O n one Saturday morning, a group in their late teens or early 20s were standing in awe before a stunning installation that occupied an entire gallery of the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara, Jakarta, also known as Museum MACAN. The installation was none other than The Book from the Sky (1987-1991), one of the most iconic works of Chinese contemporary art by the famed artist Xu Bing. The banners hung from the ceiling, the volumes of hard bound books and the walls were saturated with wood block prints of characters resembling those from ancient China, except that those characters were only imaginary and could not be translated.
But what could be translated was the enthusiasm of the young local audience standing before the work. For the first time, they had the opportunity to experience the works of one of the world’s most well-known living artists, brought to their hometown in a well-curated retrospective. The exhibit was staged at Indonesia’s first modern and contemporary art museum founded by businessman and esteemed art collector Haryanto Adikoesoemo. The enthusiasm did not end just there. Across town at the state-run Galeri Nasional Indonesia, there were more young people roaming around the gallery space taking pictures of paintings by modern masters from the region such as Agus Djaya and Affandi.
The hopeful, innocent faces of these museum-goers echoed the buzzing fair ground of the revamped Art Jakarta at the end of August. The fair, owned by MRA Media Group, has a history that is already a decade long. But now with the young Tom Tandio, art collector and businessman, taking the lead, the recent edition of Art Jakarta was filled with the joy and excitement of new birth. The fair moved to a new venue at the Jakarta Convention Center (JCC), and its size has grown from last year’s 50 galleries to 70, representing galleries from not only Indonesia but also across Asia, such as Tokyo, Seoul, Taipei, Singapore, Beijing and even one based in Los Angeles. Many of the galleries said they joined the fair for the first time because of Tandio, who took up the fair director position last year after leaving Art Stage.
The three-day fair attracted well-known collectors from Indonesia: Deddy Kusuma, Budi Tek, Alexander Tedja and Prasodjo Winarko. Also in attendance were prominent figures from abroad, including Singapore-based Nathaniel Gunawan who sits on the fair’s board of young collectors, Alain Servais from Belgium and Rudy Tseng from Taiwan. Dealers and industry professionals also flew in to attend the fair as spectators.
After Art Stage in Jakarta last year and in Singapore beginning of this year, the focus turned to Art Jakarta and how it would develop as a hub for art in Southeast Asia. Indonesia’s complex cultural and socio-political environment has also fostered a generation of highly expressive contemporary artists from big names like Heri Dono, Christine Ay Tjoe and I Nyoman Masriadi to many emerging artists working in their studios in Yogyakarta. With the world’s fourth largest population at 264 million and a youthful median age of 28.6, Indonesia is also showing the world its potential as a major art market not only because the collectors are willing to spend big bucks at auctions, but because of people’s unparalleled passion for art.
Shugo Satani of the Tokyo-based ShugoArts, which exhibited at Art Jakarta for the first time, said that Indonesians’ love for art was nothing like he had ever experienced.
“It was eye-opening. They have a strong community spirit to support art, and that is rare in Japan or other places.”
Collectors feel that they have a role to play. Gunawan echoed Satani’s view. He said that the community spirit helped knit a tight network connecting not just Indonesians but also those from across Southeast Asia working to build the art scene together. Businessman Ir. Ciputra built the Ciputra Artpreneur Museum in one of his buildings to showcase the works of Indonesian artist Hendra Gunawan’s paintings from his collection. The museum also has a gallery displaying works by young people to encourage their artistic pursuits.
Adikoesoemo recently told the Financial Times that the founding of MACAN was his way to realising his mission to “introduce people to art, to educate them” because art has made him “think more creatively, outside the box, and I felt I became a better person by understanding and appreciating art.”
As the young crowd left the Xu Bing exhibition at MACAN, another group of smiling youthful faces joined the queue for the adjacent Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Room. Their eagerness to experience the mysterious and colourful installation signifies the bright future of art in Indonesia.