As published in Asia Tatler, April 2013
First it was Chinese contemporary art, then Indian. Now, it seems Indonesian art is the latest to be swept up by the capricious art market. The evidence is all there; the Indonesian Art Pavilion at Art Stage Singapore earlier this year, record-breaking prices at auction, major exhibitions at galleries and international art spaces, and a revival of the Indonesian Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale mid year, all point to Indonesian artists as the next wave of art stars.
The attention Indonesian art is receiving internationally may be new, but the presence of Indonesian artists on the art scene is not. Works by Jumaldi Alfi, I Nyoman Masriadi and Yunizar have been popping up at regional auctions for years – and commanding great prices. Over the last couple of years, works by Indonesian artists have consistently outperformed those by other artists on the secondary market, outshone only by headline-dominating Chinese artists.
Christie’s appointed a representative in Indonesia in 2008, in anticipation of a burgeoning art market. The move paid off quickly. At its Hong Kong Autumn auction in 2011, Indonesian artworks experienced the greatest success, with all but four lots out of 35 finding buyers. Half of the Indonesian artworks exceeded their highest sales estimate, including works by I Nyoman Masriadi, Affandi, Eko Nugroho and Yunizar. Rudi Mantofani’s ‘Sudut Bumi #3 (The Corner of the Earth #3)’ more than tripled the estimated price of US$48,994-61,886 and sold for US$219,180. At Sotheby’s, Masriadi’s ‘The Man from Bantul (The Final Round)’ (2000), became the most expensive contemporary Indonesian work of art ever, selling for five times its estimate in 2008 when it went for US$296,548 in Hong Kong.
Lorenzo Rudolf, director of Art Stage Singapore, thinks Indonesian art is now well and truly ripe for the picking and that it will be the catalyst for the whole Southeast Asia market opening up. “It has a fascinating heritage, very talented artists and a strong base of local collectors who have been supporting the local scene, and these collectors are ready to go regional and international.” Initially, the potential of Indonesian contemporary art was noticed by a few influential Indonesian collectors, notably Budi Tek, who has built a museum in Jakarta and is soon to open another in Shanghai, and Dr Oei Hong Djien, considered the largest collector of Indonesian modern and contemporary art.
Singaporean collectors and museums were also early to spot the promise of Indonesian artists, with the Singapore Art Museum and National University of Singapore Museum featuring Indonesian contemporary artworks. The Indonesian Pavilion Feature Exhibition at Art Stage Singapore, the first of its kind, made sense in a city where Indonesian art already has an audience. It was designed, says Rudolf, to reflect the “unrivalled development of the Indonesian art scene, which is the strongest and largest market in Southeast Asia,” and to open it up to an even broader demographic.
Support from the local market within Indonesia led to the development of a strong institutional culture. Museums and organisations such as Yuz Museum in Jakarta, Langgeng Art Foundation and independent space Kedai Kebun in Yogyakarta as well as the Yogyakarta Biennale and Jogja Art Fair have fostered a thriving intellectual and creative environment that encourages artistic development.
Western collectors have until now been very cautious about embracing Indonesian art because of concerns over quality, the market and political stability, but validation from the secondary market and expanding interest by international institutions has done much to bolster confidence. In 2011, London’s Saatchi Gallery mounted an overview of contemporary Indonesian art with a group exhibition and Espace Culturel Louis Vuitton in Paris also got in on the act with an exhibition by 11 Yogyakarta artists, including Heri Dono, a figurehead of the Yogyakarta art scene. The same year Paul Kasmin Gallery, which is based in New York, presented Masriadi’s first solo exhibition in the United States, and Primo Marella gallery in Milan presented a solo show of the Bali-born Gede Mahendra Yasa. Berlin gallery Arndt, which opened a space in Singapore’s Gillman Barracks early this year, represents a number of the new generation of contemporary Indonesian artists including Agus Suwage, Eko Nugroho, Ugo Untoro, Entang Wiharso and J. Ariadhitya Pramuhendra. Gallery owner Mattias Arndt came across Indonesian artists about five years ago while doing research for the gallery’s first Southeast Asian show. “The technical skills and formal versatility of the artists are amazing,” Arndt says. “All the artists have something to say. In their work they address the issues that thrive in Indonesia as well as our contemporary societies worldwide.” Arndt also recognises the strong commercial potential of Indonesian art, which unlike Chinese art had a strong home market before it attracted the attention of the West.
The rapid development of the contemporary Indonesian art market is illustrative of the developments taking place culturally and politically in the country. Since the fall of the Suharto regime in 1998, there has been a shift in the Indonesian art scene from conservative and restrained works with traditional themes to experimental and socially and politically engaged works from a generation of artists that came to maturity during a period of upheaval and reform. History and heritage is thrown together in a mélange of artistic styles, borrowing from street art, batik, pop culture and Arte Povera, all the while retaining a strong and unique identity.
This June will be the third time since 2003 that Indonesia will be represented in the Venice Biennale with a group show by five artists including Eko Nugroho who has won international recognition. The Guggenheim Museum’s addition of Southeast Asian art to its collection will only further cement Indonesia’s place in the global art market, signalling the nation’s arrival on the world stage. It’s taken a lot longer for Western collectors to catch up but the new wave of Indonesian artists is demanding attention with bold, challenging works. And as more economic power shifts from the West to Asia, says Arndt, interest in the arts and culture of the West’s “long-underestimated neighbours” increases.
FIVE TO WATCH
Titled Sakti, the 55th Venice Biennale Indonesia Pavilion in the Arsenale features five diverse emerging artists from the country:
Thirty-year-old Albert Yonathan Setyawan’s work examines man and nature and features geometric arrangements of small terracotta ceramic figures.
Entang Wiharso, who also exhibited at the Art Stage Singapore Indonesian Pavilion, weaves together traditional and contemporary Javanese culture in his sculpture, paintings, and shadow- puppet theatre inspired wall reliefs,
Sri Astari’s work draws heavily on her roots and features traditional costume and symbolism, often challenging women’s role in Javanese culture.
Titarubi often collaborates with musicians and dancers to produce works about the body, gender, memory and colonialism. She has exhibited at the Singapore Biennale, ZKM Center for Art and Media (Karlsruhe, Germany), and Singapore Art Museum.
Yogyakarta-based Eko Nugroho, 36, is the most widely known of the current generation of artists with works in the National Galley of Victoria and the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris.