Buying antiques in Bangkok is another one of those 'Caveat
Emptor' scenarios, where unless you know what you're looking
for, you could end up with shoddy works or even convincing
copies. Although Bangkok is something of a hub for South East
Asian arts, there are a good deal less originals about than
there used to be. This is partly due to the fact that the
government is a whole lot more rigorous in its curbs on the
trade in works which may have been stolen from ancient temples.
Another factor is that there are so many replicas around that
it's no longer necessary to pay top dollar for a decorative
centrepiece to your home.
How to bag a bargain
Even the untrained eye can recognise certain pointers that
distinguish the best works of art from shoddy copies. A good
original will look alive - its limbs won't be stiff and symmetrical
and the expression will be animated. You should also look
out for evidence that the wood is 'sealed' or 'seasoned',
rather than new with traces of moisture. This means it is
less likely to crack when transplanted to a foreign climate.
A scrupulous dealer will furnish you with authentication
papers when you purchase an antique - but as is the way with
many things in Thailand, even these do need authenticating
in case they turn out to be fakes! You will also need to seek
permission from the Government Fine Arts department before
you can take an antique out of the country.
Even if you do spot a good buy, you'd be ill advised to buy
antiques as an investment. There's really no knowing how the
market will fare and you're better off getting something just
because you like it.
Where to buy antiques
Asian Galleries is a well-established antiques company
which has been located within the River City Shopping Complex
for more than fifteen years. There are actually two Asian
Galleries shops, run by the brothers Chongthanavanit: on the
fourth floor there are exquisite original antiques while on
the third a good selection of reproductions, expertly crafted
in company's own workshop. Those with a penchant for interior
design need no longer re-mortgage their house just to deck
it out - only an expert will be unable to tell the real thing
and a reproduction.
Cherie Aung-Khin is a Myanmar-born antiques expert. Her budding
interest in antiques brought her to Bangkok 20 years ago,
where she worked as an assistant in an antiques shop before
founding her very own, four-storey Elephant House. The
Elephant House is now one of the best established antiques
shops in Thailand. One-time Vice President of the Antique
Association in Bangkok, Cherie has an encyclopaedic knowledge
of South East Asian art. The antiques market has seen something
of a decline in recent years, partly because more and more
people are prepared to pay top dollar for shoddy antiques
and even poor copies. This has not deterred Cherie. Despite
never having been trained in design, she draws influence from
the antiques she encounters each day and pieces she sees in
museums around the world. Her own stylish range of lacquer
and rattan furniture is manufactures in her factory in Myanmar
and shipped all over the world.