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Meet the man hellbent on putting Bangkok on the world (art) map

Art is in the spotlight in Bangkok thanks to a new gallery inside one of the city’s poshest hotels. The man responsible? Martin Gerlier, Sofitel Bangkok Sukhumvit’s art advisor.

Seasoned art advisor Gerlier used to travel the world, sourcing pieces for serious collectors of fine art. But earlier this year, the 32-year-old Frenchman decided to shift gears and focus his attention on an opportunity in Bangkok, where the posh Sofitel Bangkok Sukhumvit recently installed an art gallery.

S Gallery is the first art gallery inside a hotel in Bangkok, and Gerlier is running the show as its curator. The latest exhibition kicked off on Friday 18 June, with French artist Bruno Tanquerel hosting an entertainment-filled, opening night party, complete with a string quartet and innovative Absinthe cocktails.

As Gerlier prepared for the launch of Tanquerel’s ‘Out of Curiosity’ exhibition (On until 6 September), we talked to him about why he decided to partner with a hotel, what makes S Gallery unique, how it could transform Bangkok’s art scene and much more…

Q: Describe your background a little bit — where you were and what you were doing before partnering with Sofitel Bangkok Sukhumvit on this project.

A: I’m an art advisor. The name of my company is MG Art Design (, which I created three years ago to fall in line with my move to Asia and the things I’m doing now with Sofitel. Before that, I was focused on sourcing art for private collectors. I started advising in France 12 years ago, then moved to Miami, but because the art market is global, I was travelling a lot. You follow your clients, and you go to art fairs, because the art scene is constantly evolving and you have to stay updated so you can properly advise your customers.

Q: So what convinced you to drop all that travel and become involved in an art gallery in Bangkok?

A: The general manager, William Haandrikman. He likes art, and when he was in Paris, we worked together. We did a project there and really pushed the boundaries. It was fun. So when he came to this property, he called me. That was in December of last year. I think William thought there was something missing, something the hotel could do to separate itself. The lobby was impersonal and lacking… colour, I guess you could say. Everything just sort of blended in. When we did the inaugural installation earlier this year, it made the lobby feel smaller but more intimate and more homey. I also put telescopes in so you could have interaction with some pieces from that installation that still ring the upper tier of the lobby. Even if you don’t like art, people talk about it. It creates dialogue.

Q: What makes S Gallery special?

A: Some hotels put art in the lobby, or in various public spaces within the hotel, but they don’t create or offer a space strictly for art. This here is a proper art gallery, and it’s been incorporated into the city as a proper art gallery. It’s on the official Bangkok Art Map. There are about 10 good art galleries in Bangkok, doing international shows, with good quality artists. We’re the only one to have a proper art gallery inside a hotel. Art is very high end, and this is a high-end hotel. So there are great synergies.

Q: What do you like most about it?

A: I can explain this gallery, but you really have to experience it, you have to see it for yourself. If you go to a gallery on the street, it’s going to feel very commercial. People don’t like to enter those because it’s too aggressive. Here, we’re not pushing the sales. You go to other hotels, you see art on the walls, but it offers nothing — no story or connection.

I also really like that you have the exposure here — with the restaurants, and the guests coming in and out all the time. When I was approached by William about this, that was an appealing proposition — working with a space that would be highly visible.

Q: How does such a space benefit the hotel?

A: It’s a way to attract new guests to the hotel. Yesterday, I talked to high-end collectors here, and they were exposed to the hotel at the same time. It’s great for the hotel’s potential future business. Plus, the hotel can ‘sell’ the space to companies or groups for private dinners and private events. So there are ways to generate money for it.

What’s more, it’s another way to build rapport. The last artist that was here, when he was here for opening night, all the people in attendance got a chance to talk to him. It’s important to create that connection; that’s what collectors are looking for — that contact with the artist. Instead of the hotel trying to sell something, it’s the hotel giving something to the guest. It’s an educational experience. The guests don’t need to go looking for galleries in Bangkok. They’ve got an amazing one right here.

Q: How has the addition been received by the staff?

A: Very well. They feel like they are a part of it what’s going on. We bring them in an educate them on each artist. We want them to have a relationship with the guests and be able to answer questions. They are learning things, and it’s fun for them. It gives them more reason to want to work here. So many have told me that they go home after work and talk about it with their families — what they did or learned today at work about art. So with this we’re also giving back to the community, which is obviously great.

Q: Do you think something like this can help put Bangkok on the world art map?

A: I do. It’s not Hong Kong, which is huge, and bigger now than New York and London. But the market here is growing. There’s a place on the river called Opey Garden, with five galleries and a restaurant in the middle. It’s nice. But here, it’s so much more. You can enjoy art in the gallery, you can work in the lobby, have a drink with your friends at the bar, etc. So the hotel is almost like an art district. You can come here, and you can stay for hours.

Q: What types of artists were you looking for when you began planning the exhibition schedule?

A: Like the hotel, this gallery is a bridge between the French and Thai cultures, so I really focused the selection around those two countries. The first exhibition was with a French anamorphic photographer, Charles Maze. Then we had Pongsakul Chalao, an amazingly talented local artist who creates landscapes with pieces of denim. Now it’s Bruno Tanquerel, a French artist who lives here in Bangkok and does the art for all the Buddha Bars around the world. His exhibition, ‘Out of Curiosity,’ is a celebration of fantasy through paintings and sculptures. It’s magnifique!

Q: Are the exhibitions geared toward the serious art collector?

A: Not at all. We’re trying to make it fun and interesting for everyone. For the opening night of Chalao’s exhibition, for instance, the dress code was jeans, because he uses denim to create his pieces. And the DJ played Bob Dylan, because Chalao likes Dylan — the music inspires him. Then we had a special cocktail made of gin; it was blue to go with the whole denim theme.

I should also note that kids really like it here, too. We’re thinking of doing something once a week for them, where maybe the artist comes in and shows them how he or she create a piece of art with their preferred materials or technique. That interactive experience between artist — or someone from an art school — and the kids is something we really want to implement here.

Interested in hotel art collections? Have a look at our slideshow of more gallery-worthy hotels around the world.