifelong passion for art, experiences, and beauty.
Style is a way of thinking.
– Patsri Bunnag

Artist live by art; living and breathing the things that they create. Collector supports this, going to see the art and meet the artists. They talk about everything. They dine together. At some point, they create work together when a collector commissions work from an artist. In the case of Patsri Bunnag, Jean Michel Beuredeley and Eric Bunnag-Booth, the works that they collected over the years has been very personal. They are works that touched them—as Jean Michel describes it, there is magic: the connection is magical. That connection is a feeling that reverberates throughout the show, from the Mitr Jai In painting that serves as backdrop for a gold, leather, Christian Dior jacket to a Pinaree Santipitak piece having a conversation with an Issey Miyake ensemble. Who said Patsri only wore black? There is much color in the show.

Then we get to the blue room, the indigo dream; Patsri wore the farmer’s garb before any hipster or millennial got their hands on hand-dyed indigo. She defied social convention by wearing that brilliant blue that only the plant indigofera tinctoria (commonly found in Thailand) can create, which was the uniform of the ordinary person, the farmer. It is here that the dialogue between her style and art is strongest, including a textiles work called B2B that was specially created by Jakkai Siributr evoking the monograms of luxury brands. Here Patsri’s everyday garb, the farmer’s mo hom and indigo uniform, is cut up and sewn with her other uniform, Pleats Please pleated garments that she wore daily. Together this both creates an intimate tapestry that echoes the clothes that are hanging and gives a personal insight of the wearer: a landscape that is layered and mixed.

Farther into the exhibition one finds that everything was a statement, though often a nuanced one: minimal shapes juxtaposed with dramatic sculpture jewellery. And not just rare pieces from the likes of Lotus arts de vivre but also of new designers. A particularly memorable piece was the Yves Saint Laurent white smoking suit that she once wore with the super long Lotus prayer beads. This strand of beads was custom made and their length was the kind of play on proportion that was a signature of hers. In the show, this necklace makes its appearance with an all grey Issey Miyake ensemble. This look was placed in front of a larger than life Chatchai Phupia painting, one that is also of contrast. It is the kind of artwork and statement that you would expect of Patsri: there is a man’s face (enlarged), a woman’s body (somehow forming an extension to his bare face), and then a single purple orchid seeming to grow from it. The next corridor sees a two-piece Christian Dior suit that has a silent conversation—an almost stare off—with a diptych by the late Montien Booma. In its silence and stillness, so much is said.
The main room bids farewell with a photograph of Patsri taken by Jean Michel: she is without make-up, staring into the camera, her gaze intense with so much life. “I took this photo of Patsri in the garden with my Nikon F1. No makeup, framed by the bougainville we had back then…. It was 1975. The house was barely a year old.”  The life that they built together. The art collection. The clothes. In a way, through her collection of clothing, she has made all this art seem somehow more accessible. Art and fashion converge in a slow dance through a space that lets the clothes suspend in the air creating its own story.  
Mon Art du Style is on View at MAIIAM in Chiang Mai until June 15.
Learn more about the exhibition on the MAIIAM website.