Art Stage JakartaAugust 12, 2016
For over a decade Indonesia has been the worst-kept secret in contemporary art. The wave has been building and breaking since 1998 when the repressive reign of President Suharto came to an end. Yet the origins of the movement go much further back, before the fragile roots of democracy could take hold. In the past there were few options for artistic self-expression, but today there are no limits on what Indonesian artists can do.
I was in Indonesia last week for the first Art Stage Jakarta, a three-day event described as a “new exclusive boutique art fair” – which may simply be another way of saying “small”. The show comprised 49 galleries from 16 countries, including 16 from Indonesia. It was an off-shoot of Art Stage Singapore, which began in 2011 and continues annually. Like its Singaporean cousin, the Jakarta version was devised and managed by Swiss entrepreneur, Lorenzo Rudolf – indefatigable in his efforts to ignite a South-East Asian art market that still resembles a series of spot fires rather than a raging inferno.
The lure was the opportunity to see a cross-section of Indonesian art galleries in one quick hit. This meant dealers such as Nadi, Canna, Ruci Art Space, Roh Projects, Redbase Art, Equator Art Projects, and the long-established Edwin’s Gallery. There was a lot of crossover between dealers, as works by wellknown artists might be found at several different stands.
D Gallerie and Andi’s Gallery presented historical shows of early modern Indonesian art, which threw the developments of the past two decades into sharper relief. From small scale landscapes and genre paintings, as well as a few modest forays into abstraction, Indonesian artists have become makers of some of the most confident and outlandish work to be seen anywhere on the planet.
Nothing could have been more in-your-face than Hahan’s show at Equator Art Projects – a riotous combination of Neo Pop and street art, full of cynical observations about the international art market. It’s the kind of work that thrills some viewers and makes others run for cover.
Just as confronting were the large figurative paintings of I Nyoman Masriadi, known for the 2008 sale of a work at auction for more than US$ 1 million. Masriadi’s penchant for musclebound superheroes has tapped into a vein of popular culture that seems to extend even into the upper echelons of the art market.
Others with a global reputation include Agus Sawage, whose indefinable paintings have a dream-like quality; Eko Nugroho – who works across media, often on a grand scale, and currently has an installation at the Art Gallery of NSW; and Arin Dwihartanto Sunaryo, who creates innovative abstractions using volcanic dust. The female artist attracting the most attention is Christine Ay Tjoe, another abstractionist, whose canvases mirror the moods and the changes in her life.
Among international galleries at Art Stage the best known were probably Galerie Perrotin, Pearl Lam, Ota Fine Arts, Mizuma, and – swiftly making a name for themselves in Asia – Sydney dealers, Sullivan + Strumpf. Having recently opened a branch in Singapore, Sullivan + Strumpf were aiming to consolidate their presence in the region with a mix of artists who have already proven popular with Asian buyers, including Alex Seaton, Sam Leach and Hiromi Tango. The major attraction, predictably enough, was Sam Jinx’s hyperrealist sculpture of two tiny babies, which never seemed to be without a crowd of admirers.
The relatively slender line-up suggested that many potential exhibitors preferred to wait and see how this first event shaped up. They had reason to be cautious because Art Stage Jakarta is not the only art fair in Indonesia. Bazaar Art Jakarta, which has been running for eight years and opens a new edition on 25 August, has remained a small-scale affair.
Rudolf is hoping that visitors will discern a level of international sophistication in the Art Stage model that distinguishes it from its established rival. Having never been to Bazaar Art I’m in no position to make comparisons, but there were many aspects of Art Stage that echoed the features one has come to expect from the bigger art fairs.
Aside from the predictable round of parties and ‘after parties’, (which raised the threat of Death by Karaoke), there was a display of public sculpture in the nearby Gandaria City shopping mall; a program of talks and forums; and two supplementary exhibitions. The first was Affandi: The Human Face, a survey of paintings by Indonesia’s best-known modern expressionist, drawn from local private collections.
Affandi (1907-90) is a revered figure in modern Indonesian art, but for outsiders he is a difficult artist to love. Largely self-taught, Affandi would splash around with more enthusiasm than finesse, painting with his fingers and squeezing paint directly from the tube. His colours can be murky and lurid on the same canvas, which is an achievement of sorts.
The second show was called Expose, and featured works from the holdings of five prominent figures in the Indonesian art world. This provided a tantalising glimpse into some of the collections that press and VIPS would get to explore in visits to private residences during the course of the fair. It revealed the differences and similarities in taste among an élite group of art lovers who exercise enormous influence over the local scene.
Because there is little assistance from the Indonesian government, private collectors play a pivotal role in supporting and promoting Indonesian contemporary art. There is even a view that artists owe their freedoms to this lack of official involvement, as government funding would also raise the spectre of government control.
The relationship between the big collectors and leading artists goes beyond mere commerce. Although everyone seems to be well aware of the value of their investments, there’s no disguising the excitement with which these patrons discuss their acquisitions.
They are a diverse crew. Alex Tedja comes across as a straight-laced businessman whose wealth springs from enterprises such as the Gandaria City shopping mall and the Grand Sheraton Hotel where Art Stage was held. His private residence is on a palatial scale, with artworks displayed in almost every room. The pièce-de-résistance is a gigantic room reachable only by elevator, which contains a museum-quality survey of modern Indonesian art, from the works of Affandi and his peers to contemporaries such as Suwage, Masriadi and Yunizar.
Tedja’s neighbour in the same gated community is Deddy Kusuma, who made his money in real estate, but looks as if he has been playing in a pub band for the past forty years. Kusuma is an art addict who has amassed a vast collection of Indonesian and contemporary Chinese works. During the art fair he held an extravagant party, displaying the bewildering profusion of his holdings.
Then there is demure Rudy Akili, a former tourism guru, who has built a private museum for his collection of cutting edge local and international art. Akili owns massive pieces by artists such as Nugroho, and the installation artist, Jompet Kuswidananto, whose work may currently be seen at the Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation in Paddington.
Next was the immaculate Susan Santoro who describes herself as “a single mum”, and talks about the works in her collection as if she had a deep emotional investment in each one of them. She is an assiduous collector and close friend of Christine Ay Tjoe.
The final collector we visited was the eccentric Wiyu Wahono, who has made it a policy to seek out the most challenging, avant-garde works, including light and sound pieces, kinetic art and video. A lecturer by profession, Wahono is the intellectual of the group, a great reader and talker, whose enthusiasm is infectious.
Visiting these collections was the highlight of the Art Stage program, as one learns more about a nation’s art from individual collectors than from the commercial galleries or museums – which are still in short supply in Indonesia. If Art Stage Jakarta is to continue and prosper it will rely heavily on the good will and largesse of these collectors, who possess a cultural power that has no equivalent in Australia. In a country still finding its feet politically, a booming art scene seems destined to take its lead from a proactive private sector.
Art Stage Jakarta
Sheraton Grand Jakarta, Gandaria City, 5-7 August.
Published in the Sydney Morning Herald, Saturday 13th August, 2016