THE ALEX PAPADIMITRIOU COLLECTION
Pristine Balance: Important Works by Pioneers of the Bandung School
At the heart of each artistic movement are not only collectors but also visionaries and tastemakers whose eye, patronage and passion influence the development of the stylistic current of that era. In the Western world, 20th Century Modern Art had Peggy Guggenheim and the Stein family. The journey of collecting Modern Art in Indonesia would certainly be different without the legendary Mr. Alex Papadimitriou, whose knowledge, taste and astuteness as a collector and art advisor have won the respect and admiration of the art community. Born in Palembang, Sumatra, in 1924, of German, Greek and Japanese descent, Papadimitriou lived in Indonesia, Greece, Germany and Brazil, where he was in charge of organizing the Indonesian paintings section at the second Sao Paulo fine arts biennial in 1952 and became friends with a number of Indonesian artists; it was then that his love for Indonesian art began. He moved permanently to Indonesia in 1958 and Indonesian art became an integral part of his life until his passing in 2006.
Alfred Barr, who was an American art historian and the first director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, described a "patron" as someone who is "not simply a collector who gathers works of art for his own pleasure or a philanthropist who helps artists or finds a public museum, but a person who feels responsibility towards both art and the artist together and has the means and will to act upon this feeling." (Peggy Guggenheim, Confessions of an Art Addict, The Ecco Press, New Jersey, 1960, p. 11). In his unique way, Mr. Papadimitriou fills this role in Indonesia. He had close relationships with the artists who were the forefathers of Indonesian Modernism in the heyday era of the sixties, such as Affandi, Hendra Gunawan, and also pioneers from the Bandung School such as Ahmad Sadali, But Mochtar, Srihadi Sudarsono, Mochtar Apin, and A.D. Pirous, embodying the role of not only collector but also friend and advisor. Papadimitriou later established an art gallery, staged several excellent exhibitions for the then-revolutionary artists in Indonesia, and helped placed them in important collections. For artists from the Bandung School Papadimitriou had a special passion and attachment, often keeping most of their works in his private collection. As a result he had one of the largest collections of works from the group's most seminal period.
This Spring it is Sotheby's privilege to offer at auction a group of works from the important and distinguished "Alex Papadimitriou Collection" (Lots 341-347). The collection features seven works by pioneer artists from Bandung; Ahmad Sadali, But Mochtar, Srihadi Sudarsono, Mochtar Apin, and A.D. Pirous, whose collective corpus are associated as "The Bandung School", which actively pioneered abstract-expressionist art in Indonesia since the Visual Arts Department was established at the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) in 1950. It was around the same period that the crucial germination of abstract expressionism in America took place, with artists like Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko at the forefront. Indonesian artists studying in Bandung, Western Java, mostly at the prestigious Bandung Institute of Technology, explored and experimented with this movement's influence, combining their technique and aesthetic, such as Cubism, Abstract and Colour Field painting, with their own cultural identity and philosophy under the guidance of Dutch artist, Ries Mulder. The result was artworks that embraced the social and cultural current of the day.
The great debate between the Yogya School and the Bandung School broke out in full force in 1954 with art critic Trisno Sumardjo's article, "Bandung is the Slave of the Western Laboratory," which expressed his views against Western influence. He espoused the notion that art should reflect Indonesian history, Indonesian way of life and the Indonesian people in order to be called part of the national identity. In turn, those who saw Western influence as an element that would enrich instead of erase the Indonesian culture, argued that the concept of national identity should not be defined merely by what the visual proof of ethnicity and that to retain that perspective would be akin to placing the nation not as a global entity but to labeling it as an "Eastern" one. In fact, it would then place Indonesian art in the same context as the Mooi Indies. In 1960, renowned intellectual Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana, wrote "Indonesia's artistic skills, her sense of form and colour, her unique cast of thought can all be used to give life to the abstract ideals and values of the new era, though these uses may well be very different from and even in conflict with the values and ideals of the past... The core of the problem is to shift our cultural patrimony and pick out those elements which can be fully integrated into a new modern culture, which will itself produce new values, new attitudes to life, new perspectives, and new ways of thinking and acting. From another angle one could describe the processes as smuggling new concepts and ideals into those old "forms" that ware still relevant to the modern age: or more simply still, we must reinterpret our traditional heritage. (Claire Holt, Art in Indonesia, Cornell University Press, 1969, p. 213-214.)
