At the Helm of Museum MACAN, Fenessa Adikoesoemo Sees Art as a Powerful Force in Southeast Asia

At the Helm of Museum MACAN, Fenessa Adikoesoemo Sees Art as a Powerful Force in Southeast Asia

F enessa Adikoesoemo, chairwoman of Indonesia’s first modern and contemporary art museum, is also a collector with a profound interest in developing strong relationships with artists, and with unique insights on the contemporary art scene in Southeast Asia. Ahead of Breathless (30 November, Hong Kong) auction, which brings together a diverse selection of paintings, sculptures, prints and paperworks by emerging and established artists from Southeast Asia, Sotheby’s Hong Kong catches up with Fenessa Adikoesoemo, as she shares her experience on starting a personal collection, her vision for The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara (Museum MACAN), and how the pandemic might shape the future of contemporary art in the region.

Fenessa Adikoesoemo. Photography: Winston Gomez for Forbes Indonesia

What first ignited your passion for art?

My father is a big influence in my art appreciation journey. I grew up living with art, and I’ve always followed him around museums in different cities and countries during our family trips. When I was little, I got to know Indonesian history through the Indonesian maestro works that my father collected. The stories behind the works, and my father’s journey to learn art has had a big impact on me – it’s something that I carry forward up to today. Through my dad, I also understood the bigger role that art should play in society; it is not just to be enjoyed through collecting, but can be a powerful force, which is why we established Museum MACAN.

How would you describe your collecting style? How has it evolved over time? What advice would you offer to young would-be collectors?

I don't think I have one style of collecting in particular. I do tend to lean towards more minimalist and pop art works, although not everything in my collection is necessarily that style of work. It definitely is something that continuously evolves for me, and I think as times and trends change, as I also age and go through different stages in life, it definitely will continue to evolve. I would say that my collecting is something that is very personal to me, a deep-rooted interest that has developed into a strong relationship between myself and the artworks, artists, and the stories behind the works. While I myself still continuously develop my knowledge on art and the dynamics of the scene, I would say that connecting with other collectors and being curious with an eagerness to learn more about the subject would help young collectors on planning their paths in developing their personal collections. It is a personal collection, so it should reflect your personal taste.

Getting involved in an organization like a museum, with its programs and exhibitions, exposes you to different kinds of conversations that you might not ordinarily have through a gallery or an art fair. The events that the Museum hosts and the people I’ve encountered through the three-year journey of the Museum has also been insightful.

We’ve seen a growing international interest for Southeast Asian art in the past two decades. What is your view on the future of art in the region overall?

Southeast Asia is a region that is very diverse in culture, language and socioeconomic background. The diversity has enriched the contemporary art scene within the ten countries in the region, which gives us an exciting entry point into cultural diversity. Southeast Asia has an extraordinary energy, and lots of people from across the region and around the world have been curious about the artists and the activities that were popping up, especially here in Indonesia. I am sure that the pandemic is going to have a very serious impact on lots of these projects, but Southeast Asia is also resourceful. Its various histories and its cultural diversity should be seen as a strength as we look to the future after the pandemic.

For Museum MACAN, we are spending more time thinking about the immediate environments of Indonesia and Southeast Asia, and so we are cautiously planning exhibition projects that are much closer to home. When we reopen in January 2021, we will reopen the solo exhibition by Melati Suryodarmo – which we had to close shortly after its opening in March 2020. Melati is a major force in the Indonesian scene, and her performances are confronting in their physicality. I am also looking forward to an exhibition which focuses on mainly younger artists from across Southeast Asia; it has a really evocative title: “Stories Across Rising Lands” – I can’t wait to be able to see people and art in the museum again.

Is it important that Indonesian art takes a global platform? What are your perspectives on the role of artistic heritage?

Firstly, I think that art needs to be nurtured locally. Perhaps the experience of the pandemic reinforces this – the impact of the pandemic on the artist communities that surrounded the museum has been significant. But the power of art is that it isn’t always bounded by geography. There are lots of platforms that have helped raise the international profile of Indonesian art, and allowed it to speak globally. My thoughts are that commercial platforms, like galleries, auction houses and art fairs are very important. These global platforms work in concert with exhibitions, institutions, art schools, and each supports different conversations that influences the international attention and awareness of the region. We often talk a lot about ecosystems, at the museum, and I think these are really important. When we talk about artistic heritage, I believe that a country that appreciates and supports its contemporary artists builds a resilient culture and artistic heritage.

Using Sotheby’s Breathless auction as an example, what are some works that catch your eye?

I personally think are interesting are the titular work for the auction, Breathless. Also Zoomanity by Ronald Ventura and Still Life with Wine Glass and Fruit by Ronaldo Olan Ventura; the latter is a great ode to renaissance art.

Modern & Contemporary Southeast Asian Art Interviews

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