As-yet creative works in progress themselves, two Siem Reap galleries are seeking to change the way that international contemporary art and photography are understood here – and testing the boundaries of new markets in the process.
Full Frontal, at King’s Road Angkor, is a contemporary photography gallery and bar helmed by Jessica Lim, well-known for her work with the Angkor Photo Festival, which she has coordinated for six years. Across the road, 111 East Gallery is the creation of Eiming Jung, a man who arguably knows Siem Reap better than it knows him.
The Californian Jung has been visiting Siem Reap since 1992, but it was only last year that he decided it was the place to set up a sister gallery to his long-running San Francisco locale, 111 Minna Gallery. Jung opened his first gallery on his 22nd birthday; he celebrated his 45th last week with a small pre-opening party at 111 East Gallery.
“It’s still not completed,” he says. “There’s more to do.”
But the main structure of the gallery and associated bar is there – it can be found behind the Hollywood Hot Dog cart on the riverside roundabout. Likewise, Full Frontal is not yet complete, but it is welcoming visitors, especially in the evenings, when guests can enjoy the current exhibition over a reasonably priced cocktail or glass of wine.
111 East Gallery features an “erratically eccentric mix of contemporary international art,” Jung says, as well as Southeast Asian sculptures and carvings that he has sourced from across the region, especially around Chiang Mai.
“I’m seeking out the most attractive [things] I can find. When you see what we’ve got [compared to the markets], it’s like the difference between an old black-and-white TV and an IMAX cinema,” Jung says.
The modern collection includes works by Jay Howell, Eric White and Kelly Tunstall as well as dark, fantastical pieces by American painter Mark Ryden, which led to a connection between Jung and Lim, of Full Frontal. “When she first walked in here and saw the Mark Rydens, she just burst into tears,” Jung says.
Lim discovered Ryden when she was 19, and fell into a life-long love – one that was impossible to indulge in Cambodia. That notion is part of the philosophy that drives both galleries, and they’re aiming at the local market.
“The local market has not really been tested insofar as contemporary art is concerned,” says Lim. “But there is a turn towards international and contemporary art that is part of the natural evolution in any country.”
Both curators see value in the kinds of works they showcase. Jung hopes his space will do more than present a new opportunity to find contemporary art in Cambodia. He wants to contribute to how art is created here.
“It’s not just about selling art,” he says. “I’d like it to be a real social hub for artists as well – a place where they can find their community and bounce off each other.”
Full Frontal is located at King’s Road Angkor; 111 East Gallery is at East Riverside (opposite Old Market).