The paintings in this collection represent some of the artists' best and most seminal works from their apogee in the late fifties through the early seventies. The earliest of the group, a painting by But Mochtar, Three Seated Ladies (Lot 341), was executed in 1959, the year Ries Mulder left ITB in the care of his successors, But Mochtar, Sadali and Mochtar Apin. It was a pivotal turning point in the movement's development as they tackled the themes of national identity and growth that Alisjahbana brought forth in his article. "When Mulder left in 1959 the young artists he had trained took over. By that time appreciation for their work was beginning to grow. They were receiving commissions for murals and favorable comments on their exhibitions; they were selling their paintings and finding a growing demand for their services in interior and furniture design. They had been designing pottery at a small ceramics factory in Bandung since their student days, and by 1959 its products had become very popular and were sold in most major cities. Thus, the Bandung artists are becoming the direct or indirect source for Indonesia's modern design." (Ibid, p. 239).
But Mochtar demonstrates this immaculately by combining the Cubist geometric fragmentations with the sweet candy-coloured palette that is often associated with Sundanese culture. Sadali's Abstract Orange (Lot 345) and Tetas Emas Atas Merah Padas (Growing Gold on Rock-Red Solid Soil, Lot 343) were the foundation for his latter gold-leafed reliefs. They were completed after the Arte Contemporanea Indonesia in Brazil and exhibit the texture and nuances that were to feature prominently in his works from the 70s. They also demonstrate his extraordinary aptitude for placing strategic focal points that anchor the composition using a delicate balance of colours and patterns. Executed after his sojourn in Paris in the 1950s, Mochtar Apin's Don Quixote (Lot 344) is composed of overlapping lines that are reminiscent of Willem de Kooning's overlapping techniques and Victor Vasarely's optical experimentations. A. D. Pirous' Laut Biru dan Langit Lembajung (Deep Blue Sea and Purple Sky, Lot 346) illustrates the union of different abstract-expressionist methods, juxtaposing innovative drips that create patterns which are reminiscent of Max Ernst's grottage techniques with straightforward abstraction (incidentally, Marx Ernst was a precursor to abstract expressionism). Meanwhile Srihadi (Lots 342 and 347) creates emotional contemplation using monochromatic colours and a tactile surface.
Executed upon the artists' return from the States, these works are important examples of the crystallized union between external influence with inherent traditions and its transformation into an entirely new visual language and identity. In an interview with the painter Pirous in 1989, Dr. Helena Spanjaard asked him the question: "... It is surprising to me that you started to paint Indonesian subjects after visiting the United States and Europe. Must Indonesian artist first go abroad to be confronted with their own culture? Pirous answered: "...I believe this is an interesting question since this is what happened to me. In Bandung I didn't have so many ideas about being an "Indonesian" painter. I was too much occupied with learning to paint following Western criteria. We got a Western education with Western teachers and Western subject matter. Only after I had mastered the technique did I start to meditate about the content. This happened when I was outside Indonesia when there was distance between me and Indonesia. It was only then that I asked myself the question: 'Well, Pirous, who in fact are you?' And I concluded I was an Indonesian painter because the Indonesian environment mattered to me. Every modern artist is of course firstly international, but then I realized who I was. The problems in Europe and America are different from those in Indonesia. I needed distance to be able to see this..." (Joseph Fischer, Ed., Modern Indonesian Art: Three Generations of Tradition and Change, 1945-1990, Berkeley, 1990, p. 65.).
These selected paintings in the Alex Papadimitriou Collection represent a period of change when the Indonesian people were searching for a new direction. By inventing modern, abstract works based on the rich Indonesian vocabulary of traditional forms, the quest for national identity becomes an ongoing journey, balancing external influence, growth, evolution, and the preservation of roots and tradition. These progressive works have never been more relevant than they are at present, when Indonesia is at the precipice of becoming more and more global. In Mr. Papadimitriou's own words, "In the painting world there is no short-cut, and the class of such works are established by their own history, which may take two to three decades." (Lila Fitri Aly, Papadimitriou: No short-cut in painting, The Jakarta Post, October 20, 2002). Sotheby's is proud to present the Alex Papadimitriou Collection as a celebration not only of the life of a visionary, a tastemaker and a cognoscenti, but also that of the art of collecting fine art that unfolds history in the making.
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.
Online Registration to Bid is Closed for this Sale. Would you like to watch the live sale?Watch Live Sale