Nothing adds values to art like a scandal. It happened with the Mona Lisa when stolen in 1911 and it happened this weekend when a second controversial painting in the so-called Ultraman Buddha series, depicting the religious leader as a Japanese superhero, sold for a staggering THB2 million (US$65,600.)
After the first painting was auctioned off for what was a jaw-dropping THB600,000 (about US$20,000) on Thursday, Pakorn Porncheewarakun told Coconuts Bangkok this morning that as of Saturday’s sale, he’d raked in a total THB2.6 million (US$85,200) for both paintings.
Not bad for work by a university art student. And fortunately for the unidentified artist and some worthy charities, Pakorn orchestrated the sales to be a thumb in the eye of extremists rather than naked opportunism.
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“We will donate 10% or THB260,000 to the student artist. We will spend about THB700,000 buying equipment for a hospital. The rest will go back to the original buyer of the second panting, who plans on donating it to another hospital as well as a charity for blind youth,” Pakorn said, adding that Chardchakaj Waikawee – a renowned Thai photographer and owner of second painting sold – recruited him to help sell it.
Pakorn said that back on Sept 6, when the scandal first erupted over the student’s exhibition in Korat, four people bought one painting each for a mere THB4,500 each (US$148).
“None of us knew each other but after the paintings blew up online, we got each other’s contact information and met up. Chardchakaj and I decided that just keeping these paintings wouldn’t do anyone any good so we decided to so something that can make a social impact,” Pakorn said. As of publication time he was unsure if the owners of the remaining two paintings would sell.
The famed commercial photographer said he had a special empathy for the artist.
“Back when I was an art student, though tuition wasn’t that expensive, the equipment cost a fortune. After I’d buy it, I would barely have any money left,” Chardchakaj wrote online Saturday. He went on to recall how happy he was when someone bought one of his works back when he was still in university.
“My heart was so full. I felt seen, like, ‘Wow, someone likes my work so much they bought it.’ That was when I promised myself that when I had the means to do so, I would support student art.”
On Wednesday, a group of hardline Buddhists filed a complaint with the Crime Suppression Division over the paintings, which they deemed an “insult” to Buddhism. Group leader Charoon Wannakasikanont said that the paintings trampled on the faith of the more than 60 million Buddhists worldwide by mocking the Buddha.
The group also demanded all the paintings be destroyed.
Thai officials, however, refused to follow through with the Buddhist group’s demand. Prime Minister Office’s Tewan Liptapallop told reporters that he doesn’t believe the student had any ill intention behind the painting and that he considered the case closed after she apologized to Nakhon Ratchasima’s top monk.
He added that religious offices in every province have been ordered to evaluate paintings before approving them for display.
For her part, the student said that she is a devout Buddhist who wanted to represent the Buddha as a hero. As for the background she painted evoking Louis Vuitton, she said that was to represent how the Buddha protects people from materialism.
Pakorn, who sold the painting, described the hardliners as “pathetic.”
“This painting is not illegal; it just goes against your morals,” he said.