It It may not boast the cosmopolitan art houses of Phnom Penh, or the factory-line of artists coming out of Battambang, but for Siem Reap, in the shadow of Asia’s greatest temples, there’s definitely something in the air when it comes to artistry and creativity. Spurred on by a selection of venues, patrons and festivals, the scene is a burgeoning one. As the rocket takes off, we jump aboard with some of our favourite places to see art and feel arty.
The where: 1961
The what: Boutique hotel meets offbeat gallery meets conceptual venue
The works: A 1960s-villa-turned-creative-complex is how Hotel 1961 describes its eclectic mismatch of styles. From displaying the work of its founder Loven Ramos and supporting resident artists through its studios, to inspiring guests with zany décor and over-the-top themed rooms, all the while selling art and artifacts and hosting events from old fogy bingo to new-age flea markets, 1961 isn’t just a hotel. It’s a compound of ideas and a pretty cool place to hangout.
The where: Angkor Photo Cafe-Gallery
The what: Fine wines and fab photography
The works: Siem Reap’s newest art-bar is dedicated entirely to photography. Set up by Spaniard, Tomás Ordinas who has worked on the Angkor Photo Festival for some time, the bar hosts exhibitions, workshops and film nights. A chilled hang-out with good tunes and great wine, the photography isn’t the only star attraction; Tomás isn’t just a patron of the arts, he also makes one mean Spanish omelette.
The where: Alliance Art Cafe
The what: Bright spaces and bold art with lunch on the side
The works: Feed your appetite for art with Alliance’s edgy mix of native and international pieces, from its house collection of Vincent Broustet’s work to sculptures by Siem Reap resident, Sasha Constable. The Peace Art Project Cambodia is a particularly special collection, in which Sasha and a selection of Khmer artists turn weapons of war into works of art. And for those who like their art live, shadow puppetry, with Apsara dancing for dessert is a café specialty.
The where: Photography Galleries
The what: Temple snaps with a difference
The works: Much of Siem Reap’s art scene is Angkor-inspired and many talented artists and photographers produce breathtaking work from the temples. Of particular note is John McDermott whose haunting black and white panoramas are on display in his two Temple Town galleries. Another famed snapper is French-photographer Thierry Diwo, known for his atmospheric sepia-tone prints and candid shots of temple locals. Diwo’s venues are worth a visit too for some iconic stone, wood and metal statues crafted by Khmer artists.
The where: Art Deli
The what: Creative cavern-like cafe
The works: Another off-shoot of Reaper artist Ramos’ kooky empire, Art Deli is a café/gallery/venue/Aladdin’s cave that would seem more at place in a bohemian neighbourhood of Paris or Berlin. Its rugged design and chequered knick-knacks provide an artistic atmosphere without the usual pretentious vibe. Dubbing the café as “Art for Everyday,” the work is cheap, the grub is good, and you never know what quirky event or exhibition you’ll be part of when you visit.
The where: Theam’s House
The what: A contemporary collective for traditional arts
The works: Former Artisans d’Angkor artistic director Theam has struck gold once again as he continues his crusade to restore the glory of Cambodia’s traditional art scene. Theam’s House is a studio and showroom set in a gorgeous garden, displaying the works of Theam himself and his young protégés. Produced by a group of artists and artisans, the works include paintings, sculpture, carvings and quirky laquerware; a marriage of traditional Angkor art forms, and contemporary methods and design.
The where: Art Lounge at Hotel De La Paix
The what: A modern space for modern art
The works: Forming the backbone of the Siem Reap art scene, the Art Lounge has been fuelling Khmer talent and attracting international artists for some time. As famed for its glitzy cosmopolitan-style launches as it is for the work itself, the Art Lounge very much has a “place to be scene” air about it. With new collections exhibited every two months, the hangout has its ear to the ground when it comes to emerging Asian talent. Let’s hope new management retains it.