T here was once a time when the Indonesian art landscape was shrouded in mystery, seemingly shadowed by its larger Southeast Asian cousins. That has changed in recent years, with the archipelagic state joining an avant-garde of art markets in the global spotlight. The galvanisation of Indonesian art and artists is a reflection of the country’s economic prosperity; its GDP grew by 5.31% in 2022, the greatest rise in nine years. By 2026, it is expected to replace Russia as the world’s sixth largest economy (in PPP). In a country where the median age is 28.6, a new generation with disposable incomes higher than ever before is being emboldened to view art and luxury through a new lens.
The early noughties were a time of transition for Indonesian art. Old perspectives made way for new ones, and seasoned collectors, hitherto aligned to the work of such Indonesian old masters as Affandi, Hendra Gunawan, Sudjojono, Srihadi Sudarsono, and Sunaryo, or noted painters like Dede Eri Supria, became gradually accepting of new talent. The watershed was a series of modern and contemporary art auctions, helmed by auction houses including Sotheby’s, in 2007. At these sales, feverish bids for works by contemporary Indonesian artists, including I Nyoman Masriadi, Putu Sutawijaya, Handiwirman Saputra, Rudi Mantofani, Agus Suwage, Yunizar and Budi Kustarto served as a foreshadowing of the interest that would follow amongst collectors in Indonesia and beyond.
In 2007, a new auction record was achieved for Sutawijaya when a piece hammered at US$90,000; in 2009, Masriadi followed suit with another at one million US dollars. Museums, galleries and collectors in the West had started taking notice. Chief among them was Louis Vuitton's Espace Culturel in Paris, which devoted an entire exhibit to Indonesian artwork in 2011. In the same year, renowned British collector Charles Saatchi opened his London space to Indonesian works, while Berlin-based gallerist Matthias Arndt included several Indonesian artists in his exhibition “Looking South”. The global standing of Indonesian artists was on the rise.
Though the country operates two state-sponsored tertiary art programmes in Bandung and Yogyakarta, Indonesia’s National Museum and National Gallery have historically received minimal state funding. Consequently, suitable storage and conservation facilities, crucial for a tropical climate, as well as outreach and education initiatives, have been a challenge. With little financial impetus, state-funded galleries are unable to afford many of the Indonesian works auctioned globally.
In the slipstream that emerged rose private galleries, which today play a pivotal role in identifying, engaging and promoting artists and their works both nationally and internationally. A compelling case in point is the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MACAN) in Jakarta, hailed as Indonesia’s first large-scale contemporary art museum. Founded and funded by Indonesian philanthropist Haryanto Adikoesoemo, the museum is underpinned by an ethos of education, which seeks to help patrons delve into Indonesia’s contemporary art legacy and better understand its significance.
Gone are the days when art connoisseurs would gravitate towards Jakarta, Yogyakarta, Bandung or Bali. Today, art museums of all manner are materialising across Indonesia. The Tumurun Private Museum, opened in 2018, is a golden example. Situated in the historically significant city of Surakarta, a popular tourist destination, the museum, now a treasure trove of contemporary and modern art, capitalised on the growing proclivity for artworks displayed in luxury hotels.
Similarly, the Akili Museum of Art (AMA), established by Rudy Akili in 2006, holds a mirror to Indonesia’s art history with modern and contemporary works by Affandi, Hendra, Srihadi and other acclaimed names. Younger artists such as Eko Nugroho, Jompet Kuswidananto, Entang Wiharso, Christine Ay Tjoe, S. Teddy D. and Wimo Ambala Bayang enjoy an equal spotlight. Of particular note is the museum's overarching theme, which tends to lean socio-political, narrating an account of Indonesia’s vast history through artistic leitmotifs.
Another institution of significance is the Museum Pasifika in Nusa Dua, Bali, home to more than 600 artworks emblematic of the Asia Pacific region. Demonstrating both a local sensitivity and a global sensibility, the museum hosts periodic exhibitions that shine a light on local art, thereby facilitating engagement with local and international patrons in Bali. In light of the country’s burgeoning art ecosystem, as well as a swell in art tourism, museum and gallery owners are increasingly prioritising art education.
A cavalcade of art fairs enlivens Indonesia each year. ArtJog, an annual international art exhibition spotlighting local and international artists, has gained particular momentum over the years. In addition to exhibiting art, the fair also hosts an array of auxiliary programmes, including workshops, artist discussions and discourses with art curators from across the world. ArtMoments Jakarta and Jakarta Biennale also attract significant footfalls.
Among the crown jewels is Art Jakarta, this year slated from 17 to 19 November. The 2023 lineup comprises 68 galleries, 40 of which hail from Indonesia. Highlights include Syagini Ratna Wulan's Glass House and iForte's tech-infused NOC/Turne by Jeffi Manzani; a special edition of Thomson Series by TACO and Korean artist Park Jihyun; IN/TOUNGE/IBLE, a sensory installation by Blue Label; and MINI's The Mini Musa, an art car concept that explores nature through the prism of an automobile. In addition, the fair will feature a section for fundraising by artist collectives and non-profits, a zone for sculptural installations, an exhibition that showcases a book project by Indra Leonardi, and an exhibition starring artworks by ASEAN-KOREA artists.
Sotheby’s salerooms have stood witness to Indonesia's metamorphosis on the world stage. The Hong Kong Autumn 2020 Sales Series saw Modern and Contemporary Southeast Asian Art led by two seminal works: Sudjana Kerton’s Indonesian Village Life and Handiwirman Saputra’s Akhir Pekan dan Projek Organik dari tak Berakar tak Berpucuk #3. The following year, in Paris, Sotheby's presented its inaugural sale dedicated entirely to Indonesian culture. Aptly titled “INDONESIA”, the sale unveiled a smorgasbord of carefully curated pieces in wood, metal and textile that embody the exceptional cultural melting pot that is Indonesia. 2023 has witnessed similarly buoyant sentiment. In July this year, at Sotheby's Modern & Contemporary Art auction in Singapore, Haji Widayat’s Burung-burung di Hutan (1987) achieved triple its estimate achieving SG$152,400. The sale also saw strong performance from works by the likes of Gunawan, Ay Tjoe, Affandi, Srihadi, and Masriadi.
Indonesian art has seen an equal uptick online, with a technology savvy generation happy to fork out money purchasing via digital platforms and bidding online in salesrooms. Young collectors are a growing crop in Indonesia, a trend symbolic of a shift in generational sensibilities. Now more than ever, it seems the seeds are being sown for Indonesia to emerge as Asia’s next art hub.